Posts tagged: Climate Change

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?

Rare Earth Minerals – China Seeks to Make them More Rare

By , June 15, 2010
China's rare earth mine in Inner Mongolia

China's rare earth mine in Inner Mongolia

Last November, China Law & Policy reported on an obscure-sounding group of minerals found at the bottom of the periodic table: rare earth minerals.  While you may never have heard of them, you likely use them.  With their lightness in weight and resistance to heat, rare earths have been instrumental in many technological innovations, from color television, to laptops, to the iPhone.  Rare earths are also essential to any company that wants to succeed in the green technology revolution.  Rare earths are needed to create batteries for electric cars and for wind turbines.  Expect demand to increase.

But while demand increases, the global supply will decrease.  Why?  China currently produces 95% of the world’s rare earth minerals and in the beginning of June, the Chinese government announced that it was considering nationalizing its rare earth industry.  As China becomes a leader in green technology, its own domestic demand increases, leaving less to export.

Monday’s PBS Newshour did a 10 minute analysis of the rare earth dilemma, China’s demands and what it means to the U.S. as it seeks to catch up in the green technology revolution.  To watch the video or read the transcript, click here.

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.

Drama-Rama in Copenhagen – Will There Be a Deal?

By , December 17, 2009
Sec. of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen

Who would have thought that the U.N. Climate Change Conference could tear the world away from the on-going saga of Tiger Woods?  With protests in the streets of Copenhagen that escalate every day (click here for an insider’s perspective on the protests), a mass walk-out by developing nations from the conference, and constant barbs between the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG), the U.S. and China, the drama is running high in the closing days of Copenhagen and the world is on edge.  Will there be a deal?

As Marcy Nicks Moody noted, a legally binding treaty will not emerge from Copenhagen. However, going into Copenhagen last week, with both the U.S. and China announcing their respective commitments, a strong political agreement seemed possible.  But with the increasingly antagonistic discussion between the U.S. and China delegations, has the world reached an impasse?  Should everyone pack their bags now and head home?

Not quite yet.  There is still reason to have hope.

First, the very fact that there is heated discussion, disagreement and even anger is a good thing.  If Copenhagen was going to be a rubber stamp, a mere sheet of paper that no one was going to pay attention to, there would not be such dissension in the ranks, especially from the U.S. and China.  But countries like China and the U.S. are strategically considering their interests in anticipation of a strong political agreement that will likely provide the framework for a legally binding one in the future.

Second, we are still in the negotiation stages.  Yes, the exchanges between the U.S. and China over financial assistance,

China's Climate Change Ambassador Yu Qingtai at Copenhagen

China's Climate Change Ambassador Yu Qingtai at Copenhagen

transparency, and caps have become more hostile, but that could also be because, now with China on a more equal footing in the world, it is able to negotiate harder and play both offense and defense.

Additionally, the climate change talks have proved to be a growing experience for China and its leadership.  Copenhagen is the first international summit of substance that China is a part of in its new status as an emerging global power, forcing its leadership to confront the reality that such a title comes with both advantages and disadvantages.  China’s increased status in the world gives it the negotiating power to better protect its interests in the final document, surely a distinct advantage.   But its increased status also means that China’s interests are no longer completely aligned with the other developing countries’ interests; while China is still the de facto leader of “the Group of 77 plus China” and holds sway over many of the African nations because of trade alliances, there are times when China’s interests are adverse to the developing world’s.  As China’s power continues to grow, such division between it and the developing world will inevitably increase and China will have to become more comfortable with this fact.  Copenhagen is a reflection of these growing pains.

So how do we move forward?

Tomorrow, the leaders of the world will converge on Copenhagen with the goal of producing a clear and strong roadmap to a legally binding treaty.  The biggest issue that could prevent some form of a deliverable is the U.S. and China relationship.  So how do we move forward?

China has demanded international funding for its climate change commitments.  China argues that the western nations, for the past few hundred years, have been able to grow without any restrictions on their development.  Fossil fuels were used without consideration for the climate and lands were deforested with abandon.  China argues that the West’s irresponsible development vis-à-vis the global environment is the cause of the current climate change crisis.  But by asking that all nations partake in a climate change deal, China maintains that the West is unfairly spreading the costs of its own development on all countries.  As a result, China is demanding that if the West wants it to agree to a climate change bill that would require China to pay for past western growth, the West needs to offer some form of payment.

