The Ultimate 'Grand Bargain': A U.S. - China Climate Deal
Image Credit: Official White House Photo (Flickr)

The Ultimate 'Grand Bargain': A U.S. - China Climate Deal


A great deal has been written in the last few weeks about the remarkable convergence of new developments within the top leadership positions in the United States and China. We now know that President Obama will have four more years in office.  It is also clear that Xi Jinping has cemented his stature within Beijing, even if there continue to be questions about which groups and factions will benefit the most from his rise.

As a result of these developments many have speculated that we may see dramatic shifts and changes within Sino-U.S. relations, especially as, what we are likely to see during a second Obama administration will contrast markedly from what would have unfolded should Governor Romney emerged victorious from last week’s election.  There is some merit in such speculation.  However, much of it is overblown, as it greatly overstates the differences on China between the two presidential contenders.

In a campaign where both candidates attempted to paint each other as polar opposites on so many issues, America’s China policy was one area where the distance between them was not great.

Romney did place a greater emphasis on criticizing Chinese economic practices, especially in relationship to the value of the RMB, than Obama.  He also took a somewhat sharper tone than the president in regard to how extensive the U.S. military presence in Asia should be.

However, Obama was far from soft on China during the campaign. Over its course he initiated a number of actions designed to counter allegedly unfair Chinese trade practices, and to counter the country’s increasing assertiveness in Asia. During the third debate it was Obama, not Romney, who mentioned America’s need to “pivot” in the region.

As a result, while much was on the line on election day, America’s approach to China was likely to similar no matter which candidate won the election. There is, though, one potential exception to this generalization, and it is not an inconsequential one.

If Romney had been elected it is difficult to imagine, even post-Sandy, that dealing with climate change would have been given a priority by his administration.

In contrast, it is distinctly possible that during his second term President Obama may focus upon this issue as forming a crucial part of his historic legacy.  There are hints that he feels falling short on this front constitutes one of his major regrets about his first four years in office.  In addition, it is clear that there is a degree of momentum on the domestic front generated by the recent storm that he could capitalize upon to garner support at home for a new American initiative on climate issues.

This being the case, the domestic response to such a move is probably of less consequence than the international one, especially China’s.  Indeed, it is clear that developing a meaningful American-led response to climate change requires finding a way to bring China into whatever proposed solution that ends up being forwarded.

While we still know very little about the next generation of China’s leaders, and what their own priorities are, it is clear that environmental concerns within the Chinese population are growing, and, as illustrated by a series of recent demonstrations around the country, even a source of social instability there.

Given such a context, it is conceivable that China’s leaders may be motivated to subtly shift their stance on climate change from the generally uninvolved, even obstructionist, positions they have taken in the recent past – most notably in Copenhagen in 2009.

In light of such a confluence of factors, it is then possible to imagine that Obama, freed of constraints of running for another term, motivated by an interest in his legacy, and China’s leaders operating within a different system of costs and benefits, might be able to find common ground in fostering the development of a new, rigorous multilateral agreement on climate issues.

We normally then think of U.S.-China relations in terms of eagles, dragons and panda bears, but it may, in the end, be the polar bears that will benefit the most from the confluence of leadership developments on both sides of the Pacific.

Allen Carlson is an Associate Professor in Cornell University’s Government Department

Michael Guy
February 1, 2013 at 20:02

Carbon Dioxide comprise 0.0037 of the atmosphere yet the environmentalist tell us that is responsible for all weather catastrophes? Environmentalism is a ruse to implement Vladimir Lenin;s dream of Controlling the means of production via controlling the means of combustion.So our government will issue ration cards and alow either Al Gore or Goldman Sachs to sell these permission slips at a profit, thereby driving up cost of goods manufactured in America, This will benefit China, which may be the reason for this global warming hoax all along

November 18, 2012 at 15:07






Made in China
Congressional Report: Chinese government-controlled enterprises threaten U.S., world economy

