In the name of the climate, Biden balancing on China

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Can we “cooperate” on the climate with China while accusing it of “genocide”? This is the perilous bet of Joe Biden, determined to reconcile his great firmness in the face of Washington’s adversaries with the need to work together on major planetary challenges.

The new American president has repeated it over and over again: with China but also Russia, the United States can “run two hares at the same time” – in English, this gives “walk and chew gum at the same time Or “walking and chewing gum at the same time”.

“The challenge of this balance is that the + contestation + platform weighs much more than the + cooperation + side,” notes Heather Conley, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies research institute.

Between Anchorage, Alaska, and Shanghai, China, the contrast is indeed striking.

A month ago, in Alaska, the first meeting between the diplomatic chiefs of the two first world powers since the beginning of the Biden era had turned to the big show live on television, when Washington openly accused Beijing of perpetrate “genocide” against Uyghur Muslims.

The face-to-face had left the feeling of an impossible chasm.

“Not a bargaining chip”

A month later, another atmosphere: far from the spotlight, the visit to Shanghai of the American envoy for the climate, John Kerry, resulted in an unimaginable joint declaration after Anchorage, the United States and China committing “to cooperate ”to“ face the climate crisis ”.

This agreement revived Republican criticism.

“Each of our decisions was taken in the name of + America first”, reacted on Twitter Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State to Donald Trump, in reference to the slogan “America First” of the former president. . “It seems that the mission of the Biden administration is more climate change first. It’s not what Americans want or what they need. ”

Some experts also fear that Chinese leaders, aware of the importance of their country, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, in the fight against global warming, “are using this means of pressure to promote Chinese interests in other countries. fields, ”as stated by Andrew Erickson of the US Naval War College and Gabriel Collins of Rice University.

In an article published in the journal Foreign Affairs, they urge the Biden administration to play competition with China even on climate, rather than cooperation.

The head of the American diplomacy Antony Blinken defended himself Monday by assuring that the climate was not a “bargaining chip” which would allow the rivals of America to “buy” his “benevolence in the face of their bad behavior on other subjects ”.

Invitation to the summit

For Ryan Hass, researcher at the Brookings Institution think tank and ex-adviser to Barack Obama on China, “the gradual but significant development” initiated by the Biden administration in the face of Beijing is welcome.

“The two camps have started to slowly re-establish functional diplomatic channels of communication,” in particular to “explore the possibilities of coordination,” he told AFP. He recalls that, even at the height of the Cold War, “the United States and the Soviet Union had managed to agree on common challenges such as the eradication of smallpox”.

Joe Biden seems to be referring to the Cold War when he calls for a “predictable and stable” relationship with Russia.

Since arriving at the White House in January, the 70-year-old Democrat has been blowing hot and cold.

He hammered that his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had “not an ounce of democracy in him”, and called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer” while severely punishing Russia for his “electoral interference” and a giant cyberattack. .

But he immediately reached an agreement with Moscow to extend a key nuclear disarmament treaty and has just proposed to the master of the Kremlin to organize a bilateral summit this summer in a third country.

Likewise, Joe Biden invited Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to his big virtual climate summit, held Thursday and Friday.

But, warns Heather Conley, “speaking at a virtual summit and fighting global warming are two very different things.” For this ex-diplomat, “while Beijing and Moscow are talking about climate change for the international public, at home they are stepping on the accelerator in terms of global CO2 emissions”.

All the more reason to force them to negotiate, recently pleaded John Kerry: not to work with the other big polluters would be “suicidal”.