The logic underlying China’s argument cannot be denied.  However, if a deal at Copenhagen is not reached, China will be the cause of the world’s future climate crisis.  By that time, when the “score” between the West’s development and China’s will be equal, it will be too late to broker a deal.  Additionally, China’s demand for some form of climate reparations comes at a financially difficult time.  Politically for the U.S., it’s difficult to justify a blank check to the U.S.’ largest debt holder.

However, the U.S. should not just walk away from China’s demand since the U.S. could benefit from this as well.  China has already stated that without international funding, it will not allow outside international verification of its Copenhagen commitments.  The U.S. has balked at China’s refusal to allow for outside verification, and rightfully so.  While China has made some progress in improving its statistical measurement ability, it is still worlds away from the West and given some of China’s past practice of using measurements that produce falsely positive results, the West is right to be skeptical.

But Copenhagen could serve as an opportunity to help China develop its capacity to measure and verify data as well as 121509_polar_monster_397x224implement its commitments on the local level.  And this would not just help with climate change.  China has a horrible record of statistical reporting in every sector – environmental, criminal justice, trade disputes, and economic development.  However, with the assistance from the West, China will not just learn to better measure its own development but will become more comfortable with public reporting.  This could create a more reliable and transparent government, something that both the Chinese people and the outside world could benefit from.

Thus, hopefully in these last few days, the U.S. and China can reach a targeted agreement whereby the U.S. and the West will provide financial assistance to China’s attempts to better measure its data as long as China opens this process to U.S. and Western observation.

On the Eve of Copenhagen – China and the U.S. Join the rest of the World at the Table

By , December 7, 2009

Our last posting about the upcoming global climate change negotiations was not very positive; in fact very few analysts have been positive.  But the past week has proved interesting, with both the United States and China issuing carbon reduction plans, forcing us to reconsider our previous notion that Copenhagen will produce little results.

 

The U.S. and China Issue their Respective Climate Control Plans

cop15_logo_imgRight before Thanksgiving, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. will be attending Copenhagen with a promise to cut emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.  While it is a step forward that the U.S. will be attending the climate change talks with specific targets, those targets are still very much provisional.  Any targets coming out of the climate change talks will require Congressional approval post-Copenhagen.   While the 17% cuts proposed by the White House are identical to the GHG emission targets found in the House of Representative’s climate change bill passed in June, that bill has been languishing in the Senate, and will likely face an uphill battle once the Senate turns its attention from health care to climate change.   So whether the 17% cuts become a reality remains to be seen.

The day after the U.S. announcement, China issued a “carbon intensity target” reduction of 40-45% by 2020 to bring to Copenhagen.  While this looks huge on paper, in reality, it would allow GHG emissions to increase while China’s economy continues to grow, albeit GHG would grow at a lower rate.  Carbon intensity measures carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), so if your GDP skyrockets ever year, like China’s does at a rate of 8% a year, you can actually increase your absolute greenhouse gas emissions, and still show a 40-45% reduction by 2020.  Julian Wong on the Green Leap Forward also gives a good description of the math behind this.  China expects its GHG emissions to peak around 2035, a time that many experts believe is too late.

Although both the U.S.’ and China’s plans are far from perfect, at this stage, something is better than nothing from the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters.  And China has made concerted and sincere efforts thus far to increase its energy efficiency and reduce its greenhouse gas emission rate.

Now that China has set Some Targets Will it Be Able to Measure Them?

China is not known for reliable government statistics and while there has been notable improvements, its ability to

Copenhagen remains a game of Chinese chess

Copenhagen remains a game of Chinese chess

accurately measure and report its greenhouse gas emissions, and thus be held accountable to international commitments, has remained an issue leading up to Copenhagen.  Currently, China lacks the capacity – both technical and institutional – to provide such reliable data.

However, China has recently agreed to some cooperation with international and U.S. bodies to assist with developing its capacity to accurately measure its GHG emissions.  The U.S.’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Chinese counterpart, the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC), signed a memorandum of cooperation (which is a step up from a memorandum of understanding) to work on China’s capacity issues concerning its ability to measure its emissions output.

But as Charlie McElwee over on the China Environmental Law blog [website no longer available], the EPA-NDRC memorandum currently lacks particulars and will likely go nowhere without being fully fleshed out.  At Copenhagen, the U.S. and the E.U. need to pressure China to work more closely with foreign bodies in developing its capacity.  It is important that Copenhagen does not conclude without a detailed plan to develop China’s capacity.  Additionally, this capacity development, especially in terms of institutional development and the ability of China to enforce its environmental regulations at the local level, could potentially influence the enforcement of regulations in all fields of law, providing for greater rule of law in China.

