Sustainability and Technology in the Rise of China – The Diplomat

Diplomat-writer Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers around the world for her diverse insights into US Asia policy. This conversation with Dr. Scott M. Moore – Director for China Programs and Strategic Initiatives in the Office of the Provost and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “China’s Next Act: How Sustainability and Technology are Reshaping China’s Rise and the Future of the World” (Oxford 2022) is 342nd in The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.

Identify China’s development dilemmas.

One of the points I make in the book is that China faces increasing environmental and technological risks at a dangerous stage in economic development, namely the transition to high-income country status. This makes these risks, including climate risk, all the more alarming for China’s leaders and is one of the reasons working with Beijing on global challenges is so difficult. Historically, many countries experience declining or stagnant growth as they move up the income ladder, and it’s also worth noting that this transition is often – though not always – linked to policy reform and liberalization.

For China, managing this transition also means grappling with the fallout of COVID-19, growing restrictions on foreign investment and technology transfers, rising global political risks, local sovereign debt, an over-leveraged real estate sector and a demographic crisis that will force it to consolidate to be able to rely on continuous increases in productivity. It all adds up to a frightening and alarming set of development dilemmas that will increasingly challenge Beijing in the years to come. This challenge frames Beijing’s approach to common global challenges such as climate change and the regulation of new technologies.

What is the impact of China’s authoritarian environmental protection on protecting the planet?

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As I detail in the book, China’s approach to environmental protection has several problematic features that can make cooperation with other countries difficult. One is a strong role for the state, often extending to co-opting environmental organizations, often resulting in undermining the accountability of polluters and environmental lawbreakers. Another reason is the use of environmental protection as a justification for actions that harm marginalized populations, such as B. Tibetan herders being evicted from traditional lands to create sanctuaries.

Beijing has also tried, albeit with limited success, to use its climate and other environmental policies to bolster its soft power at the expense of the United States. Finally, Beijing has tried, again with mixed results, to try to rebrand its Belt and Road Initiative as a sustainable development effort, presumably to bolster China’s soft power.

How are China-US strategic competition and environmental cooperation not mutually exclusive?

Beijing’s decision to suspend dialogue with Washington on climate change after Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan shows that environmental cooperation cannot be completely isolated from cracks in the broader relationship. That being said, as I note in the book, economic and geopolitical competition plays a role in spurring clean technology deployment. President Biden justified the Inflation Reduction Act, America’s largest single investment in clean technology, in part with the need to better compete with China, for example. Competition for influence may play an even more important role when it comes to adaptation.

Formed primarily to counter China’s growing foreign influence and investment, the US Development Finance Corporation includes a significant commitment to climate finance. When used to improve resilience, such finance could play an important role in strengthening the resilience of marginalized communities around the world in the face of climate change. Finally, as I emphasize in the book, there is considerable potential to expand US-China cooperation on other environmental issues, particularly biodiversity cooperation. Beijing, for example, has effectively banned wildlife trade due to the pandemic, creating an opportunity for more ambitious bilateral commitments to end the wildlife trade.

Explain the relationship between the globalization of digital data collection and the scale of Chinese industrial espionage.

One observation I make in the book is that many of the risks and harms that the outside world associates with China’s rise, such as the risk of intellectual property theft and information security threats, are reduced within China while traveling beyond China’s borders expand out. A body of evidence suggests that information theft and forced technology transfers for foreign firms operating in China are becoming increasingly rare. However, the role of China-linked actors, including those linked to China’s security and intelligence services, in gathering data and information on foreign and Chinese citizens abroad is increasing. This increases the risk of industrial espionage, transnational repression and other threats to companies and organizations operating even outside of China.

Assess how China’s next act will shape the future and its impact on US-China policy.

For better or for worse, US-China relations, and thus relations between foreign firms and organizations and their Chinese counterparts, are likely to be one of rivalry for the foreseeable future. But the gist of my book is that the focus of this rivalry has broadened, from trade and military issues to environmental and technological ones. And developments in these newer subject areas are changing older ones. For example, the focus of economic and geopolitical competition between the US and China is increasingly shifting to the development of advanced technologies, while the biggest and best reason for maintaining a constructive US-China relationship is that Beijing’s involvement is necessary to Making progress on climate change and other global challenges. To paraphrase a Chinese parable, China and the United States have different values ​​but share much of the same boat. This book is about what that means for all of us, including businesses, universities, and other organizations.


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