Category: Congress

Follow Up on Recent Issues on China Law & Policy

By , July 28, 2010

A worn out Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid

The past week has provided closure to two issues China Law & Policy has been following  for the past few months.  Last week, Senate majority leader Harry Reid announced that the Democrats would not be moving forward on the climate change bill that had been sitting in the Senate for the past year.  Although the bill had the potential to completely reorganize the U.S.’ energy policy, the Democrats were unlikely to get the votes necessary to pass the bill and opted not to try.

The death of the climate change bill raises serious questions about the U.S.’ ability to compete with China on green technology.   The Chinese government has made major and obvious commitments to green technology, attracting capital from around the world.  Without a coherent energy policy, don’t expect investors to seek out green technology opportunities in the U.S.  Until the U.S. has a more coherent policy, anticipate the continued flow of capital to China.

As if the failure of climate change legislation was not enough, the Senate announced yesterday that it would not take up the DISCLOSE Act, the House of Representatives’ response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, a decision that expanded corporations’ speech rights in U.S. elections.  As China Law & Policy wrote soon after the decision, Chinese companies, some of which have ties to the Chinese government, could use the loophole of their U.S. subsidiaries to donate to U.S. campaigns. China Law & Policy testified before Congress in May on the legislation – the DISCLOSE Act – as it was being considered by the House of Representatives.  Looks like we won’t be testifying before the Senate anytime soon.

Gees, did Harry Reid just have the worst week ever?

Congressional Testimony of China Law & Policy – With Link to full Webcast

capital_building_threequarterLink here for webcast (or go through the House website here).

Click here for CL&P’s Written Testimony Submitted to the Committee

Yesterday, the Committee  on House Administration held a hearing to discuss  and analyze the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175), the legislation drafted to deal with some of the issues raised by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.  Most of the new legislation deals with what disclosure should be made when a corporation runs a commercial or ad as part of its political activity.  But Section 102 of the proposed legislation seeks to close the loophole that enables foreign corporations, operating through U.S. subsidiaries, to fund “electionteering communications.”

China Law & Policy’s article, “Citizens United: U.S. Politics with Chinese Characteristics” was picked up by the Committee’s staff and I was invited to testify about potential foreign government influence in our elections post-Citizens United.  On the panel also included former Federal Election Committee (FEC) chair and lead staffer on the McCain-Feingold, Trevor Potter of Campaign Legal Center; Prof. John C. Coates of the Harvard Law School and expert in corporate governance; Michael Toner, partner at Bryan Cave and former FEC Chair; and William McGinley an attorney at Patton Boggs.  The House Committee is to vote on the legislation on Thursday, May 13.

The full webcast can be watched here (or here).  It was a very interesting discussion and I recommend watching all of it (total time is 1 hour 31 minutes), but for those just interested in the discussion on foreign influence (or the parts where I speak), below is a breakdown by time of the discussion.  Thank you for watching!

Discussion on Foreign Influence in U.S. Elections:

14:45 – 16:45 Trevor Potter, Opening Statement

21:49 – 22:27 John C. Coates, Opening Statement

22:38 – 27:45 Elizabeth M. Lynch, Opening Statement

29:28 – 31:05 Michael Toner, Opening Statement

34:03 – 34:32 William McGinley, Opening Statement

42:56 – 46:14 Rep. Lungren, Question for the Panel

  • 46:15 – 47:12 Coates, Response to Rep. Lungren
  • 47:13 – 48:47 Lynch, Response to Rep. Lungren
  • 48:48 – 49:46 Lungren Conclusion

1:02:59 – 1:03:21 – Toner, Response to Rep. Harper

1:05:45 – 1:10:22 – Rep. Capuano, Questions for the Panel, Back-forth with Toner, and China issue Lynch

China Law & Policy to Testify Before Congress

US House sealChina Law & Policy will be appearing before Congress tomorrow.  The Committee on House Administration, which has jurisdiction over federal elections, is seeking testimony on the potential for foreign influence in U.S. elections post-Citizens United.  I have been invited to testify.  Congress is seeking to pass legislation, called the DISCLOSE Act, to rectify some of the issues caused by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

The hearing  will be at 5 PM at 1310 Longworth House Office Building in Washington DC.