China though will not make this access easy; China has already begun to use this as a bargaining chip for greater financial assistance from developed countries for its climate change policies.  China’s climate change ambassador, Yu Qingtai, announced recently that China will only allow foreign verification of its GHG emissions if it receives outside financial assistance: “Actions would be measurable, reportable and verifiable if (international) support is measurable, reportable and verifiable.”  China’s stance on this should not be surprising.  It has repeatedly asked for international financial support for its efforts to curb its GHG emissions since the current climate crisis has largely been a result of the developed world’s past actions and not because of China’s development (it’s the future environmental crisis that China will largely play a role in if things remain as is).  China’s argument is understandable and rings true.

Fortunately, the Obama administration remains open to discussing a financial commitment.  China appears ready to bargain – if the U.S. wants the access to assist China with developing its technical and institutional capacity, which is necessary for any agreement out of Copenhagen to truly succeed, it must be ready to bargain as well and provide some financial assistance.

The Obama Visit to China – What the U.S. Press Missed

By , November 23, 2009
DSC04715Originally Posted on the Huffington Post.
 

 

 Beijing, China – The U.S. press has not been kind to President Barack Obama and his recent visit to China.  Claiming that the U.S.’ tone has become conciliatory toward China, that the trip “yielded precious little” and even oddly comparing the Obama Administration’s behavior on the visit to a one-party, authoritarian regime, the U.S. press has all but designated the trip a failure.

But the trip was most certainly not a failure and in many ways fulfilled the U.S. press’ predictions – an event filled with a huge agenda covering a multitude of global issues, likely offering few deliverables, and probably playing down, at least publically, human rights.

So if the trip confirmed the press’ earlier predictions, then what’s got their panties all in a bunch?  Perhaps the one thing that upsets the press more than anything is a lack of access, and on this trip, the press certainly played second fiddle.  Questions were not taken from the press during last Tuesday’s press conference and very little other access was offered to the President.  But with only a day and a half in Beijing, this trip was not really about the press.

But in measuring President Obama’s trip based solely on their access, or lack of, the U.S. press has failed to report on some pretty substantial results of President Obama’s trip to China.  In what you likely will not find in other media outlets that are still licking their wounds from an alleged snub, below are some of the surprising deliverables from the visit.    

1.  Increased Military-to-Military Contact and High Level Military Exchanges

If the lack of communication between the U.S. and Chinese militaries does not keep you up at night, well it should.  The U.S. has a better relationship with Russia’s military than it does with China’s, but has more potential to cross paths with China’s because of the U.S.’ military presence in Asia.  Without proper channels of communication between the two militaries, a small skirmish can easily become a major crisis, as President Obama knows from his first months in office when Chinese navy ships circled and threatened a U.S. navy vessel in the South China Sea. 

Adding to the lack of communication is China’s broad interpretation of its “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ). A chinese-fleet-review-a-ch-008country’s EEZ extends 200 miles from the coast and gives the country sovereign rights over economic activities in those waters (usually the country uses its economic zone to search for natural resources).  By China’s broad definition, its sovereign rights in the EEZ expand outside of the economic realm, permitting it to interfere with other countries’ ships that enter its EEZ.  The U.S., as well as most other countries, perceives the EEZ as providing solely economic sovereignty for the coastal state, allowing other countries’ ships free access.  For the U.S., this also includes ships that are conducting military surveillance on the coastal state (for an excellent assessment of these different interpretations, see Margaret K. Lewis’ “An Analysis of State Responsibility for the Chinese-American Airplane Collision Incident”).  Needless to say, these different interpretations only add to the tensions between the two militaries. 

In the U.S.-China Joint Statement issued last week, much needed progress was made on the military front, especially in terms of communication.  High level exchanges between the U.S. and Chinese militaries will continue, with the Chief of the General Staff of the China’s People’s Liberation Army, General Chen Bingde, visiting the U.S. and both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen making a trip to China.

In regards to differing definitions of the EEZ, the Joint Statement alludes to this issue, showing that the two sides likely discussed and acknowledged the problem (From the Joint Statement: “The United States and China agreed to handle through existing channels…maritime issues in keeping with norms of international law and on the basis of respecting each other’s jurisdictions and interests”).  Granted they failed to reach a compromise, but this is not an issue that will be easily solved.  Just discussing this sensitive topic is progress. 

