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The answer is that many things were lost. China’s move to terminate all official bi-national cooperation with the U.S. to mitigate the effects of climate change was not only short-sighted. It was, for China, a classic case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. The action was purely political — to protest a visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, a visit that had ampled precedent going back to 1977 when Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan. The consequences of China’s unprecedented and over-reactive action — eliminating countless programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote improve water quality, conserve natural habitats and bio-diversity — will have as much of a detrimental effect, if not more, on developing China as it will on the United States’ developed economy.

Here’s a case study of one opportunity — built for scale and speed — that has been lost …

(click for original, free to read version of this article from Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy)

by Doug Barry, Senior Director of Communications, U.S.-China Business Council

(view original article in USCBC’s Fifty States, Fifty Stories series)

U.S.-China EcoPartners Terry Cooke (CPGP) & Mme. Song Yuyan (TEDA EcoCenter) sign with Philadelphia & Tianjin Mayors

Policy entrepreneurs are plentiful in America. You can find them everywhere, devoting ideas and energy to getting things done. Terry Cooke founded the non-profit China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia with a focus on getting the United States and China to cooperate on climate change. Getting what he wants done has become more challenging as the two countries ping pong between cooperation, competition, and conflict. 

How did he get here and how is he managing multiple challenges simultaneously? He’s been interested in global affairs for a long time, starting in 1988 when he joined the US Commerce Department as a foreign commercial service officer in Shanghai. His two-year posting there bracketed the Tiananmen Square convulsion. Years flew by with postings in Tokyo, Berlin, and Taiwan. In 2002 he took leave from the foreign service and started a consulting business focusing on Taiwan and high tech. 

In 2006, Cooke joined the World Economic Forum (WEF) as Director of Asian CEO Partnership with a focus more on Japan than China. He left in 2008. “It was too much travel,” he recalled. “I worked in New York, had my family in Philadelphia, commuted to Geneva, and had responsibility for multiple events in Asia.” 

One of the best parts of the WEF job was sitting in on multiple sectoral meetings with CEOs. His main takeaway was that many of these corporate leaders were talking about the challenges of climate change, not as PR or greenwashing, but about the need to transform their companies into low-carbon leaders. “I decided that was the hook that I wanted to hang the second half of my career on when I came back to Philadelphia.” 

Cooke recalled his time in Berlin and the impression made by comparing what was then called West Germany with the East, which at the time was terribly polluted. When the Berlin Wall fell, the country united and the cleanup of the Eastern part of the country began. The lesson was that great progress to improve the environment is possible if the political will exists and if clear policy creates predictability for businesses and investors. 

The good old days 

In 2010, Cooke joined the Wilson Center, a Washington, DC think tank, as senior fellow for US-China climate cooperation. His research there led to publication of his book Sustaining US-China Cooperation in Clean Energy. Coincident with this research, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu introduced a “national labs program for the 21st century” for clean energy technologies as an outgrowth of the 10-year framework for US-China cooperation on energy and the environment pioneered by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in the waning years of the George W. Bush administration. 

President Barack Obama and Secretary Chu worked to expand Paulson’s program, adding three US-China clean energy research centers in different industrial areas: electric vehicles initially at the University of Michigan, clean coal at the University of West Virginia, and energy efficient buildings through a Penn State-led program at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. 

“Disappointing as these decisions were, there was still potential in the climate change mitigation space, even as other areas like micro-electronics drifted further off-limits.”

To support and expand the energy-efficient buildings program, Cooke founded in 2011 the China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia whose mission was raising awareness and facilitating collaboration to create and bring to market low-carbon solutions for the built environment. For the first years, things went great with lots of local and Chinese partners, mayoral visits, and stakeholders to plan low-carbon futures for urban centers in the United States and China.  In 2014, China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia and its partner organization in China, the TEDA EcoCenter, were competitively selected for and awarded a prestigious U.S.-China EcoPartnership Award, administered jointly by the U.S. and PRC Governments.