The hearing will also be shown LIVE on the web: http://cha.house.gov/ (on the left-hand hand side will be a link for live webcast)

Happy 40th? – Congress Says Bye, Bye Climate Change Legislation

By , April 27, 2010

HappyEarthDayWith the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day this past April, Americans celebrated with vigor and advocated saving the planet.  Well, most Americans did.  As China-observer Marcy Nicks Moody notes, recent breakdown between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate could forestall any hope of the U.S. moving forward on climate change legislation.  And could allow China to remain ahead of the green technology game for a long time.

Happy 40th? – Congress Says Bye, Bye Climate Change Legislation

By Marcy Nicks Moody

Last Thursday, Americans celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day, established by U.S. Senator Gaylord

Earth Day Founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson

Earth Day Founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson

Nelson in 1970 to raise awareness of environment-related issues. Last Sunday, thousands gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC to participate in the Earth Day Climate Rally with the alleged goals to “stop protecting polluters,” “enact comprehensive climate legislation,” and “demand accountability from Washington.” There were exhortations to grow kitchen gardens along with clamorous chanting of the word ‘green.’ The weather was glorious, and spirits did not seem dampened by the blow dealt to climate legislation by the U.S. Senate just the day before.

Sandwiched between Earth Day and the Earth Day Climate Rally was the day on which another U.S. Senator, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, announced that he would no longer participate in negotiations on a Senate version of proposed climate legislation. In a letter to colleagues Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Graham cited his disappointment over reports that the Democratic leadership of the Senate was planning to take up discussions of immigration before addressing climate change as a reason for his changed stance.

Senators Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman were the primary architects of this bill-to-be and had been planning to formally announce the bill with the White House last Monday. But any debate on immigration would make it impossible to deal with national energy and climate change policy, the South Carolina Senator said. So he won’t support the draft climate change bill, in spite of the fact that he helped create it. Senator Graham won’t support some legislation because talking about something else would just be too painful or distracting? This seems a bit irrational.

In Happier Times - Senators Graham, Kerry & Lieberman

In Happier Times - Senators Graham, Kerry & Lieberman

Setting aside speculation over why Senator Graham radically and suddenly changed positions, the simple fact that he did it is disappointing. To be sure, the Senator is not the only culpable party in this turn of events. He is likely under enormous pressure from fellow Republicans to stop negotiating with Democrats. And if reports are true that both the White House and the Democratic Senate leadership had been planning to take up immigration first not because it could pass (the House has not yet discussed the matter) or because it is more urgent (climate change is equally as urgent: the longer we wait to address climate change, the more expensive it will be), but because it could present a useful wedge issue for the Democrats in the coming election cycle, then Senator Graham has every right to be peeved.

But unless Graham’s strategy has the result of getting climate change legislation considered in this session of Congress, it is bad for Americans. The science demonstrating the negative and possibly catastrophic consequences of anthropogenic climate change is overwhelming. That emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) must decrease is flagrantly obvious. And that the United States, which prides itself on its innovative strength, global leadership, and remains the largest economy in the world, has still not acted on this evidence is disgraceful.

It is also bad for business. The clean technology market is big and growing, but without the passage of climate change legislation, signals to U.S. businesses as to the future prices of clean versus pollution-intensive energy remain unclear. A recent Pew report on clean energy in the G-20 economies notes that appropriate domestic policies—such as those aimed at reducing GHG emissions or incentivizing the use of renewable energy—have tended to positively affect a country’s competitive position in the clean-tech market. The winners in this race include Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and—who else?—China. The United States does not make the shortlist of enlightened energy and environment policymakers of the rich world.

Lights out for the U.S. in the race for green tech?

Lights out for the U.S. in the race for green tech?

