China Policy Institute: Analysis


United States

China as a responsible great power: Conform or reform?

Written by Rob Yates.

It has long been established that great powers have a distinct status given to them through recognition by other members of international society. Such status recognition, however, is contingent upon exercising great power responsibilities. In the broadest terms, Hedley Bull outlined great power responsibilities as twofold: managing relations with each other and providing central direction within international society as a whole. If we think of the latter in terms of exercising leadership in shaping and underwriting the institutions, norms, and rules of international order then the rise of China poses an interesting question: as China’s power grows will it continue to seek status recognition as a legitimate great power within the dominant form international order currently takes?; or will it seek to reform order, replacing existing US/Western-determined institutions, norms and rules with China-centred alternatives?

Continue reading “China as a responsible great power: Conform or reform?”

China and the US: when worlds collide

Written by Mark Beeson.

There is so much going on in the world these days it’s sometimes possible to focus on the ephemeral and the inconsequential rather than the long-term structural changes that are likely to shape the international system for decades.

The US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, inaugurated in 2009 by Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, is one of the more important parts of the new international order. But its most recent iteration over the last few days illustrates just how fraught ties are between the “G2”, even though it’s rather bad form to describe them as such.

Continue reading “China and the US: when worlds collide”

Responsible Stakeholder with Chinese Characteristics

Written by Beverley Loke.

In September 2005, Robert Zoellick urged China to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the international system. The basic premise of his speech was that China should be more heavily invested in strengthening and sustaining the system from which it has benefited. This involved global stewardship: providing public goods, upholding existing norms and rules, and contributing to the maintenance of international order.

More than a decade on, the concept of responsibility has very much continued to frame China’s rise and impact on the international order. This is evident both in terms of US projections as well as China’s self-claims to be a responsible power. The Obama administration has at various junctures called China a ‘selective stakeholder’ or ‘free rider’ in the international system. And during Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the US last September, Obama had this to say: ‘we can’t treat China as if it’s still a very poor, developing country, as it might have been 50 years ago. It is now a powerhouse. And that means it’s got responsibilities and expectations in terms of helping to uphold international rules that might not have existed before.’ Continue reading “Responsible Stakeholder with Chinese Characteristics”

A Sino-Russian Alliance? Rationales and Realities

Written by Jingdong Yuan.

Since the early 1990s when Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin first laid the foundation of a partnership between the former allies (1950s) and foes (1960s-1970s), Beijing and Moscow have gradually elevated the bilateral relationship to its current comprehensive strategic partnership. In 2001, the two countries also signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation.

China and Russia have significantly expanded their bilateral ties in many areas over the past twenty years, from Russian sales of advanced weapons systems and military technology transfers to major energy cooperation projects. In 2001, together with four other Central Asian states, Beijing and Moscow established the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional arrangement whose initial priorities were to combat terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism, but have subsequently evolved and expanded to include energy development, economic cooperation, and regional stability. Over the past decade, the Eurasian grouping has staged the bi-annual Peace Mission joint military exercises. Many Western analysts have suggested that SCO may have become a military alignment, if not an alliance.

The past few years have also witnessed further strengthening of bilateral ties. President Xi Jinping chose Russia as his first foreign country to visit after becoming the head of state. Presidents Putin and Xi have met no less than ten times already and the comprehensive strategic partnership has entered a new phase, with deepening political trust, mutual diplomatic support of each other’s core interests, and broader strategic consultation on major international and regional issues. Some have suggested that given the security threats that they both face, especially the growing rivalry and, in Russia’s case, open confrontation, with the United States, there are good rationales for Beijing and Moscow to seriously consider forming an alliance.

Indeed, Russia’s deteriorating relationship with the United States over a number of contentious issues ranging from NATO expansion, U.S. deployment of missile defence systems in Europe, to Russian actions against Georgia and Ukraine has resulted in America-led sanctions, causing significant economic difficulties for he former superpower, especially at a time of oil price dipping to its lowest level in years. Moscow now has its own strategic pivot to Asia, and relations with China become ever more critical.

China likewise is also facing major security challenges in East Asia. It is embroiled in territorial disputes with a number of Southeast Asian states and with Japan. China’s growing economic power and military might have instilled anxieties and concerns among its neighbours. The U.S. pivot to Asia, spearheaded by strengthened American military presence and basing access in the region, revitalised alliances and security partnerships, and Washington’s more active diplomacy, is viewed by Beijing as concerted efforts to contain China.

