Joe Biden’s Climate Change China Crisis
President Joe Biden has made fighting climate change the cornerstone of his administration’s domestic and international policies. This presents Biden with a huge China problem.
Biden believes greenhouse gas emissions are causing dangerous climate change. China is the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, emitting more than double America’s present emissions and growing. As such, Biden and his policy team, including John Kerry, his climate change envoy, and Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, see cooperation with China as necessary to reduce the threat of global warming.
Early on, the Biden administration talked tough about China. Biden issued a formal invitation to Taiwan’s representative to his inauguration. In addition, Blinken concurred with his predecessor Mike Pompeo’s determination that China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority is “genocide.” The administration also said previously planned naval exercises in the South China Sea will go forward, as will arms sales to Taiwan. These moves are guaranteed to raise China’s ire.
Although Biden is talking tough with China in public, his policies are already quietly giving Beijing the upper hand in climate negotiations.
Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris climate agreement puts the United States at a competitive disadvantage with China. The agreement calls for the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions sharply, which can only realistically be done by reducing the use of our abundant, inexpensive, reliable fossil fuels -- and ultimately by slashing the use of energy overall. The Paris agreement places no restrictions on China, which is building hundreds of coal-fueled power plants that produce reliable, inexpensive electricity.
Biden’s retroactive withdrawal of permission for the Keystone XL pipeline, his ban on new oil and gas leases on public lands, and his revocation of 70 existing permits for oil and gas production, undermines U.S. energy independence.
Biden has also quietly rescinded an executive order former President Donald Trump implemented barring utilities from purchasing Chinese-made equipment critical to the U.S. energy distribution system. On its face, Biden’s action seems to violate his “made in America” policy and is likely to make our power system less secure.
And in late January, just a week into Biden’s tenure as president, Shandong Xinchao (SX), a Chinese energy company, agreed to purchase U.S. oil and gas assets currently producing 9,000 barrels of oil and gas equivalent per day, with proven reserves of 65 million barrels. Because SX operates subject to the whims of the Chinese government, it is unlikely this sale would have gone through under Trump.
China currently controls the production and refining of many rare earth minerals critical to green energy technologies and military systems. Biden’s requirement to shift to an all-electric vehicle fleet and his call for expansion of wind and solar power will likely make the United States even more dependent on China for crucial rare earth minerals.
All of these actions can be seen in bribes intended to entice China to cooperate with the United States on climate change.
On top of all that, China has explicitly linked cooperation with United States on climate change to America abandoning its principled support of human rights and international law. Shortly after Blinken labeled China’s treatment of its minority Uighur Muslim community “genocide,” China’s representative made it clear China’s cooperation on climate matters would depend on the United States ceasing to interfere in matters the Chinese Communist Party considers internal affairs.
“China is ready to cooperate with the United States and the international community on climate change,” China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on January 28, the day after Kerry and Blinken talked tough on China. “I would like to stress that China-U.S. cooperation in specific areas... is closely linked with bilateral relations as a whole.”
“China has emphasized time and again that no one should imagine they can ask China to understand and support them in bilateral and global matters when they blatantly interfere in China’s domestic affairs and undermine China’s interests,” Lijian said, stating the Biden administration should create “favorable conditions” for climate cooperation.
Despite their tough talk, in their near-monomaniacal focus on fighting climate change, Biden and company are already well down the road to giving China more power over the United States. If, to secure cooperation on climate change, Biden reverses previous administrations’ positions on Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, the Uighurs, and U.S. patent holders, millions of people will suffer.
Worst of all, Biden’s actions will diminish the United States’ standing as the world’s leader in defending individual liberty and fundamental human rights from political oppression.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.