Here’s all you need to know about President Obama’s negotiations with Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier this week: According to The China Daily, “The two countries will also improve cooperation in law enforcement … fighting drug trafficking and cybercrimes.”
China — the world’s most aggressive hacker — will be our partner in fighting cybercrimes? We’ve been snookered, once again.
No amount of spin by a media starry-eyed over a new climate pact with China can alter the facts: Barack Obama is no match for Xi Jinping. Dubbed by The Economist as “the most powerful Chinese ruler certainly since Deng and possibly since Mao,” Mr. Xi is popular, forceful and authoritarian — and he was fully in command of his recent get-together with Mr. Obama.
Our commander in chief even lost the press conference. Obama’s handlers arranged that the two leaders not only would issue the usual formal statements, but would also (unusually) welcome questions from the press. As had been arranged, Obama called on a New York Times reporter, who dutifully asked Xi about freedom of the press. China’s secretary general ignored the question and called on a Chinese reporter, eliciting what the Times called a “quizzical” expression from Obama. Xi then launched into what was in essence a rebuke of critics in the Western media and a lecture to those present, including Obama.
Xi 1, Obama 0.
More important, it appears Obama was so desperate for a diplomatic win in Beijing that he made important concessions on U.S. emissions and military cooperation in return for vague promises that Chinese carbon output might top out by 2030. Obama's reward? Sure enough, the New York Times lauded his “landmark” climate deal on Page One, describing the “cause” as “popular.”
The climate pact is lopsided. It calls for a substantial reduction of U.S. carbon emissions in 2025 to 26 to 28 percent below its level of 2005, while China agrees to boost non-fossil fuels to around 20 percent of its overall energy mix by 2030, and hopes its emissions will peak at that time. One analyst quoted by the Times said, “What China is pledging to do here is not a lot different from what China’s policies are on track to deliver.”
For the U.S., meeting the goals will require pushing through proposed emissions controls on power plants that will cause a shutdown of almost one-fifth of our coal-fired facilities, and raise electricity costs. Keep in mind that China now accounts for 26 percent of global carbon emissions, compared to 16 percent for the U.S.
Xi 2, Obama 0.
The Chinese are not agreeing to limit pollution because they are good citizens, or because Obama is so persuasive. They face an emergency.
The ongoing deterioration of China’s foul air and water prompted more than 700 protests last year, according to the official State of the Environment Report. Such demonstrations are growing at nearly 30 percent a year and have alarmed China’s security-obsessed rulers. Pollution routinely blocks visibility in Beijing; last December, record smog shut down Shanghai’s airport and schools. In other words, China is desperate. It has already committed to changing its energy mix (mainly reducing its use of coal) to prevent further protests.
The U.S. does not need to make commensurate adjustments. Thanks to the fracking revolution, natural gas is increasingly displacing coal and producing cleaner air in our country. Greenhouse emissions in the U.S. have dropped more than 10 percent since 2005. Allowing this market-driven process to continue is sensible policy; we do not need the heavy hand of government (aka the proposed new EPA regulations) to accelerate the shift.
The U.S. and China are competing on many fronts. They have cheap labor; we have nearly everything else. We have the advantages of a near-universal language, rule of law, a sophisticated financial and credit apparatus and — most important — abundant and inexpensive energy, which China lacks. Nothing could be stupider than to cede our advantage on this front by restricting our energy industries. Nothing could be smarter for the Chinese than to persuade us to do so.
The Chinese will benefit from their program to increase their use of alternative energy. They are the world leaders in manufacturing solar panels, for example, but they have struggled to compete after being hit with U.S. and European tariffs.
Several large solar manufacturers in China have gone belly-up this year, as prices dropped. Some solar companies are becoming power providers, helping to sop up excess supply and accelerate non-fossil energy growth. Ramping up demand for that sector is a win-win in China.
Elsewhere, Obama approved closer military ties, listed as one of Xi’s top priorities ahead of the meetings. This as, simultaneously, the Chinese showed off a new stealth fighter jet, the FC-31, which some claim is a dead ringer for the American Lockheed Martin F-35.
Without doubt, the Chinese have used cyberespionage to further their military potential.
Nonetheless, the agreement sanctioned by Obama included expanded military exchanges, joint training drills and the prospect of establishing a mutual reporting mechanism for major military operations. Given the superior capabilities of the U.S. Armed Forces, who benefits more from closer observations and interactions?
Xi 3, Obama 0.