2.  Both Public and Private Discussion of Human Rights

Interestingly, a press that largely ignored this issue prior to President Obama’s trip is making a big deal of his “silence” on human rights violations in China.  Last I checked though, freedom of speech is usually regarded as one such right and President Obama discussed this issue rather bluntly and passionately at the Shanghai town hall.  While it is debatable as to whether focusing on freedom of expression on the internet is sufficient to assist China with a development of a civil society and a rule of law, it is difficult to argue that President Obama did not publically bring up the subject of human rights. 

Furthermore, in his letter written to China’s Southern Weekend newspaper, President Obama stressed the importance of a free press.  True, this letter was not permitted to be circulated to a wider audience, but it portrays the President’s continued emphasis, both publically and privately on human rights.

The Joint Statement also discusses human rights in general and calls for the next official human rights dialogue between the U.S. and China to be held by the end of February 2010 in Washington, D.C.  The Joint Statement also stressed the importance of rule of law in China and agreed to reconvene the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue (see the Dui Hua Foundation website for further background).  With the increasing push back by the Chinese government in the area of rule of law, especially as it pertains to civil rights and civil liberties, deepening cooperation is an important deliverable.

It is true that the Obama Administration has opted more for a strategy of quiet engagement on this issue.  Whether the approach is effective remains to be seen.  This past summer, the Administration was able to secure the release of public interest attorney Xu Zhiyong through behind the scenes pressure on the Chinese government.  However, almost immediately after President Obama left China, the Beijing police apprehended and beat public interest lawyer Jiang Tianyong (pronounce Geeang Tian-young) as he was walking his 7 year old daughter to school.  While Mr. Jiang has since been released, he is under very tight surveillance.  Perhaps if President Obama had mentioned the plight and importance of public interest attorneys in China, the arrest of Mr. Jiang might not have happened.  Or maybe it would have.

Either way, the U.S. press’ conclusion that President Obama “soft-peddled” human rights on his trip does not appear to ring true.  Human rights was certainly discussed, both publically and privately, it just appears that perhaps China was not listening. 

3.  Clean Energy and Climate Change

As expected, the U.S. and China entered into a series of cooperative agreements pertaining to clean energy and climate change technology.  While neither side agreed to emission targets, the level of detail provided for in the issued agreements was more than anticipated.  Most interestingly, the U.S.’ Environmental Protection Agency and China’s National Development Reform Commission signed a memorandum of cooperation to help China develop its capacity to measure its greenhouse gas inventories.  This is no small feat.  China’s does not currently have the capacity to accurately measure its greenhouse gas emissions and thus, if it was to agree to emission targets, would be unable to provide verifiable data.  China’s lack of capacity on this front has rightly been a sticking point for many in the U.S. Congress, preventing the passage of domestic climate change legislation that would be used to bind the U.S. internationally.

This memorandum of cooperation is the first step to enable China to agree to emission targets and for the rest of the world to believe them. 

President Obama’s visit to China was certainly not overly exciting but it was far from the failure that the U.S. press has made it out to be.  It also does not signify the U.S.’ decline as some alarmist media outlets have claimed.  Instead, the visit was a series of tough negotiations between two global powers.  Both had winning issues and losing ones.  And in the end, President Obama likely walked out with a little more than expected.  For me, that’s an accomplishment.

The Deliverables from Obama’s Trip – US-China Joint Statement

By , November 19, 2009

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 17, 2009

U.S.-China Joint Statement

November 17, 2009

Beijing, China

At the invitation of President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China, President Barack Obama of the United States of America is paying a state visit to China from November 15–18, 2009.  The Presidents held in-depth, productive and candid discussions on U.S.-China relations and other issues of mutual interest.  They highlighted the substantial progress in U.S.-China relations over the past 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, and they reached agreement to advance U.S.-China relations in the new era.  President Obama will have separate meetings with Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and Premier Wen Jiabao. President Obama also spoke with and answered questions from Chinese youth.

