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#China - Failing #Climate leadership

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Katowice is ramping up to host this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (or COP24) in early December – but it will be the Chinese delegation and not the bustling Polish city that will be the centre of global attention.

The conference comes fast on the heels of a recent IPCC report released earlier this month that warned of dire and irreversible climate change by 2030 unless world governments act now to eliminate coal and invest an estimated $2.4 trillion USD a year in green technologies. Patricia Espinosa, the UN climate change head, has put the need for success at the conference in equally dire terms. She remarked that success at COP24 means fully implementing the Paris agreement because time is simply running out.

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But four years on from the signing of the Paris agreement, it’s becoming evident that the biggest obstacle in achieving its lofty objectives is China. While the US decided to pull out of the pact, a coalition of industry leaders and states has been making headway in cutting emissions – and the results speak for themselves: the US is on track to cut CO2 emissions by 17%.

Not the same thing can be said about China. After the US announced it would terminate its membership of the Paris agreement, Beijing was quick to brand itself as a global leader committed to fighting climate change through green policymaking. But since 2015, China’s carbon emissions have risen, as the government hesitates to limit coal use in a bid to protect economic growth.

Even if American obstinacy over climate change will certainly impede efforts to reduce emissions, policymakers should not lose track of the fact that China now releases more carbon dioxide into the air than both the US and Europe combined. In fact, many have correctly pointed out that winning the battle with CO2 emissions in the West will not stave off the disastrous consequences of climate change. The change has to come from China, whose emissions per unit of GDP are still double of what they are in the EU or the US.

Beijing has been investing heavily in renewables – last year, for every dollar spent in the United States on alternative energy, China spent 3. Most of that money went into building solar capacity, of which 53GW were installed last year. Optimists will further point to the fact that China has imposed limits on coal use, and established “no-coal-zones" throughout the country. But coal still accounts for over 60% of China’s energy consumption, and there are no policy moves in the works to drastically challenge the country’s energy mix.

Instead, Beijing is building more coal plants and its coal output and emissions are forecasted to have grown since last year. Indeed, in the first three months of 2018, the country released 4% more carbon dioxide than it did at the same time in 2017, putting it on track to clock in a 5% year-on-year increase in emissions. Similarly, coal production increased 5.1% in the first three quarters of 2018, to a massive 2.59 billion tons.

In case you’re wondering where all that coal will go, the answer is simple: China is building coal power plants at rapid clip. Coalswarm, an advocacy group, says that according to satellite imagery and permit approvals for coal-fired power units issued to provincial governments between 2014 and 2016, it looks like China will add 259 GW of coal-powered energy to its electrical grid in the years to come. That’s five times more than the solar panels installed last year.

Making matters worse, China decided in October to render toothless its blanket winter production cuts on heavy industry, such as steel, aluminium and cement. Enacted last year to fight worsening air pollution in its major cities – responsible for over a million premature deaths a year – the so-called “2+26” policy targeting Beijing, Tianjin and 26 surrounding cities, managed to reduce PM 2.5 levels by 33% in the last quarter of 2017. But the plan also resulted in economic losses, which have proven to be too onerous for China’s policymakers.

As part of this year’s finalized anti-pollution plan, the Chinese government is still paying lip service to the “2+26” policy – but is placing the onus on provincial governments to impose cuts on heavy industrial output, as opposed to mandating countrywide targets. This is an important difference. By shifting responsibility to the provinces, China is risking a loss in oversight over its anti-pollution initiatives. In fact, it already looks like some of its regions have been caught ‘faking’ their production cuts. Just this month, China’s Ministry of Environment and Ecology has accused the regions of Henan, Yunnan, and Guangxi of all submitting false pollution rectifications.

So, with coal consumption climbing and emissions following in lockstep, how can anyone take seriously China’s claims to actively fight climate change? The IPCC has made it clear that drastic changes are required to prevent disastrous – or frankly apocalyptic – global warming within 12 years. The country’s current levels of investment into renewables fall abysmally short of what’s needed.

If Beijing continues to feed its coal industry and nurture carbon emissions, the IPCC’s end times prediction will become all too real.

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US concern over China nukes buildup after new silos report

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Military vehicles carrying DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missiles travel past Tiananmen Square during the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China 1 October, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

The Pentagon and Republican congressmen on Tuesday (27 July) aired fresh concerns about China's build-up of its nuclear forces after a new report saying Beijing was building 110 more missile silos, writes David Brunnstrom, Reuters.

An American Federation of Scientists (AFS) report on Monday (26 July) said satellite images showed China was building a new field of silos near Hami in the eastern part of its Xinjiang region.

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The report came weeks after another on the construction of about 120 missile silos in Yumen, a desert area about 240 miles (380 km) to the southeast.

"This is the second time in two months the public has discovered what we have been saying all along about the growing threat the world faces and the veil of secrecy that surrounds it," the U.S. Strategic Command said in tweet linked to a New York Times article on the AFS report.

The State Department in early July called China's nuclear buildup concerning and said it appeared Beijing was deviating from decades of nuclear strategy based around minimal deterrence. It called on China to engage with it "on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races."

Republican Congressman Mike Turner, ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said China's nuclear build-up was "unprecedented" and made clear it was "deploying nuclear weapons to threaten the United States and our allies."

He said China's refusal to negotiate arms control "should be a cause for concern and condemned by all responsible nations".

Another Republican, Mike Rogers, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Chinese build-up showed the need to rapidly modernize the US nuclear deterrent.

