Is China building diplomacy through environmental protection? | Water Cheung Chung-wing

Published (HKT): 2021.05.04 09:18

A month ago, Beijing celebrated 50 years of table tennis diplomacy with the U.S. In March, 50 years ago, the 31st World Table Tennis Championships were held in Nagoya, Japan with China competing again after a two-year absence. American table tennis player Glenn Cowan initiated a handshake with Chinese captain Zhuang Zedong, starting the groundbreaking ping pong diplomacy that led to President Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972.

At that time, the relationship between China and the Soviet Union was deteriorating, and the Soviets was deploying large numbers of troops along the Chinese border. After the Vietnam War, the U.S. also wanted to take a break. Henry Kissinger, then U.S. national security adviser, downplayed dogma in favor of practical benefits and was the flag bearer of the U.S.-China diplomatic effort. Over the years, China has been immensely proud of this diplomatic achievement. To this day, Beijing still considers him an old friend, a diplomat whom the famous local writer Ko Hung (高雄, also known as 三蘇) called the “kissing guy.” This time, China unilaterally commemorated the ping pong diplomacy by inviting Kissinger to take the stage, but unfortunately the Biden administration did not make any response.

Last week, Washington invited 40 world leaders to a video conference to discuss climate change. Photos on the internet show the images of Biden and Xi Jinping next to each other on the big screen, a sight not seen in a long time. Global warming is a major concern for the whole planet and all mankind, independent of military and territorial issues, and China and the U.S. are the top carbon emitting countries in the world.

According to 2018 figures, the annual carbon emissions are 10 billion tons in China and 5.41 billion tons in the U.S., which are 28% and 15% of the global total, respectively.

There have been endless debates between developed countries and developing countries on how to allocate the responsibility for environmental protection. The former believe that the latter only pursue their own economic development and ignore the responsibility of the earth; the latter believe that the former started early and after becoming prosperous, they do not let others enjoy the resources. If the above annual carbon emission figures are calculated on a per capita basis, Saudi Arabia tops the list at 18.48 tons, the U.S. ranks fourth at 16.56 tons, and China has dropped to 13th place at 7.05 tons. It is true that since Xi Jinping came to power, he has dramatically increased the priority given to environmental protection. China’s green bond issuance, for example, jumped from a modest volume to half of the world’s total issuance in 2016.

Politics aside, for the sake of the global village, China and the U.S. should work together, but U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan was the first to respond: The U.S. will not view China’s cooperation on climate change as a favor to the Americans. When will the U.S. have a change of heart?

Declaration of interest: I am the non-executive board chair of Carbon Care Asia Pte Ltd and have also been involved in businesses related to the issuance of green bonds.

(Water Cheung, Senior Principal and CEO for Asia Pacific at StormHarbour Securities)

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