In fact, the Pew report finds that China has already overtaken the United States on several important measures (including, of course, its dubious distinction of being the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses for the past several years). In 2009, for instance, China overtook the United States for highest financing of and investment in clean energy. And it is likely to overtake the United States in installed renewable energy capacity soon. Though targets are not always met, Beijing has set ambitious targets for wind, biomass, and solar energy usage, and these targets do not exist solely not to be met. They may currently be aspirations, but that’s more than the United States currently has to go on.

Mitigating climate change and making U.S. clean-tech business better is accomplished by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The best way to limit GHG emissions is to put a price on them. Indeed, the fact markets have not already done so has been described by climate expert Nicholas Stern as “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.” The climate legislation which has been stalled and stalled and stalled again in the U.S. Senate is generally envisaged as a cap and trade system that would cap GHG emissions at a certain level, create a scheme in which licenses to emit GHGs could be traded, and eventually shrink gross amount of permissible emissions. This amounts to an indirect tax on GHG emissions, and though it is far from ideal, it would create a price for emissions at the margin and therefore makes strides in the right direction.

As the Senate continues to dawdle, the Earth Day Climate Change rally on the National Mall was far from unimportant. Especially in a democracy like the United States, it is important that citizens buy into ‘going green.’ It is important, frankly, that green be cool. But though considerations of how to green one’s lifestyle are admirable, they are not game changers. Coal is still cheap; Whole Foods is expensive, and “going green” remains largely the privilege of the wealthy in society.  Unless we change our laws.  The Senate should get to work. The alternative is to accept an outcome in which a hundred U.S. kitchen gardens bloom while a hundred Chinese companies compete for the top spots in clean-tech. In addition to, well, catastrophic climate change.

Marcy writes about China. In 2007-08, she was a Fulbright Scholar in China, where she was also a Research Fellow with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. She received an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and graduated from Brown University.

What’s Going on in Europe: Sarkozy Calls for Carbon Tariffs on Imports

By , September 11, 2009
France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy

France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy

Does France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy read China Law & PolicySure looks that way.  In an effort to promote carbon caps domestically, Sarkozy also called for any international climate change agreement to include a carbon tax on imports into Europe from countries that do not impose carbon emission caps.

In response, many economists argued that Sarkozy’s push for a carbon tax on imports could lead to alienating China from agreeing to any sort of emission caps in Copenhagen.  This is the same criticism lodged against the tariff provisions in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Climate Change Bill.

There is a real risk that these economists are right; China will begin to feel bullied and, for its domestic audience’s consumption, walk away from an international climate change agreement.  Although the Chinese government enjoys one-party rule in an authoritarian state, it is still susceptible to domestic public opinion, especially given the fact that nationalism runs very high.

But at least our European allies realize that any international agreement is a give and take; there are carrots and sticks.  On the same day that Sarkozy called for carbon tariffs, the European Union’s (E.U.) environment chief, Stavros Dimas, announced that the European Commission would pledge $3 billion per year to developing countries, including China, to assist with capping emissions and developing clean technologies.

A key issue for China in its lead up to Copenhagen has been financial and technological assistance from developed countries in implementing carbon emission caps or clean technology.  China has repeatedly stated that they will not be able to meet the requirements of an international treaty unless there is assistance from developed countries.

The E.U.’s pledge is the carrot in this situation.  It is agreeing to a term that China has said is necessary for it to consent to any international climate change treaty.   So even in light of Sarkozy’s call for carbon tariffs, the Chinese government can turn to its people and show that it was not bullied.  Instead, China received the one element that it considered indispensible.

The U.S. unfortunately has only been providing sticks.  There is evidence that the tariff provisions provide some leverage against a country like China, but without providing some sort of bargaining chip, China will likely not respond positively to the U.S.’ hard-line tariff provisions.  Instead, the U.S. should learn for the E.U. and look to see where it can find common ground with China.  Without this common ground, it starts to look a lot like bullying.

The U.S. Climate Change Bill: International Trade Implications & China

By , September 7, 2009

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Health care will not be the only derisive issue on the Senate’s calendar when it returns to Congress on September 8.

