Is global warming enough of a shared issue to unite the U.S. and China?

March 23, 2021, 11:16 AM UTC

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On Tuesday, John Kerry, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate, is scheduled to participate in a virtual “climate summit” co-hosted by the European Union, Canada, and China.

Analysts of the U.S.-China relationship will scrutinize Kerry’s participation in that forum carefully. The session will involve representatives from more than 30 countries including some of the largest emitters of greenhouses gases. No bilateral discussions between Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, are planned. But the summit offers the first opportunity for a senior member of the Biden team to re-engage with Beijing since last week’s combative face-off in Anchorage, Alaska between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and top-ranking Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi.

In the aftermath of the Anchorage meeting—where officials from the two nations angrily rebuked each other in front of a battery of television cameras—many analysts have argued the U.S. and China still have enormous mutual incentives to work together in reducing global carbon emissions.

“The two sides still could try to find common ground, including in some key areas such as the environment,” Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post speculated earlier this week, citing “diplomatic observers.”

On Saturday, the day after talks in Anchorage concluded, China’s official Xinhua News Agency stoked those hopes with a report that China and the U.S. had decided to set up a working group on climate change.

Prior to the dust-up in Anchorage, Biden officials, including Kerry and Blinken, had “signaled they want to shield climate diplomacy from the more turbulent aspects of the bilateral relationship,” according to Bloomberg.

Kerry has argued that the U.S. shouldn’t trade progress on carbon reduction for concessions on other key issues like human rights, intellectual property protection, or Taiwan. But he also has stressed that the U.S. must “find a way to compartmentalize” discussion of climate issues with China because it is the world’s biggest polluter.

China’s annual carbon dioxide emissions are about 28% of the global total, roughly the same as the next three biggest emitters (the U.S., the European Union, and India) combined. “The climate crisis is not something that can fall victim to those other concerns and contests,” Kerry contends.

Climate experts were encouraged by Beijing’s decision last month to bring 71-year-old Xie out of retirement and reappoint him as China’s top climate negotiator. Xie was a key architect of the 2015 Paris climate accord and worked closely with Kerry, then secretary of state in the Obama administration, to broker that agreement.

“I know [Xie] very well because I have worked with him for 20 years or so,” Kerry told Reuters in a February interview.

But the next round of climate talks may test that friendship. In December, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised China’s emissions of carbon dioxide would peak before 2030, and that the country would reach carbon neutrality—meaning that it would emit no more of the greenhouse gas than it takes from the atmosphere by methods like engineering or planting forests—before 2060.

Those two goals are affirmed in China’s five-year economic blueprint endorsed earlier this month by the Communist Party-controlled legislature.

Many climate experts panned Xi’s proposal, complaining that it “backloads” the big carbon reductions necessary to achieve the 2060 target far into the future. China’s new five-year plan, in effect through 2025, envisions no serious reduction in emissions until 2030. It calls for the expansion of renewable energy sources such as hydro, solar, wind and nuclear. But it also proposes building hundreds of new coal plants.

Coal accounted for 57% of China’s energy consumption in 2020, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. San Francisco-based think tank Global Energy Monitor estimates China has commissioned 73 gigawatts of new coal power projects—more than five times the rest of the world combined.

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate pact allowed Xi to claim the moral high ground on climate issues. But Biden officially returned the U.S. to the agreement last month—and is expected to lay out an ambitious new plan for limiting U.S. carbon emissions ahead of an April 22 climate summit.

Kerry is pressing China to commit to specific carbon reduction goals before 2030—and announce those changes ahead of the next big round of United Nations climate negotiations to be held in November in Glasgow, Scotland. If Kerry and Xie can find common ground, perhaps they can help thaw U.S.-China relations—even as they slow the pace of global warming.

More Eastworld news below.