A 2020 Pentagon report estimated China's nuclear warhead stockpile in "the low 200s" and said it was projected to at least double in size as Beijing expands and modernizes its forces. Analysts say the United States has around 3,800 warheads, and according to a State Department factsheet, 1,357 of those were deployed as of 1 March.

Washington has repeatedly called on China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty.

The report on the new silos comes as Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to hold arms control talks with Russia in Geneva on Wednesday.

Sherman was in China earlier this week for talks at which Beijing accused Washington of creating an "imaginary enemy" to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China.

Beijing says its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia and it is ready to conduct bilateral dialogues on strategic security "on the basis of equality and mutual respect".

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US and China positions at a standstill in entrenched Tianjin talks

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With no indication of a US-China leaders' summit in the works, nor any outcomes announced from high-level diplomatic talks on Monday (26 July), relations between Beijing and Washington appear to be at a standstill as both sides insist the other must make concessions for ties to improve, write Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom.

US officials had stressed that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman's trip to the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin to meet Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials was a chance to ensure that stiffening competition between the two geopolitical rivals does not veer into conflict.

But the combative statements that emerged from the meeting – albeit coupled with suggestions from officials that closed-door sessions were marginally more cordial – mirrored the tone set in Alaska in March, when the first senior-level diplomatic talks under President Joe Biden were overshadowed by rare public vitriol from both sides.

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While Tianjin did not expose the same degree of outward hostility that was on display in Alaska, the two sides appeared to stop short of actually negotiating anything, sticking instead to lists of established demands.

Sherman pressed China on actions Washington says run counter to the rules-based international order, including Beijing's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, what the U.S. government has deemed is an ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, abuses in Tibet and the curtailing of press freedoms.

"I think it'd be wrong to characterize the United States as somehow seeking or soliciting China's cooperation," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters after the talks, referring to global concerns such as climate change, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

"It is going to be up to the Chinese side to determine how ready they are as well to… take the next step," a second U.S. administration official said of bridging disagreements.

But Wang insisted in a statement that the ball was in the United States' court.

"When it comes to respecting international rules, it is the United States that must think again," he said, demanding that Washington remove all unilateral sanctions and tariffs on China.

China's Foreign Ministry has recently signaled there could be preconditions for the United States on which any kind of co-operation would be contingent, a stance some analysts say is a recipe for diplomatic ossification and that leaves dim prospects for improved ties.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said it was important for the two sides to maintain some form of engagement. At the same time, there appeared to be no agreement in Tianjin for follow-up meetings or mechanisms for ongoing dialogue.

"That will probably leave US allies and partners uneasy. They are hoping for greater stability and predictability in the US-China relationship," Glaser said.

Both sides are likely to be disappointed if they expect the other to give in first, she added.

There has been some expectation in foreign policy circles that Biden could meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time since becoming president on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Italy in October.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the prospect of a Biden-Xi meeting did not come up in Tianjin, though she added that she expects there will be some opportunity to engage at some point.

Indications are, meanwhile, that the Biden administration may scale up both enforcement actions impacting Beijing – such as cracking down on Iranian oil sales to China – and coordination with allies in the context of countering China, including another summit later this year that Biden is keen to host with the leaders of Japan, Australia, and India.

Biden's White House also has given few signals that it intends to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods established under the Trump administration.

At the same time, cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic seems almost entirely out of reach, with the United States calling Beijing's rejection of a World Health Organization plan for further study of the virus' origin "irresponsible" and "dangerous".

There has been little sign either of a willingness by China to cooperate with Washington on the climate issue, a priority for Biden, despite energetic entreaties by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

"What was on display in Tianjin is that both sides are still very far apart on how they view the value and role of diplomatic engagement," said Eric Sayers, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Scott Kennedy, a China specialist at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies,, said neither side saw much upside for now in being more cooperative.

"And there's no low-hanging fruit for cooperation for either side and any gesture toward co-operation actually comes with significant costs, both domestic and strategic," he said.

"I think we ought to have very low expectations about the two sides finding common ground and stabilizing the relationship in the near future."

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Chinese president Xi Jinping visits troubled region of Tibet

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President Xi Jinping (pictured) has visited the politically troubled region of Tibet, the first official visit by a Chinese leader in 30 years, writes BBC.

The president was in Tibet from Wednesday to Friday, but the visit only reported by state media on Friday due to the sensitivities of the trip.

China is accused of suppressing cultural and religious freedom in the remote and mainly Buddhist region.

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The government denies the accusations.

In footage released by state broadcaster CCTV, Mr Xi was seen greeting a crowd wearing ethnic costumes and waving the Chinese flag as he left his plane.

He arrived in Nyingchi, in the south-east of the country and visited a number of locations to learn about urban development, before travelling to the capital Lhasa on the high-altitude railway.

While in Lhasa, Mr Xi visited the Potala Palace, the traditional home of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

People in the city had "reported unusual activities and monitoring of their movement" ahead of his visit, advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet said on Thursday.

Mr Xi last visited the region 10 years ago as vice-president. The last sitting Chinese leader to officially visit Tibet was Jiang Zemin in 1990.

State media said Mr Xi took time to learn about the work being done on ethnic and religious affairs and the work done to protect Tibetan culture.

Many exiled Tibetans accuse Beijing of religious repression and eroding their culture.

Tibet has had a tumultuous history, during which it has spent some periods functioning as an independent entity and others ruled by powerful Chinese and Mongolian dynasties.

China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region in 1950. Some areas became the Tibetan Autonomous Region and others were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces.

China says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule, but campaign groups say China continues to violate human rights, accusing it of political and religious repression.

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