On July 7, a coalition of 48 progressive groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden and the US Congress, urging the administration to end the new ‘Cold War’ with China and to cooperate with the Chinese authorities to tackle the climate crisis.
“[W]e are deeply troubled by the growing Cold War mentality driving the United States’ approach to China – an antagonistic posture that risks undermining much-needed climate cooperation,” the letter states. “We … call on the Biden administration and all members of Congress to eschew the dominant antagonistic approach to U.S.-China relations and instead prioritize multilateralism, diplomacy, and cooperation with China to address the existential threat that is the climate crisis.”
The groups argued that the “escalating, bipartisan anti-China rhetoric … damages the diplomatic and political relationships needed to move forward boldly and cooperatively”, and it “bolsters racist, right-wing movements in the United States, fuels violence against people of East and Southeast Asian descent, paves the way for higher U.S. military spending, and, critically, does nothing to actually support the wellbeing of everyday people in either China or the United States.”
The co-signatories urged the US to “shift from competition to cooperation” in order to “combat the climate crisis and build a global economy that works for everyday working people”.
The letter further argues that each country should take measures that are “commensurate with historical responsibility and wealth”, thus placing a heavier burden on the US. The US “can and must do much more than China”, it says.
The groups believe that the US should not compete with China, stating that the US and Chinese economies have “complementary strengths” that should be combined. The US is a leader in clean technology research and has enormous financial resources, while “China is the world leader in industrial capacity across a number of clean energy industries and is a major source of infrastructure financing across the Global South.”
“Amid a climate emergency that is wreaking havoc on communities across the globe, the path to a livable future demands new internationalism rooted in global cooperation, resource sharing, and solidarity,” the letter concludes. “Nothing less than the future of our planet depends on ending the new Cold War between the United States and China.”
The letter is remarkable for the absence of any reference to the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, military threats to neighbouring countries, and long history of not honouring international commitments.
In recent years the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has cracked down on Hong Kong’s freedoms and civil liberties in violation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The CCP is notorious for pursuing unfair trade practices to bolster its manufacturing sector, against the principles of the World Trade Organization to which Beijing committed when it joined.
The Chinese government claims independent Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to seize it by force. It also routinely harasses neighbouring countries in the South China Sea and has occupied and militarized a number of disputed islands.
The letter does not mention the Chinese authorities’ repression of the Uyghur population, which Amnesty International described as a crime against humanity, or the decades-long human rights abuses in Tibet. Censorship and the imprisonment of political activists were omitted, too.
Only one week earlier, on July 1, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a fiery nationalistic speech in Tiananmen Square. He threatened Taiwan, defended the crackdown on Hong Kong, called for a stronger military and sent a bellicose message to foreign countries.
“We must accelerate the modernization of national defense and the armed forces. A strong country must have a strong military, as only then can it guarantee the security of the nation … We will take comprehensive measures to enhance the political loyalty of the armed forces … [W]e will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us. Anyone who should vainly attempt to do so will break their heads and bleed as they ram into a Great Wall of steel erected with the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Xi said.
The letter also fails to make a distinction between opposing the Chinese Communist Party and promoting anti-Asian racism.
The progressive groups’ statement wittingly or unwittingly echoes Chinese government propaganda rhetoric. On July 1, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying tweeted:
“The Party cares about the future of humanity, and wishes to move forward in tandem with all progressive forces around the world. China has always worked to safeguard world peace, contribute to global development, and preserve international order.”
The environmentalist organizations’ letter met with criticism among some China watchers.
“The choices the US has to powerfully accelerate global climate action go far beyond ‘be friends / don’t be friends with China'”, wrote Seaver Wang, senior climate and energy analyst at the Breakthrough Institute. “I can imagine any number of partnerships around the world that could cumulatively drive as much if not more progress.”
Wang called the climate-driven reconciliation campaign “pants-on-head stupid politics” and “election-losing stuff”, especially the idea of “sharing clean technology and conceding most manufacturing of clean tech to China.”
“Any counterattack narrative from the political right virtually writes itself!”, he added.
Julian Ku, Distinguished Professor of Law at Hofstra University, commented: “These progressive groups didn’t even bother to suggest China might have some responsibility for causing the downturn in relations. Nor did they even concede US might have a legitimate concern about China’s human rights or other policies.”
“Why does China get to say ‘we can either stop killing people or stop killing the planet, but not both’?”, asked Yeh Chieh-Ting, founder and editor at Ketagalan Media and vice chairman of Global Taiwan Institute.
China analyst Matt Schrader wrote: “Speaking as someone who’s pretty liberal on domestic policy, the notion that the state of US-China relations has a direct correlation with global/multilateral progress on climate is, dare I say, a frustrating and extremely un-nuanced take.”
Among the groups that co-signed the letter are Codepink, MoveOn, the Sunrise Movement, People’s Action, and the Committee for a SANE U.S.-China Policy.
Codepink wrote on its website: “We need to counter the US’s aggression towards China through love for humanity & dedication to mutual respect & world peace.”
In June 2020, the Sunrise Movement cancelled an event with a progressive Hong Kong activist, “following ‘concerns’ raised by its members and social media backlash from pro-China critics over their participation in a call about police brutality and international solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
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