Rep. Ed Markey Announces Climate Change Passage, June 26, 2009

Rep. Ed Markey Announces Climate Change Passage, June 26, 2009

This past June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (the “Climate Change Bill”).  Far-reaching in its impact on the U.S. economy and particularly detrimental to certain energy-intensive sectors, debate in the Senate will become increasingly cantankerous as special interests and certain states lobby for protection.

And while the Bill, through a series of complicated cap-and trade equations and a plethora of subsidies to renewable energy, has the potential to completely alter the domestic market, debate thus far has been about its global impact.  With fear that countries like China will not pass legislation to cap their domestic industries’ carbon output, the House added two provisions to protect U.S. industries from companies in countries that are not similarly restrained.  Out of a 1,400 page bill, these two provisions have become the center of the debate, some calling these provisions much needed protection and others calling them tariffs.

But conspicuously absent from these discussions is an analysis of what is really going on here.  How exactly do these provisions work?  Will they have the intended effect of maintaining the competitiveness of U.S. industries or are they attempts by certain industries to protect their profits?  Will these provisions bring countries like China to the table in Copenhagen or will they ultimately produce a tariff war?  Can they withstand a challenge under global trade rules?

To answer these questions, China Law & Policy sat down with Jake Caldwell, director of Policy for Agriculture, Trade & Energy at the Center for American Progress.  Click here to listen to the interview with Jake Caldwell.

The Trade Provisions

Applicable Only to Energy-Intensive and Trade-Sensitive Industries
In our interview, Jake stressed that the two trade provisions in the Climate Change Bill will only apply to those U.S. industries that are both energy-intensive and trade-sensitive, making these provisions applicable in fact to only about five U.S. industries: ferrous metals (iron and steel), nonferrous metals (aluminum and copper), non-metal minerals (cement and glass), paper and pulp, and basic chemicals (World Resources Institute (WRI) report, p. xvi).

Under the Bill, these industries will initially be given a two-year waiver from compliance to the Bill’s cap-and-trade regulations.  However, after the two years, these industries can seek protection from foreign competition through the following two trade provisions.

Provision 1: Recovery of Some Cost of Compliance
The first of these provisions is less controversial.  Found in Title IV, Part F, subpart 1 of the Bill, it establishes an emissions allowance rebate program.  As Jake explained, this will allow companies in energy-intensive, trade-sensitive manufacturing industries to be compensated in other ways for the cost of complying with the Bill’s cap-and-trade program.  The rebate program will reduce the threat that these companies will lose business to companies from countries that do not impose equally as rigorous caps on greenhouse gas emissions. The rebate program will be phased

Click on image for a PDF of the Trade Provisions in the Climate Change Bill

Click on image for a PDF of the Trade Provisions in the Climate Change Bill

out by 2035.

Provision 2: Border Adjustment Measures (a.k.a. Tariffs)
It is the second trade provision, found in Title VI, Part F, subpart 2, that is the most contentious; this is the provision that establishes unilateral border adjustment measures – a.k.a. tariffs –  on imports from countries that do not have similar emissions reduction policies.  Under this provision, if by 2018 there is no international climate change treaty in force, the President, starting in 2020, is required to impose a border adjustment measure on imports from sectors in countries that have not capped their emissions or reduced their energy-intensity to comparable levels.  The U.S. importer of the competing foreign product will have to purchase an “international reserve allowance” through a carbon market.  This in effect establishes a tariff on imports from that foreign country.

As Jake pointed out, the President can grant a waiver to certain countries if he or she deems that there is an important national economic or environmental reason that takes precedence.  But the Presidential waiver is subject to Congressional approval through a joint resolution of Congress. In effect, Congress has to “second” the President’s decision, making for a cumbersome procedure.   If either house of Congress does not agree with the President’s reasoning, the waiver is denied.  Given the already politically-sensitive as well as politically-expedient nature of the U.S.-China relationship, it is difficult to imagine that any waiver to a Chinese industry could make its way through Congress without a fight.

