Climate Groups to Democrats: ‘Don’t Antagonize China’

Harvest Prude and Ryan Brown

In recent years, lawmakers from both parties have grown more hawkish against China, which has become an increasingly pushy economic and political bully in international affairs. But some progressive groups are trying to change that, pressuring the Biden administration and congressional Democrats to ease up on China in the name of climate change.

In a letter signed by more than 40 progressive groups addressed to President Biden and members of Congress, signatories stressed that the current track of the U.S./China relationship could lead to frayed cooperation between the two countries on climate issues:

“We 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 U.S.-China relationship, the groups argued, should be viewed through the lens of cooperation, not competition.

“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 said.

“Nothing less than the future of our planet depends on ending the new Cold War between the United States and China.”

The Biden administration has said that when it comes to China, human rights abuses committed by the autocracy are the most important issue, even more troubling than environmental concerns.

While addressing reporters at a press briefing at the White House, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said just that, “Those issues will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate. That’s not going to happen. … Nothing is going to be siphoned off into one area from another.”

In particular, the Biden administration has prioritized boxing products with ties to forced labor out of U.S. markets.

On Friday, the U.S. added 14 Chinese entities to its economic blacklist that are believed to be complicit in human rights abuses and forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.

The blacklist means American firms will have to obtain clearance from the U.S. government before doing business with those companies.

“The Department of Commerce remains firmly committed to taking strong, decisive action to target entities that are enabling human rights abuses in Xinjiang or that use U.S. technology to fuel China’s destabilizing military modernization efforts,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

The administration also recently ordered a ban on important material included in making solar panels from the Chinese company Hoshine Silicon Industry because of its connection to forced labor camps.

The Commerce Department, according to reports, also levied a ban on three more Chinese companies and Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps because of their involvement in forced labor of Uighurs and other minority Muslim groups.

Progressives are hoping to see the Biden administration leave room for negotiating with China on climate issues, an approach that could mean de-prioritizing human rights in some respects.

“We need to distinguish between justified criticisms of the Chinese government’s human rights record and a Cold War mentality that uses China as a scapegoat for our own domestic problems and demonizes Chinese Americans,” Rep. Ilhan Omar said back in May.

Last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote an op-ed in Foreign Affairs warning that the White House’s position could hurt cooperation on global issues, including climate change. “I fear,” he wrote, “that the growing bipartisan push for a confrontation with China will set back those goals and risks empowering authoritarian, ultranationalistic forces in both countries.” Sanders argued that the two nations have “shared common interests” in “combating truly existential threats such as climate change, pandemics, and the destruction that a nuclear war would bring.”

Climate-focused Republicans disagree with this approach, and say that even on the climate, the United States should take a more confrontational approach to China.

“It’s irresponsible to place the U.S. at the center of the problem when China is the clear aggressor here,” Rebekah Hoshiko, communications director for the Republican members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, told The Dispatch.

“We need to call a spade a spade. China is the leading polluter, and messaging agreements like the Paris Climate Accords (the standards of which they ignore) are doing absolutely nothing to hold them accountable.”

Leave a Comment