A Sino-Russian alliance could join forces of two pivotal Eurasian powers to counter the American offensive and undermine the U.S.-led order. In geopolitical terms, Eurasia strides across the vast landmass and provides strategic depth against maritime powers such as the United States. Russia has ample resources, advance military technologies, and the market potential that could be met by China’s financial and economic might, huge appetite for energy, and a military still in need of massive upgrading. In short, an elevation of the current comprehensive strategic partnership to an alliance is not completely out of the question.

Attractive as the idea may seem, there are many reasons against China and Russia forming an alliance anytime soon. Rivalry and confrontation with the United States is a necessary but not sufficient condition for Beijing and Moscow to take that step. To begin with, although both Russian and Chinese security interests to some significant extent face U.S. threats, the latter have not become so serious as to threaten both countries’ core interests and each, on its own, still possesses sufficient will and capability to counter such threats. In Russia’s case, while its overall power has declined since the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, its military power, in particular the nuclear arsenal, will remain the guarantor to secure and protect its core interests.

China, on the other hand, does face greater challenges in East Asia as the U.S. strengthens alliances, builds up security partnerships and reinforces its military presence. However, the U.S. pivot has as much to do with reassuring allies and friends as it is to retain its primacy; it is less about directly challenging China’s core interests, Beijing’s protestation notwithstanding. The current frictions between the two countries, from what China perceives as U.S. biased in the maritime territorial disputes, to U.S. charged Chinese obstruction to freedom of navigation, are either third-party related or manageable as both sides are anxious that disputes not escalate to military confrontation and war.

At the same time, both China and Russia continue to cooperate with the United States in areas where they share common interests with the latter. Russia and the U.S. share common interests in anti-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, a solution to the civil war in Syria, and implementation of their nuclear disarmament agreement. Beijing and Washington, meanwhile, cooperate on a range of issues from climate change and North Korea, and share common interests in restoring global economic and financial stability.

Under such circumstances, alliance formation appears unnecessary as it is counterproductive, for both China and Russia. While sharing and promoting common objectives such as a new multipolar international order, non-interference in domestic affairs, and the important role of the United Nations Security Council, their priorities are different, as are the challenges they face. Alliance would require both to commit to, and therefore entrap in, the other’s security agendas, running the risks of getting dragged into major military conflicts with a third party not of its own choice. While the two countries have expanded and deepened their strategic partnership in recent years, the scope and foundation of that partnership remain limited and the core pillars of true partnership, not to mention an alliance, are lacking. Apart from energy and defence industry transactions, bilateral trade remains minuscule at around $90 billion annually, as is investment level. And some of the Russian elites still harbour suspicions over China’s long-term intensions and worry about China’s continuing economic and military rise.

Professor Jingdong Yuan is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney Centre for International Security Studies. He specialises in Asia-Pacific security, Chinese defence and foreign policy, and global and regional arms control and non-proliferation issues. Image credit: CC by Dmitry Terekhov/Flickr.

Strategic Hypocrisy: the Labelling of Taiwan in the Trafficking in Person Report

Written by Isabelle Cheng.

The ‘Nationhood of Human Rights’ (renquan liguo) was critical to the nation-building project of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after the party assumed power in 2000. Interestingly, this slogan was also adopted by the Kuomintang (KMT) government after 2008. The prominence of a human rights discourse in Taiwan’s self-image and the impact of the discourse on the making of public policy can be found in the reform of immigration legislation. A substantial literature has persuasively analysed how the ‘Nationhood of Human Rights’ was utilised by the migrants’ movement for legitimising their rights-claim campaign. There is also an attempt to explore how the same discourse renders Taiwan susceptible to pressure by the US for cracking down on human trafficking.  This unilateral pressure from the US is symbolised by the publicity of the Trafficking in Person Report (TIP).