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Transcript of President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting in Shanghai

By , November 16, 2009

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                        November 16, 2009

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

AT TOWN HALL MEETING WITH FUTURE CHINESE LEADERS

Museum of Science and Technology

Shanghai, China

1:18 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good afternoonn.  It is a great honor for me to be here in Shanghai, and to have this opportunity to speak with all of you.  I’d like to thank Fudan University’s President Yang for his hospitality and his gracious welcome.  I’d also like to thank our outstanding Ambassador, Jon Huntsman, who exemplifies the deep ties and respect between our nations.  I don’t know what he said, but I hope it was good.  (Laughter.)

What I’d like to do is to make some opening comments, and then what I’m really looking forward to doing is taking questions, not only from students who are in the audience, but also we’ve received questions online, which will be asked by some of the students who are here in the audience, as well as by Ambassador Huntsman.  And I am very sorry that my Chinese is not as good as your English, but I am looking forward to this chance to have a dialogue.

This is my first time traveling to China, and I’m excited to see this majestic country.  Here, in Shanghai, we see the growth that has caught the attention of the world — the soaring skyscrapers, the bustling streets and entrepreneurial activity.  And just as I’m impressed by these signs of China’s journey to the 21st century, I’m eager to see those ancient places that speak to us from China’s distant past.  Tomorrow and the next day I hope to have a chance when I’m in Beijing to see the majesty of the Forbidden City and the wonder of the Great Wall.  Truly, this is a nation that encompasses both a rich history and a belief in the promise of the future.

Continue reading 'Transcript of President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting in Shanghai'»

Obama’s Chinese Youth Vote – Filled with Hope As Well As Suggestions

By , November 15, 2009

Originally Posted on the Huffington Post.

Chinese artist's rendition of Barack Obama with Cultural Revolution Slogan "Serve the People"

Chinese artist's rendition of Barack Obama with Cultural Revolution Slogan "Serve the People"

Beijing, China – A certain excitement has lighted the streets of Beijing in anticipation of President Barack Obama’s maiden visit here this week.  Not only has the capital experienced two days of clear blue skies, a rarity in a city that is usually encased in a yellow, gritty smog during the cold winter months, but there is an electricity in the air as everyone discusses President Obama’s visit – from the formal news casters on TV analyzing the potential agenda to the famously earthy taxi drivers complaining about the potential traffic nightmare.

But like President Obama’s fan base back home, the young in China are especially keen on his visit.  And the President is acutely aware of this fact.  On Monday, his first day in China, President Obama will meet with a group of Chinese college and graduate students in Shanghai, to listen to their opinions and answer their questions.  What do these students think of President Obama?  What questions or recommendations will they have for the President?

In talking to a group of graduate students from the China University of Political Science and Law, one of Beijing’s most prestigious universities, President Obama’s rise to power has filled them with the hope that the impossible, or at least the improbable, is achievable.  “He gives young people encouragement.  If you work hard, you can obtain a high position….it’s the American Dream.” said Xie Jinbao (pronounced Syeh Gin-bao).    “For many, it is very dream-like” explained Liu Huisheng (pronounced Leo Hway-sheng), while cautioning that only those who care about politics have been paying attention.  “In general though my friends are neutral [about President Obama].”

In pinpointing the source of this hope, the Chinese students spoke more frankly than their American counterparts on

China University of Political Science and Law

China University of Political Science and Law

one subject in particular: President Obama’s race.  “He’s America’s first black president” Li Siming (pronounced Lee Tsi-ming) offered excitedly, “it makes young people very excited.”   “America was able to elect a black president, it shows that it has a certain openness” said Dong Jianjun (pronounced Dong Geeann-june).  The students also derived inspiration from the multicultural nature of the President’s cabinet, mentioning by name, at least their Chinese names, the appointment of Chinese-Americans including Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu.  “In China, this could never happen; a foreigner could never work in the administration” said Xie Jinbao.

For the students, many who have little recognition of a world before President George W. Bush, President Obama represents a new approach to the global order, an approach that they eagerly look to be a part of.  “He is much better than Bush” Xie Jinbao said.  “Bush believed in unilateralism, but Obama supports multilateralism.”  At a time when many western observers question China’s commitment as a collaborator on the world stage, Li Siwei (pronounced Lee Tsi-way) seemed to imply her generation’s eagerness for greater responsibility: “Obama is willing to work with other countries, there will be more cooperation.”