Cooke (rear row, 2nd from left) at 2014 EcoPartnership Award Ceremony with former SecState John Kerry and Ambassador Max Baucus

“We had some fits and starts, including an unfortunate near-death experience involving IP piracy.” Isn’t this ironic given the long-standing concerns the US government and private sector have about “collaborations” that lead to forced technology transfers and outright pilfering? “It would be if that’s what happened. Instead, the main culprit was an American in an American company.” The company did not want to make a public fuss because of reputational concerns. “We had to shift focus and change our business model to make sure that would never happen again, but it was a one-off, not something endemic with the work we were doing.” 

Pulling the plug on energy cooperation 

If not as immediately dire, there were other experiences that could have been crippling to his non-profit. Two of them involved former president Donald Trump, who pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords and in 2020 terminated the US-China EcoPartnership program just seven days before leaving office. “Disappointing as these decisions were, there was still potential in the climate change mitigation space, even as other areas like micro-electronics drifted further off-limits.” 

The shifting binaries involved with competition and cooperation were making the scope for business cooperation more limited and the non-profit’s work more problematic. Competition is now spilling into the space previously marked by cooperation. The shriveling of discourse between government leaders has only made things more difficult. 


“What used to be very effective work through industrial cooperation in lowering emissions is now off the table, though some academic and some intergovernmental climate cooperation continues.”

Early in the Biden administration, excitement was generated by the appointment of John Kerry as climate envoy. Kerry and his PRC counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, had worked closely and cooperatively under Biden’s vice presidency during the Obama administration but Biden administration policy would not be a simple reset to that period. While cooperation continues in areas such as scientific exchange and standards setting, industrial cooperation toward low-carbon goals now enjoys little federal-level support. This even as the planet continues to warm and nations like China and India continue to struggle reducing their addiction to coal. 

Kerry recently pointed out in a Foreign Affairs article that there’s still time to avoid disaster but that in the coming years many trillions of dollars will be needed to fund and field clean energy technology. The money, he said, must largely come from the private sector which stands to gain from what could amount to a new industrial revolution. 

Cooke worries that the emphasis on zero-sum competition with China over recent years will make broad cooperation in climate change extremely difficult. “The competition drive is spilling into areas that used to be defined by cooperation,” he said. One example is the network of 11 national-level eco parks organized through the Greater Philadelphia-Tianjin EcoPartnership. Germany invested in one such park in 2020, focused on green maritime technology, to the tune of more than $3 billion. The PHL-TJ EcoPartnership had defined a focus on energy-efficient, securely smart and healthy buildings at sustainable-city scale for this network of 11 eco-parks. The emphasis was on large-scale opportunities supported by very large companies and leavened by the innovation of smaller, entrepreneurial companies. “Given the problems in the bilateral relationship, that large scale opportunity has receded for the foreseeable future at least.”  

Enter the contradiction 

Cooke is highly attuned to the potential for contradiction between commercial competition and climate cooperation, worrying that when Kerry steps down, the space for commercially led environmental solutions to be applied at scale and speed in the two largest global economies will shrink even more. 

“What used to be very effective work through industrial cooperation in lowering emissions is now off the table, though some academic and some intergovernmental climate cooperation continues.” He concedes that the continuation of even these relationships is not assured given the political environment in both countries.  

“My organization was about creating a platform for a US-Sino Eco-Park in China bringing advanced energy efficiency services and technologies to the park. That is viewed negatively now in Washington. What’s disappointing is that other countries friendly to us are now established in China in commercial areas that we’re better at but won’t be able to contribute to because official reluctance for cooperation.” 

Cooke says: “The United States needs to be smart about its clean energy approach to China. Yes, China wants to dominate an emerging 21st century industry. But if we out-innovate and out-compete China technologically, we can access their market profitably and also collaborate commercially to forestall the worst effects of climate change. Is it really in the US interest not to have active engagement with China, aside from discrete small companies that are more easily taken advantage of? I’d prefer to see us going in with a convoy approach of large companies and smaller innovators protected by US government policies and focused on delivering measurable, low-carbon solutions at a globally impactful scale. To my mind, this is a huge missed opportunity.”

