The Big Ideas

The Washington Post

Garry Shih

The Washington Post

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'Xi at the Climate Summit: Domestic Obstacles to Carbon Neutrality'
'Xi at the Climate Summit: Domestic Obstacles to Carbon Neutrality'
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Garry Shih

Xi's New World Order

April 23, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘Xi’s reticence at the summit could be driven by domestic considerations. He needs to balance divergent interests between domestic industrial groups and international expectations, the need to show China’s green image and also not be seen as caving to U.S. diplomatic pressure.’

On April 22 and 23, President Biden held his Summit on Climate with 40 world leaders, including General Secretary Xi Jinping.

It’s sometimes difficult to shake the idea that Xi Jinping just gives an instruction and then the entire political and business infrastructure falls into line, lockstep, and carries it out. As the article points out:

  • ‘Xi’s reticence at the summit could be driven by domestic considerations. He needs to balance divergent interests between domestic industrial groups and international expectations, the need to show China’s green image and also not be seen as caving to U.S. diplomatic pressure.’
  • ‘Coal and other heavy industries are politically influential in China and often can flout high-level edicts.’
  • “I do think right now there are deliberations on what China can promise.”

That picture is closer to Mr. Xi’s reality:

  • Factions, vested interests, recalcitrant officials, and pressure to never seen as kowtowing to foreigners.

Here's Garry Shih's report:

‘Biden’s virtual summit has reinforced the sense that the United States and China, despite fierce and nationalistic rivalry, will seek common ground on the existential issue of climate change.’

  • ‘But it’s uncertain how much more ground Xi is willing to cede — and under what circumstances.’

‘Xi’s reticence at the summit could be driven by domestic considerations, said Li Shuo, senior adviser at Greenpeace East Asia.’

  • ‘ “He needs to balance divergent interests between domestic industrial groups and international expectations, the need to show China’s green image and also not be seen as caving to U.S. diplomatic pressure,” Li said.’
  • ‘ “It’s precisely because it’s a U.S.-organized event that China might have been more hesitant to put more offers on the table.” ’

‘Lauri Myllyvirta, a researcher at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said that it was heartening that Xi highlighted one issue of long-standing concern for observers: China’s dependence on coal.’

  • ‘Thursday was the first time the Communist Party leader explicitly articulated that coal consumption would “phase down” after 2025.’

‘Coal and other heavy industries are politically influential in China and often can flout high-level edicts.’

  • ‘For instance, as Chinese provinces tried to stimulate their post-pandemic economies by building energy infrastructure last year, China turned on 38 gigawatts’ worth of new coal-fired power plants, more than three times the rest of the world, according to Global Energy Monitor.’
  • ‘Xi’s acknowledgment of the coal issue, while lacking specifics, was at least “a mandate for officials to put the brakes on new coal power projects,” Myllyvirta said.’

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