Beginning in 2001, the annual release of the TIP by the Department of State is a diplomatic tool employed by the US government for improving the global monitoring of human trafficking, particularly for preventing sexual exploitation and labour servitude. As a major destination for labour and marriage migration in East Asia, Taiwan is closely watched by the US. This is also partly because Taiwan, at times, was identified as a transit point for human trafficking from China to further parts of the world. In the past 15 years since the beginning of the annual reporting, the reputation of Taiwan experienced a contrasting course of downgrading and elevation. With respect to the interest of improving migrants’ human rights, it is imperative for researchers to focus on how Taiwan reacted to US pressure and, as a result, made changes to the areas that were under the international spotlight.

However, for the student of International Relations, this annual reporting also opens a new avenue through which to see how the sovereignty of Taiwan became a case of ‘organised hypocrisy’ (Krasnar 1999). It is believed that external recognition by other nation-states is essential to the claim of sovereignty. In this regard, the claim of the government of Taiwan for possessing sovereignty of the Republic of China (ROC) is challenged, as there is a very small number of states who recognise the statehood of ROC. Nevertheless, this does not prevent the government of Taiwan from developing nearly full-fledged relationships with other nation-states. When these relationships are tested, it occurs most often in the areas where the government of Taiwan is deprived of prerogatives commonly enjoyed by nation-states. However, when there are demands placed on the government of Taiwan for specific conducts, such as the prevention of human trafficking, and sovereignty is a prerequisite of these conducts, Taiwan is treated as if it is a full-fledged nation-state.

The label imposed on Taiwan in the TIP Report sufficiently illustrates the hypocrisy of Taiwan’s challenged statehood. The inclusion of Taiwan in this report is a tacit recognition of Taiwan’s de facto sovereignty. Without this working recognition, the US government would fail to pressure Taiwan to reform and make the legislation to meet the ‘minimum standard’ that is based on US domestic laws. On the other hand, this recognition can only be a tacit one as, by US domestic laws, Taiwan is not recognised as a state. Along this official line, the TIP Report addresses the ruling party of Taiwan not as the ‘government’ but merely ‘authorities’ of Taiwan. Likewise, the geographical space where the jurisdiction of Taiwan is effectively exercised is not referred to as a ‘country’ but merely ‘territory’. Although the insistence on the official use of ‘authorities’ and ‘territory’ is consistently applied throughout the reports of the past 15 years, the report is not immune from ‘errors’ that fall out of this official line. That is, at times (in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012), the report did address Taiwan as in terms of its ‘government’ and the geographical space as a ‘country’. Trivial though this revelation may appear, as this occasional deviation from the official line may very likely be due to nothing but simply a human error, nevertheless, this human error, and the confusing gap between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘presumed’, with regard to the questioned statehood of Taiwan sends a clear message across the board on the hypocrisy of this strategic pretence. On the one hand, Taiwan is not a state; hence using official designations, such as ‘government’ or ‘country’, are inapplicable. On the other hand, when it becomes necessary for pursuing practical interests, Taiwan is expected to exercise its jurisdiction as if it is a nation-state.

In the spirt of hypocrisy, in 2001, 2008, 2009 and 2010, the State Department acknowledged the challenges faced by Taiwan as a non-recognised international actor. Nevertheless, the very interest of monitoring and pressurising Taiwan to adopt policy tools deemed necessary for preventing human trafficking would have to be premised on the actual functioning of the sovereignty of Taiwan. Thus, the TIP Report also positively documented Taiwan’s out-reach efforts beyond its borders, including engaging with the governments of source countries, forging international agreements with the US and other states, and disseminating information and advice on prevention, protection and prosecution of human trafficking.  All of these activities require a tacit recognition of the statehood of Taiwan. In this light, the embedded ambiguity in the hypocrisy and the derived flexibility seems to serve the interests of the US and the international system well.

The discovery of this minor inconsistency of the official labelling imposed on Taiwan may be considered trivial or insignificant. Yet, the implications as argued above should not be shrugged off quiet so easily. There shall be more research on how the hypocrisy of the sovereignty of Taiwan is seamlessly and strategically incorporated into formal policy without being noticed or questioned.

Isabelle Cheng is a Senior Lecturer in East Asian and International Development Studies at the School of Languages and Area Studies and University of Portsmouth.

The Future of Green Construction in China

Written by Sha Yu.

China, as the world’s largest carbon emitter and energy consumer, also has the world’s largest construction market. In the past five years, China has added around 3 billion square metres of building floorspace annually (China Statistical Yearbook 2014, Table 10-7). The building floorspace in China today exceeds that of the United States and European Union combined.