Cooke as panelist at 2016 U.S.-China EcoPartnership event at Diaoyutai Compound, Beijing

Cooke’s non-profit, which he recently rebranded as ReGen250 to accommodate additional, non-China-focused environmental programs, continues to assess options for low-carbon partnerships with China. What elements would a US private sector partner want to support that his organization could strongly endorse? “Alternatively, we can just decide we’re only going to focus on local programs in the Mid-Atlantic to increase access to a greener built environment.”  

What about the Department of Energy’s prior interest in cooperation? “I have had some high-level discussions within the Department. The entire group that previously supported the commercial exchange at this high level between the national government and subnational actors, including Eco-Partners and city level groups, is not active right now. It was disappointing to learn that.” 

“Despite the challenges in the US-China relationship, subnational initiatives, especially in energy and climate change mitigation solutions, should be encouraged and supported.”

Despite the setbacks, Cooke believes there are still areas for engagement with China regardless of the government in power. One involves people-to-people exchanges, albeit challenging at the present moment given China’s zero-COVID policies. Examples of programs that deserve to survive are the adoption of Chinese children, music (he helped the Philadelphia Orchestra create an artist residency program in China) and artistic exchange, student exchange, and most importantly, business. He believes that the once promising universe of business cooperation has constricted but there still remain spaces outside of sensitive technologies where businesses can and must connect. 

As a member of the local ecosystem that support US-China commercial relations, he’s not giving up. Rather, he envisions the different China business-related ecosystems across the United States networking and sharing best practices. He said that one such effort was made recently at a Midwest university, but he expressed some disappointment at the fact that the focus turned out to be on a recently discovered vulnerability involving WeChat. It was a security-led briefing, not the commercially minded dialogue that is needed. 

Cooke isn’t ready to walk away from his gift of multi-stakeholder cooperation on climate change or the imperative for non-profits like his to act locally and globally. “Efforts at the subnational level have an important place in helping American companies navigate a complex environment in China. They have a great potential impact because they can organize a well-protected convoy in the place of one isolated boat, big or small.” 

“Despite the challenges in the US-China relationship, subnational initiatives, especially in energy and climate change mitigation solutions, should be encouraged and supported.” 

(view original article in USCBC’s Fifty States, Fifty Stories series)

“We are in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century,” Biden said on April 28th. “We are at a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back better. … We have to compete more strenuously.”

Image Courtesy of the Financial Times

The question we are examining today is what does “compete more strenuously mean.” I’ll be identifying four distinct fields in which heightened competition is likely to come to the fore but first some context and disclaimers.

The first point to note is that, in President Biden’s own words, some partial answers are already clear. Biden has made clear that he sees this 21st century competition as one between the US and its democratic allies on the one side versus Xi, Putin and other autocratic leaders on the other side. in other words, the heart of the competition is democracy versus autocracy. What Biden has also made clear involves timing, that the competition will not be joined in earnest until the U.S. has emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and largely revitalized the performance of the U.S. domestic economy.

Two caveats are also in order. The analysis provided below is strictly my own. The Biden administration – under Kurt Campbell, deputy assistant to the President and  coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs at the National Security Council — is currently directing an assessment under which cabinet-level departments and some agencies are re-viewing their policies and procedures as they relate to China. These departments and agencies will be reporting their findings to the White House later this year at which point Kurt Campell, his senior director for China Laura Rosenberger, and their staff will be synthesizing these inputs and articulating an updated “whole of government” policy towards China. (This process is consistent with the ‘get our house in order now’ before focusing on generational competition with China, as referenced above.) Clear answers to the question we’re examining today likely won’t be rolled out by the Administration until that process is complete.

In the meantime, the single best open-source for a quasi-authoritative readout of Biden’s thinking on what heightened US- China technology competition will look like may be the Penn Biden Center. While I am affiliated with Fox Leadership International under the School of Arts and Sciences at Penn, I want to make clear that this blog post does not draw on any information from that source.  This is my analysis and I bear sole responsibility for any deficiencies.