Effectiveness of the Trade Provisions

As Jake explained in our interview, the trade provisions were adopted for three reasons: (1) to prevent carbon leakage (the transfer of production and jobs from industries in the U.S. subject to cap-and-trade rules to companies in foreign countries that do not have such rules in place), (2) to keep U.S. manufacturing industries competitive in a potentially unequal carbon-restricted world, and (3) to be used as leverage against other countries that have yet to set emission reduction targets.  But will these provisions achieve their stated goals?  Or are they protectionist responses to pressure from a few select industries?

Carbon Leakage
If a goal is to prevent carbon leakage and promote emission caps in other countries, the trade provisions, especially the border adjustment provisions, are not tailored narrowly enough to achieve these goals.  Congress was largely targeting China with the trade provisions.  However, out of the five U.S. industries that would be able to use the tariff provisions (steel, aluminum, chemicals, paper and cement), only one industry imports more than 10% of its product from China: the cement sector (WRI report, p. xviii).  For the other industries, the majority of foreign imports are from Canada and other developed nations, many of which already have emissions standards that surpass the U.S’.  While there will inevitably be some carbon leakage, it’s questionable just how dramatic it will be.  Currently, the majority of U.S. imports in these sectors come from countries with less-carbon intense production methods than China or even the carbon emissionU.S.  Just because U.S. companies will bare the cost of meeting more rigorous emission standards does not necessarily mean that production will be shifted to countries with less rigorous standards.  Currently, China’s production of aluminum is carbon-intensive and uses a tremendous amount of energy.  However, China’s production is more expensive than Canada’s or the U.S.’ and can barely remain competitive in the global market.  Thus, lower carbon emissions and greater energy efficiency do not always equate with higher costs.

Furthermore, if the goal is to prevent carbon leakage, the trade provisions offer no recourse to individual companies from foreign, carbon-heavy countries that are meeting their own private emission caps.  For example, Baosteel, China’s largest steel producer, is relatively energy-efficient (WRI report, p. 35).  However, under the current Climate Change Bill, even though Baosteel may voluntarily subject itself to carbon targets similar to those that will be imposed on steelmakers in the U.S., Baosteel will still be penalized.  The Bill’s trade provisions evaluate imports on a sector-wide basis and not an individual company one.  Arguably, if the goal is to prevent carbon leakage, the U.S. has a better chance of influencing a Chinese company’s behavior than an entire sector in China.  Thus, the trade provisions should establish a secondary track where certain companies, if they are able to show that they are compliant with U.S. standards, are exempted from the border provisions applied to their country and sector.

Finally, the question remains – how do you measure the carbon footprint of an imported product?  These provisions rely heavily upon the assumptions that monitoring and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from the country of origin is (a) an easy task and (b) accurate.  While these assumptions might hold true in countries like Canada or Japan, for China, where implementation and enforcement on the local level is a perpetual struggle, any form of data collection is a challenge and results are often less than reliable.  Thus, in a world where carbon measurement is problematic, the actual ability to implement the trade provisions remains questionable.

Competitiveness
As mentioned above, imports from China in the energy-intensive, trade-sensitive industries are very small (14% of cement, 7 % of steel, 3% of aluminum, 4% of paper, and less than 1% of chemicals).  These five industries also make up a small portion of the U.S. economy, accounting for 3% of economic output and less than 2% of U.S. employment.  While these industries will inevitability be negatively affected by the Climate Change Bill, the impact on the greater U.S. climate-change-2economy is relatively small.  Additionally, over-protection of these industries loses sight of the broader U.S. economy and the other goal of the Climate Change Bill: to shift production and jobs to energy-efficient or renewable energy industries.

Furthermore, while the border adjustment measures protect these raw material industries, it potentially could hurt those industries that use the raw materials for production of “downstream” products.  For example, the border adjustment measures are only applicable to the importation of sheet steel, and not to products that are made out of steel, like cars or appliances (WRI report, p. 52).  U.S. car makers will still have to compete against foreign car manufacturers whose products could contain steel from countries without carbon regulations.  Without the benefit of border adjustment measures on cars, U.S. car makers would become less competitive.

