China’s Clean Energy Challenges
China’s new leadership faces complicated, pressing demands in shaping its energy policy. Air pollution has become a major political, social and even international issue that has moved high up on the leadership’s agenda. Growing turmoil in the Middle East is increasing Beijing’s concerns about its future energy security. Further, as the world’s largest current emitter of greenhouse gases, China enters international climate change negotiations in a sensitive position. Additionally, the nuclear disaster in Japan has increased China’s sensitivity to the safety risks associated with reliance on nuclear power as a possible solution to the country’s growing energy and environmental demands.
In this context, China’s new leadership has explicitly made developing an “ecological civilization” one of the pillars of its reform efforts. Development of China’s reportedly large deposits of shale gas, expansion of its “clean coal” capabilities and increased nuclear power generation are important components of this effort.
On February 6, the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion to evaluate China’s changing energy priorities and policies, their implications for U.S.-China energy cooperation and the growing demand and prospects for China’s energy future.
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Mao Zedong did not see the value of reform and opening up. The China part of Nixon’s 1967 Foreign Affairs article suggested an implicit bargain that provided the conceptual basis for China’s new direction after 1978. That bargain was if China focused on domestic development and didn’t threaten the security of its neighbours, the United States would help.
Sentiment inside the Beltway has turned sharply against China. There are many issues where the two parties sound more or less the same. Trump and others in the administration seem heavily invested in a ‘get very tough with China’ stance. It’s possible that some Democrats might argue that a decoupling strategy borders on lunacy. But if Trump believes this will play well with his core constituencies as his reelection campaign moves into high gear, he will probably decide to stick with it, if the costs and the collateral damage seem manageable. But that’s a very big if, especially if the downsides of a protracted trade war for both American consumers and for American firms become increasingly apparent.