So, on to the substance …

At the broadest level, the U.S. needs to up its game in four areas of traditional strength to respond more effectively to the 21st century tech challenge from China:

Field 1:   Industry Sector Focus

NASA’s manned mission to the moon and DARPA’s role in the creation of the internet are the most storied examples of U.S. Government success in mid-wiving new high technology industries.  What has changed since those early post-war successes is the subsequently accelerated pace of technology innovation and development in the Fourth Industrial Age.  In fields as diverse as semiconductor design and fabrication, 5G telecommunications, artificial intelligence and robotics, quantum computing, EV batteries and biotechnology, U.S. government policy is currently nowhere near as focused in positioning its support role as is China.  What is called for is not a return to 20th century “industrial policy” (and its poor record of picking company-level winners and losers) but a new, 21st century approach to policy support to better prepare eco-system support for the emergence of entire new industries.    

Field 2:   Funding for Innovation & Regulation of Foreign Acquisitions

Despite the recent trend-line of falling investment in basic research in the U.S. and increasing levels of basic research investment in China, the fact remains that China is still no match for the U.S. in terms of the breadth, depth and quality of its basic research or of the commercial potential of the developments it spins off.  This is readily apparent in cutting-edge fields like advanced semiconductor design and gene therapy.  In these fields, China can’t put a home-grown team onto the field but instead tries to snap up foreign talent and fledgling foreign companies in hit-or-miss hopes of leveraging that into a domestic breakthrough.  Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) and other related government entities need more focus on the dynamics underpinning tomorrow’s industries and less on yesterday’s. Likewise, less silo-ing between basic research and commercial development is urgently needed.

Level 3:   Rule of Law

Perhaps no societal field offers greater contrast between the U.S. and China than the field of law and legal practice.  The U.S. system of case law based on precedent stretches back to the time of the Saxon Kings of England (with very occasional admixtures from the Roman system of law more common to Continental Europe).  As enshrined in the U.S. constitution, ours is the rule of law, not the rule of men (or women).  While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has borrowed legal ‘parts’ from a wide variety of sources since 1949, the legal system it has assembled from those parts is principally designed to serve the interests of the governing party rather than to protect inherent rights of its citizens or its private companies.  It is rule by law, rather than rule of law, as was vividly demonstrated with the imposition of the new security law in Hong Kong in the summer of 2020. Despite the slowness and costs associated with it, the U.S. legal system provides a level of predictability and protection for investors and businesspeople which can’t be matched in China.  We can expect to see the Biden Administration act to shore up the foundations of this legal system following the strains put on it by the previous administration.

Level 4:   Wellsprings of Economic Vitality

Two of the deepest sources of support and revitalization for technology innovation in the U.S. are immigration and our capital markets.  Immigration brings a steady stream not only of young and eager workers but also on occasion transformational business talent such as Sergey Brin and Elon Musk. Our capital markets spread risk over a broad pool of investors and investment vehicles, incentivize iconoclastic thinking and efficiently channel capital to the points of likely greatest return.  While China has through its tax policy been impressively building an investment-led structure for its markets, the efficiency and speed of execution of the U.S. capital markets can’t be matched in China.  In broad view, China currently tries to leverage its centralized leadership and ‘command economy’ model to try to neutralize this U.S. advantage as well as hoping to ride the momentum from its high-growth domestic macro-development over the last four decades (and the internationalization of that development model over the last ten years). How China fares in field of competition in the years ahead as it emerges from its fast-growth phase of development and collides with a dire demographic imbalance will be one of the more consequential questions of the early 21st century.

Editorial Note:  Upcoming posts in the TEA Collaboratives T-series on technology topics will pick up and expand on some of the topics identified above.  Our focus in this Technology Competition sub-series will mostly fall under the industry and innovation topics identified above but we will also have occasional invited guest experts to delve more deeplly the legal and capital markets topics.  Also, it’s important to note explicitly that the viewpoint expressed in this post and other future posts in the series are obviously a perspective from the U.S.-side.  We will present the ‘emic’ view (as seen through the eyes of Chinese government planners and officials) separately through our A-series (Ambitions) posts which appear on Fridays.  

As a final note, the Technology Competition sub-series posts introduced in today’s post will alternate on Mondays with our TECH-tonics sub-series posts (which focuses exclusively on issues associated with the micro-electronic supply chain fault-line between the U.S. and China passing through Taiwan).  In any given month, we’ll be producing in alternating fashion two posts in the TECHtonics and and two poss in the Tech Competition sub-series.

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