Similarly, U.S. chemical manufacturing companies are fairly competitive globally.  These companies refine the carbon-intensive, raw material chemicals to make downstream, specialty concoctions (WRI report, p. 52).  However, by imposing a border adjustment measure on the raw material chemicals, any of these chemical manufacturing companies who import raw materials, would experience an increase in the cost of production, making their products less competitive abroad.  While the border adjustment measures will protect the five energy-intensive, trade-sensitive industries’ profits, they could likely hinder the competitiveness of industries that use these raw materials to manufacture downstream products.

Leverage
The jury is still out on whether border adjustment provisions do in fact bring countries to the table to discuss climate change.  The general assumption is that tariff threats rarely cause countries to act, especially countries as large as China.  However, after the U.S. backed out of the Kyoto Protocol, the European countries threatened similar types of south-korean-flagtariffs, targeted precisely at energy-intensive U.S. industries.  Perhaps a mere coincidence, but it’s interesting to note that today, the U.S. is now close to passing climate change legislation.  Recently, South Korea voluntarily set a 2020 emissions reduction target; the South Korean government cited the fear of border tariffs as a reason to set targets.

But it is still questionable how far the threat of tariffs can go.  China has certainly taken notice of the border adjustment provisions in the U.S. Climate Change Bill, but that does not mean it will agree to carbon caps.  China’s exports to the U.S. that would likely be subject to the tariff provisions accounted for less than 0.2% of economic output in 2005, thus making the U.S.’ tariff threats of little consequence to China (WRI report, p. 57).  However, of greater consequence to the U.S. and to the rest of the world is if China, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, walks away from climate change negotiations because it feels as though it needs to “act tough” for its domestic audience.  In looking at the current border adjustment provisions in the Bill and the tepid success they have had thus far, the Senate might want to ask itself if the risk is worth it.

Legality of the Trade Provisions

As Jake mentioned, World Trade Organization (WTO) rules require that countries pass nondiscriminatory trade provisions – that the provisions do not discriminate against foreign products in favor of domestic ones.  Arguably, the current Bill does discriminate.  As discussed earlier, individual companies that could be meeting similar carbon caps will be discriminated against if their home country has not agreed to carbon caps.  Without some sort of procedure that exempts foreign firms which individually meet carbon caps from the border tariffs, the current trade provisions may not withstand a WTO challenge.

There will certainly be a Senate showdown over the Climate Change Bill.  Already ten Democratic Senators have stated that the trade provisions need to be stronger.  But do they really?  If your singular goal is to protect 3% of the nation’s economic output and 2% of its jobs, then yes, the trade provisions will maintain the status quo, at least for the time being.  But if your goal is to increase innovation in new sectors like renewable energy, create clean jobs and limit global climate change, then the trade provisions, as they stand now do not achieve that goal.  There is a need to maintain U.S. competitiveness in the five effected industries, but in the current tariff provision, what is being maintained are corporate profits in a few select, and powerful, industries.  The Senate needs to take a good hard look at the current trade provisions and question if it is worth it.  Perhaps it is time to move away from defensive measures against China and begin to better engage China in agreeing to a climate change treaty.  Without China’s agreement, any legislation the Senate passes will have negligible effect in limiting climate change.

Click here to listen to the interview with Jake Caldwell

Click here to open a PDF of the transcript of the Jake Caldwell interview

Jon Huntsman CONFIRMED as U.S. Ambassador to China

By , August 9, 2009

On Friday, the day before breaking for a month-long recess, the Senate finally confirmed Gov. Jon Huntsman as U.S.

Our New Ambassador to China!

Our New Ambassador to China!

Ambassador to China.  In the coming weeks, Ambassador Huntsman, his wife and two youngest daughters will move to Beijing.  In addition to managing the U.S.-China relationship and working with Chinese officials on North Korea, climate change and other difficult issues, Ambassador Huntsman will also be helping to arrange President Obama’s first trip to China, scheduled for this fall.

For more information from the Salt Lake Tribune, click here.

For an analysis on the Huntsman confirmation from the China Daily’s English edition, click here.