The growth of building floorspace was accompanied by rising energy demands. Between 2000 and 2012, China’s building energy use increased by around 40%, while building electricity use grew by more than 200% (IEA Statistics). Although China’s per capita building energy use is relatively low compared to industrialized countries, demand for greater floorspace coupled with growing energy services have narrowed this gap.

Building energy use in China is expected to continue to increase in the coming decades, driven by fast urbanization, income growth, and higher quality of life. Implementing energy efficiency policies in Chinese buildings is therefore essential to avoid the long-term lock-in effects of a carbon-intensive infrastructure.

Curbing energy consumption in China’s buildings sector is critical and creates significant opportunities to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. The Chinese government has developed a wide range of policies that promote building energy efficiency and aim to slow down the growth of building energy use, demonstrated in the Green Building Action Plan and the 12th Five-Year Plan on Building Energy Efficiency. The recently announced Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) also reaffirmed the importance of controlling emissions from the buildings sector through policy measures.

Energy codes are one of the most effective ways to reduce energy use in buildings. China’s building energy codes set minimum energy efficiency requirements for building envelope; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, power systems and water heating. The requirements are specific to individual climate zones. Issued by the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD), China’s building energy codes are national codes and mandatory for new construction and major renovations in urban residential and commercial buildings. Chinese provinces and cities can issue more stringent building codes themselves. There is also a voluntary standard for rural residential buildings.

The stringency of building energy codes has increased over the years. However, there are still opportunities for further enhancement. Currently, energy use intensity in Chinese buildings is less than that of OECD countries, and this is largely caused by the differences in the level of building services and operation. Buildings energy codes in China are less stringent than the equivalent standards in the United States.

Meanwhile, China does not have a schedule or pathway to improve its building energy codes. By contrast, the United States updates its building energy codes every three years, supported by a code development roadmap. Several European countries develop plans and pathways to reach the net-zero energy building target. Having a fixed schedule and pathway to improve building energy codes will help instil confidence in the market and prepare stakeholders to adopt and implement more rigorous standards over time.

Policy enforcement is also critical to achieving the desired outcomes of energy savings and carbon emission reduction. Local human and institutional capacity, economic conditions, levels of standardization in energy efficiency, awareness of energy conservation, and market readiness for energy efficiency products would all affect the implementation of building energy codes.

Compliance with building energy codes is as important, if not more important, than stringency. However, data on compliance are scarce. MOHURD reported improved compliance in the last 10 years and showed extremely high compliance rates at both the design and construction stages in the last five years. Studies, however, have indicated that compliance rates are high in large cities and problematic in smaller cities and towns.

Beyond energy codes, the Chinese government is also devoting resources to promote green buildings. Two prevailing green building rating systems are the Three-Star certification issued by MOHURD and the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. The green building rating system goes beyond energy codes requirements and also covers land use, water savings, material savings, indoor environmental quality, and operations and management.

Currently, the national and provincial governments provide subsidies for green buildings rated by the Three-Star system and the level of subsidies varies by province. Despite significant subsidies, there still are challenges in rolling out green buildings at scale, such as lack of capacity at the local level and the complicated application procedure. In addition, most green buildings in China only obtain design certifications, which means energy consumption at the operation stage could still be high.

The Chinese government has also rolled out large-scale energy efficiency retrofit programs in existing buildings. These programs historically have been focused on residential buildings in the northern heating zone, and then extended to residential buildings in the South and public buildings. According to the Green Building Action Plan, 450 million m2 of residential floorspace is anticipated to be retrofitted between 2011 and 2015 throughout China. In addition to the government mandates, market mechanisms such as the energy performance contracting are also encouraged in energy efficiency retrofits.

With population and economic growth, and increased demand for energy services, the Chinese buildings sector becomes increasingly critical to global climate change mitigation. Various building energy policies have the potential to improve the efficiency of China’s buildings sector and curb the rising energy use and emissions.

However, whether and to what extent building energy policies could offset the strong growth trend is still unknown. In addition to the plan of controlling carbon emissions in buildings in China’s INDC, a long-term strategy and pathway beyond 2020 are needed for achieving low-carbon growth in China’s building sector.

Sha Yu is a scientist in the Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Image credit: CC by Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr.

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