But even though the term superstar was used repeatedly to describe President Obama and student Liang Xuanjing (pronounced Leeang Syuan-jing) was in awe of President Obama’s charisma, there were words of caution.  “Confucius had a saying ‘If a person is too perfect, we will have doubts’” Liu Huisheng said, noting that perhaps President Obama’s speeches are a bit “too perfect.”  Dong Jianjun echoed this sentiment: “Compared to presidents like Roosevelt or Kennedy, Obama has similarly great charisma…but we have yet to see if his [Obama’s] policies will be effective.”  Like many Americans, these Chinese students are looking for President Obama to follow through on the promises of his speeches.  In a relationship as close as the one between China and the U.S., President Obama’s actions, or lack of action, directly impact China and many of these Chinese students’ futures.

Not surprisingly though, many of the topics that the students would like Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao (pronounced Who Gin-tao) to discuss are the same as their U.S. contemporaries – international trade and the ever escalating tariff war topped the list for these students.  But so did the issue of climate change and energy efficiency as well as the economic recovery.

China’s youth are not that different from the young back home – they share the same hope that Presidents Obama and Hu can make the world a better place and they express an eagerness for a new world order where the U.S. and China can work through their issues.  But like their American brethren, if Presidents Obama and Hu cannot solve many of today’s problems, including the economic crisis, climate change, and an increasingly cantankerous trade relationship, it will be their generation that will be left holding the bag.

Steve Wolfson on the Need for U.S.-China Cooperation to Battle Climate Change

By , October 7, 2009

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is exactly two months away but has China and the U.S. made any headway in coming to terms with their differences on the climate change front?  In a new article published in the Tsinghua China Law Review,  senior attorney at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Steve Wolfson offers a positive outlook on negotiations with recommendations on how the U.S. and China can move forward to reach a meaningful climate change agreement.

In “Gathering Momentum for U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change”  Wolfson reviews the issues that have plagued climate change negotiations between the U.S. and China and the progress that has been made:

  • A Developed Country or a Developing Country? – China puts itself squarely in the developing nation category.  Developing nations were exempt from greenhouse gas emission targets for the Kyoto Protocol and will likely be again for the Copenhagen agreement.  But is China a developing country in the way that Cambodia or Ghana is?  Arguably no and given the fact that China surpassed the U.S. in 2007 for greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. and other developed countries should push China forward in agreeing to some type of targets.
  • Historic Responsibilities of the Western World – China rightfully claims that the planet’s current climate change crisis is a result of the centuries of development in the Western world.  China’s current development over the past 20 years has not caused the current crisis.  But the Western countries argue that, unless it limits its greenhouse gas emissions and works on its energy efficiency, China’s future development is what will make the present crisis into a death sentence for the world.  However, as Wolfson points out, there has been some movement by the U.S.  When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited China in February, she acknowledged the special responsibility of the U.S. due to its role as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases.  In his speech before the U.N. two weeks ago, President Obama also admitted to the historic differences between the U.S. and China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • China’s Positive Progress on Controlling Carbon Emissions – Wolfson analyzes the various laws that China has passed to curb its greenhouse gas emissions and increase its energy efficiency.  He also takes note of China’s various initiatives to restructure its economy to improve its efficiency and reduce its emissions.

While Wolfson’s article offers much hope for U.S.-China progress on the eve of Copenhagen, he concludes on a slightly somber note, remarking on China’s inability to implement many of its national laws on the local level.  This is a problem that permeates all of Chinese society: the the Sanlu milk powder scandal last year, the recent and wide-spread lead poisoning  of children in villages that boarder factories, the importation of toys laced with lead from China; school buildings that do not withstand an earthquake; these are all examples of a regulatory system that fails on the local level.

China is sincere in its desire to be a leader in clean technology and to clean up its environment.  But its problem now is implementing any agreement that comes out of Copenhagen, and this is not because China does not want to; it is because China does not know how.

We at China Law & Policy have recommended in past posts and continue to recommend that U.S. policy makers seize the opportunity that Copenhagen offers to assist China with its legal development in the regulatory field.  Copenhagen should not just be about agreeing to targets; an agreement from Copenhagen should also include the U.S.’ commitment to provide resources on implementation and governance, knowledge exchanges between U.S. environmental regulators and Chinese environmental regulators, and an open-mindedness that it is going to take China some time to establish an effective regulatory scheme.  By assisting China with its regulatory development, the U.S. will not only make headways in establishing a greater sense of rule of law but could potentially benefit the lives of 1.3 billion people in a very real and tangible way.  Wolfson’s article reminds us of this.

Click here to Read Steve Wolfson’s Gathering Momentum for U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change.

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