Musings on Sen. Kerry’s Preparation for the US & China in Copenhagen

By , August 4, 2009

In Friday’s Huffington Post, Sen. John Kerry published a timely op-ed piece, “Who Lost the Earth?” on the need for the U.S. and China to reach some kind of an agreement on climate change.  “Who Lost the Earth?” comes at a point when itDSC04227 appears that any agreements reached during  December’s U.N. Conference on Climate Change will likely not include the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases: the U.S. and China.

In his op-ed, Sen. Kerry correctly commends China for its efforts in already implementing measures to curb greenhouse gases.  It is in fact impressive that China is already experimenting further than the U.S. with some energy efficient technologies.   Furthermore, Sen. Kerry is right to criticize those in the U.S. who say that China “won’t lift a finger.”  While nervous that it could forestall economic development, China still has a sincere interest in solving its impending environmental crisis.  Every year, over 60,000 “mass incidents” (protests often involving thousands of people) in China are spurred by environmental damage.  The Chinese government views these mass incidents as a very real threat to its rule.

But even in light of these factors which propel China forward on the issue of climate change, Sen. Kerry and his Democratic colleagues still need to be realistic about China’s capacity.  Sen. Kerry notes that there needs to be legal commitments on the international stage and that China needs to be held accountable.  All of this is true.  But at the same time, China’s circumstances must be understood.  While moving forward in some areas, China still lacks the technical capacity to implement many energy-saving measures.  Simple things like an energy audit of a building often elude local officials.  Many industries, such as waste-heat recovery, have yet to be developed.

Another impediment is the difficulty for the central government to implement environmental laws on a local level.  Because China is an authoritarian regime, many believe that whatever the Chinese central government wants to achieve, it can easily impose.  But with this authoritarian government comes a layer of inflexibility.  Rule is from the center out; from top down; for the central government to guarantee that laws are implemented on the local level, it must amass all of its power, and oversee the locality, a very time-consuming and exhausting activity.

Unlike the U.S., China does not have a flexible regulatory state where government authority has been delegated to specific agencies that have almost exclusive jurisdiction over a field.  Nor do laws allow for individuals to enforce the law through lawsuits on behalf of the government (i.e. private right of action).  Instead, the Chinese central government must do all in a country as large as the U.S.  Not surprisingly, its ability to control the local level and guarantee that laws are implemented is not as prevalent.

In moving forward, U.S. policy makers must take China’s circumstances into account.  While they need to push China forward to meet greenhouse gas emission targets, these targets must reflect China’s current capabilities.  If Sen. Kerry and the Democrats do not devise a realistic strategy to help China in terms of technology assistance and implementation skills prior to Copenhagen in December 2009, opponents in Congress will use China’s capacity issues as an excuse to reject any agreement arising out of Copenhagen.  This would not just be a defeat for Sen. Kerry and like-minded Democrats; this would be a defeat for the future of this world.

News Alert: Vote on Jon Huntsman Confirmation POSTPONED

By , July 29, 2009

On Tuesday, the Senate delayed voting on the confirmation of Jon Huntsman as the next Ambassador to China. Reason for the delay is unclear although the Senate has said that it still needs to compile paperwork.

While some in the press seem to speculate that the hold up could be due to issues related to Gov. Huntsman’s large financial holdings, it could also simply be the Senate overworked with the Sotomayor confirmation, health care reform and other issues.

Voting on Gov. Huntsman’s confirmation has been postponed to next Tuesday or Wednesday (August 4 or 5).  Congress’ last day before its month-long summer recess is Friday, August 7.  It appears that Gov. Huntsman’s  confirmation is coming down to the wire.

More information can be found here.