BY: Bill Gertz

November 13, 2012 5:00 am
China’s government-controlled enterprises are targeting the U.S. market and pose a threat to U.S. companies, free markets, and fair trade, according to a forthcoming report by a congressional Chinese commission.
“The Chinese system of state capitalism or ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ has blocked many of the potential benefits of a free market, not only in China, but among China’s trading partners,” concluded a draft report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
“The state-owned sector in China can undercut prices charged by privately held competitors globally due to a variety of subsidies granted by the Chinese government: low-interest-rate loans; below-market-rate land, fuel, and electricity; special exemptions from environmental and labor regulations; tax abatements and preferences.”
Some 28 states and U.S. cities opened economic development offices in China and at least eight state governors led trade and investment missions to China, the report said.
Chinese investment in the United States is growing and includes some money from Communist-controlled companies.
“Many of the industrial policy goals of China’s investment could harm segments of the most important U.S. industries,” said the draft report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
“For example, China’s emphasis on obtaining technology could damage domestic and foreign sales of U.S. information and communications and aerospace industries.”
Chinese foreign direct investment in the United States is low: just $1.3 billion in 2010 compared to $67.5 billion worth of investment in the rest of the world.
However, China has targeted the U.S. for investment and is using its $3.24 trillion in currency reserves to enter the market.
The entry of Chinese state-run companies in the United States would allow the subsidized Chinese firms to sell products and services at less than the cost of production.
“Once their U.S. competitors are driven out of the business, Chinese [state-owned enterprises] might dominate the market and even raise prices,” the report said.
The report calls for getting tough with China on its state-controlled businesses by imposing “reciprocal treatment” for Chinese companies that match restrictions on U.S. companies in China.
The commission also recommends expanding the mandate of the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to check the economic benefit of Chinese investment in the United States and requiring China to disclose government support and pricing practices used by its companies.
Also, the U.S. government should increase the enforcement of illegal subsidies by China to its state-owned companies in violation of World Trade Organization rules.

November 18, 2012 at 10:55

John Chan wrote :"EU promised aid to the developing nations for using green technologies, yet they backed out their promise,".
Can you provide a link to this or a reference to this claim?
Though, developing countries don't need aid to acquire green technologies, they just need to use their smartest people to discover it for themselves. Make agreements with developed nations like Japan, South Korea, India to build up a research project to create it for themselves.

November 18, 2012 at 10:51

Vic wrote: "People from irrelevant countries feel left out, I understand."
There are no irrelevant countries when it comes down to a clean green energy supply.
The fact that you think some countries are irrelevant in your view of the world says a lot about you.
I hope that there aren't more people like you out there.

November 17, 2012 at 11:30

Congratulation to Obama. 
Yet, he has to deal with a republican congress which only goal is to belittle and obstruct him personally, even at the expense of the well being of the nation; not to mention Israel Bibi's torpedoing Obama's any possible diplomatic approach in Middle East.
Touch challenges to say the least.
Good Luck.

November 16, 2012 at 23:15

The Chinese Government does not believe in AGW. They have no interest in this. There will be no Grand Bargain.For once, I agree with them.

John Chan
November 16, 2012 at 14:14

EU promised aid to the developing nations for using green technologies, yet they backed out their promise, this is an example of sneakiness, treachery and how EU does not care about any nations other than itself.

November 16, 2012 at 03:12

America can never be soft on environment,now when they finally are willing to concede china will be forced to do so as well,this will benefit us all ,we can save mother earth from dying sooner then is written for her.

November 15, 2012 at 23:37

The whole world will soon know of the sneakiness and treachery of the CCP and how it does not care about any nation other than itself. No way should America, EU or anyother country ever make another deal with those thieves ever again. They have already used American and our European goodwill against us before, why should we make any other deals with them again?

Ser Gregor Clegane
November 15, 2012 at 14:39

Yes Obama would have to make sure there is clause regarding transparency and supervision of any Chinese action of emissions. Chinese leaders baulked at this last time when they realised they wouldn't be able to fudge the results. Hopefully they are actually meaningful now.

November 15, 2012 at 12:16

I totally agree with you ! The fact is China never keep deal.

John Chan
November 15, 2012 at 09:01

@Leonard R,
Only coward does not make deal, if Americans are like you, they are definitely in decline.

November 15, 2012 at 08:51

People from irrelevant countries feel left out, I understand.
China and US are big energy users.  It stands to reason to go for clean energy like the illusive "clean coal".  Both sides should exert more effort in R & D for better and cleaner energy.  For two such big economies, it makes a big difference to world climate if they can work together.  

Leonard R.
November 15, 2012 at 06:22

Stupidest idea of the year. 
Beijing does not keep deals. So don't make deals with them. Case closed. 

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