Progressive groups on China: What's a little gulag between friends?

A coalition of 40 progressive groups has written a letter to the Biden administration and to member of congress asking that they tone down the criticism of China for the sake of climate cooperation. Here’s a sample of the contents: [emphasis in original]

We, the undersigned organizations, 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 escalating, bipartisan anti-China rhetoric in both Congress and the White House damages the diplomatic and political relationships needed to move forward boldly and cooperatively. It also 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.

So China’s growing gulag system that has placed a million people in detention based on their race and culture isn’t racist. What’s racist is demanding they stop that system. These progressive groups are arguing that we should ignore claims of systematic rape of minority women in order to focus on some plan for climate change cooperation that doesn’t exist.

This reminds me of that story published by the Atlantic last fall which pointed out that the same people shrieking about President Trump’s fascism don’t seem to recognize the real thing when they see it in China.

The letter goes on to make some arguments about why the U.S. is responsible for most of the climate change heavy lifting:

The United States, which is significantly wealthier than China, is the biggest carbon polluter in history — responsible for a staggering one quarter of all emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution. China’s historical emissions are half those of the United States — and emissions per capita in China are less than half the levels of the United States…

The cooperation we need to solve the climate crisis depends on the United States committing to its fair share of climate action, including making urgent domestic emissions reductions and scaling up international climate finance for developing countries — truly leading by example

The claims about the US historical emissions and per capita emissions are accurate. What they don’t mention is that China’s emissions currently exceed those of the US and the EU combined and are still growing. Over the past decade, 89% of new emissions have come from China and India. On its own China added 69% of the increase. And at present China’s plan is to continue to allow those emissions to grow through 2030. This is from the NY Times:

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged that its emissions will peak by around 2030. From that point, the country will then aim to get down to net zero emissions by 2060. China has also laid out some concrete targets, such as getting one-quarter of its electricity from low-carbon sources like wind, solar or nuclear power; planting vast new forests; and curbing the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a powerful greenhouse gas used as a refrigerant.

If all those targets are met, an analysis by the Rhodium Group found, China’s emissions could level off close to current levels by the end of the decade, although the exact numbers depend on how rapidly the country’s economy grows.

But China is not yet committing to specific cuts before 2030.

So, quite literally, the current plan is for the US to cut emissions substantially by 2030 while China allows theirs to continue to grow, offsetting our efforts. Then, maybe, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases will get around to the net zero goal a decade after the rest of the world. And the environmentalists are arguing that the U.S. is the problem here because we’re not leading by example.

Of course the fundamental problem with this idea is that there’s no reason to believe China wants to led by the U.S. example. This is the same error that Greta Thunberg made when arguing this point on Earth Day. She assumes, based on nothing, that if we lead, China will follow:

She literally says taking action will “guarantee” and then stops herself as even she realizes it would guarantee nothing. Instead she says it would “most likely” create a snowball effect. But what if it doesn’t? What if China sits back and calculates that by allowing the west to move to renewables at great economic cost while China keeps growing on cheap fossil fuels, that in another decade it will have even more economic weight to throw around. And that weight will be used as it is now, i.e. to defend their tyranny from criticism abroad and to silence critics at home.

China doesn’t want to follow our lead, they want to lead the world themselves and promote their vision of communism with Chinese characteristics. Holding the US responsible for solving the world’s problems while giving China a pass both practically and morally is not a good solution. Hopefully the Biden administration is going to tell the human-rights-appeasement-coalition to pound sand and keep the focus on China’s egregious and ongoing human rights abuses.