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China Rising: Global Opportunity or Global Threat?

The recent tightly scripted 19th Chinese Communist Party National Congress has generally been viewed as evidence and celebration of the rise to great power of Chinese President Xi Jinping. President Xi is in ascendance. But what does that really mean for China and the rest of us.

It’s far more useful for us to focus on facts on the ground, on China’s actions than on attempts to parse the meaning of the makeup of the 7 member Standing Committee (SC) at the pinnacle of Party and Chinese government power whose decisions are driven by completely private discussions behind closed doors.

The facts. China has rapidly emerged in the 21st century as global leader in renewable resource development. China’s leadership and success in helping build a global efficient renewable resource system is absolutely crucial if we are to escape climate change driven global ecological catastrophe. Our collective futures are suddenly, to a considerable extent, in President Xi’s hands given the Trump administration’s opposition to effective action on climate change and support for accelerated coal, oil,and natural gas development.

China is manufacturing and installing solar electric and wind energy systems at an astounding rate. China is responsible for 40% of global renewable energy growth according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Last year, global solar electric (PV) capacity grew by 50%, over 74 gigawatts, with China responsible for almost half of this. By 2022 the IEA forecasts global PV capacity will expand to 920 gigawatts. China, with India soon to follow, is leading the way.

Global investment in renewables now exceeds that in fossil fuel plants. China is also global market leader in electric vehicles, hydropower and biomass systems. China is, as well, global leader in reforestation. China has begun implementing a carbon tax that is being systematically applied across all aspects of the economy,not just on power generation. It will gradually ramp up to help send clear signals for sustainability. China, the largest market for low quality recycled plastic has just banned such imports in part to encourage domestic recycling, and in part to refuse to being the destination for foreign garbage. Building an ecological civilization is official Chinese policy, both at home and internationally. This is a matter of collective self-interest for all of us.

As the United States under Trump pulls out of foreign trade agreements and embraces protectionism and nativism, China is quickly filling the void. Australia’s leading trade partner, for example, is China. China is now the world’s second largest economy, and still growing rapidly at a 6.5 % annual rate.

China is pursuing the multi-trillion dollar One Belt One Road investment program to connect China on land and sea to Asia, Africa and Europe ,investing in building roads, rail, ports, power plants, power lines. In countries like Pakistan, Chinese investment has become a major economic and political fact of life. One Belt One Road can play out as sustainable co-development that builds economic vitality for all and win-win for all with China as central hub. Or will One Belt One Road lead to imposed stringencies upon debtor countries, neo-colonialism with China as the new master instead of the IMF, World Bank and U.S., using debt to ensnare the credulous and gaining control of natural resources? Success of One Belt One Road will depend on China pursuing fair and equitable partnerships sensitive to the political dynamics of dozens of nations where the realities of One Belt and One Road will be determined.

China is a very unusual one party state with the intention of becoming global economic leader. The power and influence of the Communist Party of China is not just political, but economic, financial and social. There are inherent problems inherent in continued success of a one party state. Dealing with these problems is central to President’s Xi’s program.

A unitary hierarchy with economic power presents ongoing problems of inefficiency and corruption including the protection of inefficient state controlled provincial enterprises, manipulation and abuse of investment and finance, and vanilla kleptocratic behavior. A feature of Xi first five years have been very strong anti-corruption efforts that disciplined and punished Party members. Less well known have been efforts to strengthen rule of law and a conditionally independent judiciary . An independent judiciary in China must accomplish the most difficult dance within the context of a one party state where President Xi is the ultimate decider. An independent judiciary with Chinese characteristics is key not just to a belief in fairness and equity, but for the conduct of business with China both nationally and internationally.

China is a one party state that is becoming global economic leader whose ecological conduct and leadership has become key to our common survival. It is a system that allows considerable personal autonomy but not political opposition to the rule of the Communist Party.

There is every reason to make common cause with China in the pursuit of global economic development and sustainable economic growth. We should offer China partnership and cooperation for meeting common goals and encourage our Chinese partners to honor the rights of Chinese citizens in their constitution. China, under President Xi Jinping is focused on a carefully considered long term plan for building a prosperous and sustainable China as a global leader. It is a project that we all can support in our mutual self-interest. To pursue trade war and military confrontation with China is a grave error.

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