The Hunt for a New China Policy: A Review of the Jon Huntsman Confirmation Hearing

By , July 25, 2009

Gov. Jon Huntsman at his confirmation hearing, July 23, 2009

Gov. Jon Huntsman at his confirmation hearing, July 23, 2009

Originally posted on ChinaGeeks

Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearing for the next ambassador to China was a virtual love-fest from both sides of the aisle.  Democratic senators gushed about Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s China background and Mandarin language skills and Republican senators John McCain, Orin Hatch and Bob Bennett attended the hearing to show their ardent support for the nominee.  There is little doubt that Gov. Huntsman – a Republican governor, nominated as Ambassador to China by a Democrat president – will be confirmed on Tuesday when the full Senate meets to vote on his nomination.  But his confirmation hearing still proved a telling sign of the Administration’s priorities in its relationship with China (nominees are always prepped for weeks prior to their hearing by Administration officials).

In his opening statement Gov. Huntsman stressed the importance of working with China on two high-priority fronts: first, repairing the international economy and second, maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia.  In what was likely a nod to the Chinese government and an acknowledgement of the increasing tension with North Korea as illustrated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Asia, Gov. Huntsman highlighted China’s leadership in organizing the six-party talks and commended China on working closely, and successfully, with the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council in dealing with North Korea.  Gov. Huntsman also mentioned other areas where the U.S. and China must continue to work together: advancing global counter-terrorism efforts, stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction, combating extremism and promoting stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and promoting better governance and development in places like Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe.

Most people believe that President Obama nominated Gov. Huntsman solely for strategic reasons – to eliminate a strong Republican presidential candidate in 2012.  But that could easily be only partially true.  Another reason is that Gov. Huntsman is actually a very good pick to represent the U.S. in a relationship that has become much more delicate as it becomes more important.  Gov. Huntsman has a strong China background, experiencing first-hand Chinese societies in Taiwan (during his time as a Mormon missionary) and Singapore (as Ambassador).  Additionally, during the hearing, Gov. Huntsman supported continued human rights discussions with the Chinese, criticizing our current approach as too “on-again-off-again.” Instead he advocated for a regularized and systematic forum where issues such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, rule of law, and access to information can continuously be discussed.  While some might argue that this was mere political posturing to secure votes from Congress, Gov. Huntsman’s statement is a noted departure from Secretary Clinton’s recent announcement that human rights cannot interfere with our handling of other crises. Such a departure provides credibility that Gov. Huntsman sincerely wants to make human rights issues a regular part of his dialogue with the Chinese.  Also, his experience in Taiwan and Singapore provide him with the alternative perspective that economic development in a culturally-Chinese society does not necessarily require the authoritarian regime that currently exists on the mainland.

Although Gov. Huntsman’s approach to human rights is slightly different from the Administration’s, he whole-heartedly supports the Administration’s focus on climate change in U.S.-China relations, deviating from many of his Republican colleagues.  In discussing caps on greenhouse gases, Gov. Huntsman maintained that the U.S. should support an agreement on climate change with China, viewing any agreement as an economic, exporting opportunity.  The U.S. will become a leader in clean air and energy efficiency industries, industries that he argued would likely dominate the global economy for the next 20 to 40 years.  Unfortunately, Gov. Huntsman did not address the intellectual property concerns of exporting U.S. clean energy technology to China, a thorny issue that will certainly prove tricky in any discussions on climate change.

The nomination of Gov. Huntsman is a telling signal that the Obama Administration perhaps grasps the realities of the new China.  The China today is not the China that existed 30 years ago when the U.S. first normalized relations.  In only the past few years, China has quickly emerged as a global leader with a strong economy, large militarily and significant influence on other countries.   Today, the U.S. negotiates with a power that in many ways is its equal; one that can easily walk away from the negotiating table.  For the next few years, the U.S. and China will have to be able to cooperate on a myriad of tough issues that could impact the future of our world order – climate change, trade, humanitarian crises, currency, terrorism, just to name a few.  It is important to have a representative in Beijing who understands how to effectively negotiate with the Chinese and find common ground between our two nations, but at the same time is willing to stand his ground when our interests diverge, which, at times, will be unavoidable.  Gov. Huntsman, with his knowledge of Chinese culture, language skills, and his courage to buck his own party and accept the nomination, could likely be the best person for the job.

Gov. Huntsman, his wife and the author (on the right) after the confirmation hearing

Gov. Huntsman, his wife and the author (on the right) after the confirmation hearing

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