Clay Chandler

This edition of Eastworld was curated and produced by Eamon Barrett. Reach him at

Eastworld News

Xinjiang sanctions. The EU sanctioned four Chinese officials Monday, responding to Beijing’s years-long persecution of the minority Uyghur population in Xinjiang. The officials are now blocked from travel to the EU and any assets they might have within the bloc will be frozen. Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. followed the EU’s lead and issued sanctions against the four Chinese individuals, too. The U.S. had already sanctioned two of the four last year. China promptly retaliated and sanctioned ten Europeans, including five members of the EU’s parliament and two academics who have authored reports about Beijing’s human rights abuses. Al Jazeera

Two Michaels. China held closed-door trials for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on Friday and Monday, respectively, more than two years after their arrests. The two Michaels, both Canadian citizens, were detained shortly after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver in 2018. Both men are accused of espionage. Foreign diplomats were blocked from accessing the court room during Kovrig’s trial on Monday. The verdicts of both trials remain unknown, but Chinese courts have a conviction rate above 99%. CNN

Electric India. India is preparing to offer electric vehicle (EV) makers new incentives to set up factories in the subcontinent, setting aside $8 billion for funding and subsidies over five years. India’s previous plan to energize the EV sector fell flat, suffering from a lack of funding and struggling against India’s poor infrastructure. The so-called National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 aimed to achieve annual EV sales of 7 million units by 2020, but last year there were only 156,000 EVs sold in the market. Reuters

Net zero. India’s drive for electric vehicle uptake is part of the government’s plan to ween the subcontinent off of fossil fuels and reduce pollution in the country. However, getting India to net-zero carbon emissions will be a much broader undertaking. According to a report from the New Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water, India achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is six times more difficult than China reaching net-zero by 2060. Bloomberg

Chip fire. A fire at Japan’s Renesas Electronics on Friday has exacerbated the semiconductor shortage squeezing global auto manufacturers. Renesas is the world’s second largest supplier of chipsets for auto manufacturers, holding 20% of the market. On Sunday, Renesas said it could take a month for work at the factory to resume, but it might take three months for production to return to scale. Nikkei

Foreign fans. The Organizing Committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, due to be held this July, confirmed on Saturday that foreign spectators would be banned from attending the games. Local media reported weeks ago that the ban was imminent, as Tokyo 2020’s organizers struggle to ensure a safe environment for the Games amid a global pandemic. Organizers will have to issue refunds for 630,000 tickets to the Olympic and Paralympic games, sold overseas last year. New York Times

Markets and Movers

Winning formula – British consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser is considering selling its infant formula business in China, in a deal that could value the unit at $2 billion. The group’s Greater China infant formula sales account for 6% of RB’s total revenue.

Baidu - China search giant Baidu began trading shares in Hong Kong on Tuesday in a secondary listing. Baidu’s primary shares are held on the Nasdaq. While the secondary listing raised $3.1 billion for Baidu, trading in the stock was muted on Tuesday, with shares rallying 1%.

Bilibili – Nasdaq-listed video streaming site Bilibili is preparing for a secondary listing in Hong Kong, seeking to raise $2.6 billion.

Crown – U.S. asset manager Blackstone offered to buy Australia’s Crown Resorts for $6.2 billion. Blackstone bought a 10% stake in Crown last year, after the resort operator offloaded its casino holdings in Macau.

Korea travel – South Korea’s largest travel app, Yanolja, is preparing to go public through a dual-listing at home and overseas, seeking to raise over $4 billion. Besides operating a room-booking service, Yanolja is also the world’s second largest provider of property management software, behind Oracle.

Final figure

$2.9 million

Sina Estavi, CEO of Malaysia blockchain service provider Bridge Oracle, paid $2.9 million for the digital ownership of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s very first tweet. The tweet—which Dorsey posted on March 21, 2006—says “just setting up my twttr.” What Estavi really bought is access to a blockchain-based digital asset called a non-fungible token (NFT) associated with the tweet. The NFT serves as provenance for the tweet, recording Estavi’s initial purchase and any future transfer of ownership. There has been a recent surge of interest in NFTs as a means for trading digital art. Estavi says he believes in years to come, people will realize the true value of Dorsey’s first tweet, “like the Mona Lisa painting.”

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