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Can the United States and China Cooperate on Climate?

Ahead of the Glasgow conference, Beijing says working together hinges on overall relations.

By , an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy.
Then-U.S. secretary of state John Kerry delivers a speech in Beijing.
Then-U.S. secretary of state John Kerry delivers a speech in Beijing on June 7, 2016. Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. climate envoy John Kerry urges climate cooperation in China, India imposes a lockdown in Kashmir, and Ethiopia’s aid blockade exacerbates a humanitarian crisis.

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Kerry Seeks Cooperation in China

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. climate envoy John Kerry urges climate cooperation in China, India imposes a lockdown in Kashmir, and Ethiopia’s aid blockade exacerbates a humanitarian crisis.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Kerry Seeks Cooperation in China

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly clear, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry traveled to China this week to urge climate action and see if both countries can join forces in combating the crisis. “China doesn’t benefit by not having America as a partner in dealing with climate,” Kerry told Foreign Policy in April. 

But with China’s insistence that U.S.-China relations and climate cooperation are inseparable—and Kerry’s refusal to make unpalatable concessions—genuine progress may be hard to come by, this week and in the future.

High stakes. In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted how the planet is experiencing unprecedented warming that could result in irreversible change. China and the United States are the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases; Beijing is the world’s number one, exceeding all developed countries’ emissions combined, with Washington the second highest. 

Both countries have also felt climate change’s dire impacts in recent months. China has been ravaged by extreme floods that have killed more than 300 people this summer, and the American West has suffered severe heat waves and raging wildfires as well as the south and northeast being hammered by extreme weather. 

Strained relations. Kerry has urged Beijing to intensify its efforts to combat climate change by cutting emissions and reducing its coal use. But China’s agreement won’t be easy to secure, especially since Beijing has warned that strained relations could jeopardize its cooperation. In recent months, tensions have escalated over trade disputes, human rights issues, and technology. “Cooperation on climate change cannot be divorced from the overall situation of China-U.S. relations,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said

Washington, in turn, insists it won’t make unsavory compromises to appease Beijing and push climate change progress. “What I hope to do is get a stronger pathway than the one we’re currently on with China,” Kerry told Foreign Policy in August. “China could stop funding external coal plants around the world in favor of funding renewable plants.”

Another way forward? Although Kerry has pushed for cooperation with Beijing, some analysts advocate for the opposite approach: U.S.-China competition. Since Washington can’t coax Beijing into lowering emissions, it must use the threat of carbon taxation to compel change, as Gabriel B. Collins and Andrew S. Erickson argued in Foreign Policy.

These issues will ultimately come to a head at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26) this fall, where leaders from the United States, China, and almost 200 countries are meeting to set targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. There, they will decide on potential actions and see if a global consensus is possible. “Climate is not ideological. It’s not partisan, it’s not a geostrategic weapon or tool, and it’s certainly not day-to-day politics,” Kerry said. “We think China can do more.”


What We’re Following Today

Forced lockdown. New Delhi imposed a lockdown in Indian-administered Kashmir on Thursday after Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a leader of the territory’s separatist movement, died on Wednesday night. The Indian government has deployed troops throughout the region, restricted public movement, and cut internet and cell service. Meanwhile, Geelani’s family wasn’t allowed to be present at his burial, which took place after authorities forcibly took his body.

The restrictions highlight ongoing tensions in the region—which have been especially high since the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in 2019—and New Delhi’s fear of mass anti-India protests in the wake of a major resistance figure’s death. 

Thwarted aid. An aid blockade in Ethiopia’s conflict-stricken Tigray region is threatening the lives of millions of Ethiopians who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, almost a year after the start of the war. According to aid workers, 100 aid trucks are supposed to enter Tigray every day, but none have been able to get through since Aug. 22. 

The blockade comes as Tigrayan rebel fighters reportedly assaulted villages and looted stores carrying U.S. aid in the neighboring Amhara region, plunging the country deeper into crisis. In July, the United Nations warned more than 400,000 Ethiopians faced famine, with another 1.8 million people on the edge.

Suga-free Diet. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced he will not run for reelection and will step down from his post this month, just a year after succeeding former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Suga, who is facing all-time low approval ratings, has struggled to contain the coronavirus outbreak and was lambasted for hosting the Olympic Games despite the ongoing pandemic. His Liberal Democratic Party will pick a successor in party elections at the end of this month.


Keep an Eye On

New haul. Belarus will soon receive a large shipment of Russian combat jets, helicopters, and defense missile systems, an acquisition that comes as Minsk and Moscow prepare for joint military exercises. “If, God forbid, a war starts, the Belarusian army will be the first to engage in the fight,” Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko previously said of the exercises. 

The weapons are a sign of Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deepening ties, especially after the West slapped sanctions on the Lukashenko regime for alleged electoral fraud and human rights abuses. In February, the two leaders went skiing together in Sochi, Russia. 

Vaccine pushback. After facing fierce backlash, the European Union has decided to return millions of coronavirus vaccine doses imported from South Africa. The shots were originally produced by a plant in South Africa that sends 40 percent of its production to Europe under its contract with Johnson & Johnson. Previously, the EU was widely criticized for taking doses from a continent that has fully vaccinated less than 3 percent of its people, the world’s lowest inoculation rate.

Total control. Beijing has banned “effeminate” men from making appearances on broadcast television, the latest in its crusade to tighten its grip over society. Other targets? “Vulgar internet celebrities” and male celebrities that wear makeup, while programs that focus on patriotic and traditional values received praise. Broadcasters must “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics,” a television regulator said

The ban comes on the heels of a series of new restrictions Beijing unrolled in recent days, from shutting down LGBTQ accounts on social media to regulating when children can play video games.


Odds and Ends

Stressed by the coronavirus pandemic? Try visiting a museum. Doctors in Belgium are now prescribing museum visits to improve mental health, part of a three-month pilot program to alleviate stress and burnout induced by the pandemic. Patients receiving treatment for stress can now also freely visit five museums in Brussels, including the Contemporary Art Centre, the Paris Sewer Museum, and Manneken-Pis’s Wardrobe.

Christina Lu is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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