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I received an email yesterday from a college friend who is bright, informed and engaged with world events. She is not a China specialist but over the last few years we have had an on-going exchange of views about China, both privately and in a public forum.

Her message from yesterday read,”Terry: Yikes. Do you have access to Le Monde? I can’t read the rest of the article, but the first half is alarming. R.” The article she hyperlinked is from Le Monde and that article in turn hyperlinks to a strategy document which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has just released in conjunction with the visit by Wang Yi, Xi Jinping’s principal foreign policy advisor, to Munich for the 59th Munich Security Conference with NATO member countries and then on to Russia for meetings with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and yesterday with Putin himself. The document is titled “American hegemony and its dangers.” As headlined — accurately, I might add — in the Le Monde article, the focus of Xi’s Foreign Ministry is now on “‘direct confrontation with the United States.”

Today’s brief post is both my response to her and a way of brushing off the cobwebs after a long holiday vacation — lasting from Thanksgiving through Chinese New Year — I have taken from Assessing China.

Mao’s Young Red Guards Stand Up to the American Hegemon

To keep it simple, there are two main reasons that this newly overt stance of direct confrontation with the U.S. comes as no surprise from Xi’s PRC in 2023.

The first goes back as far as 1921 with the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Shanghai. Inspired by the Bolsheviks’ gains in the October Revolution, Chen Duxiu and other founding leaders of the CCP made Leninist ideology (soon to become Leninist-Stalinist ideology after Stalin’s rise to power in 1924) the central tent-pole of the party. According to that ideology, the bases of CCP power were the Three P’s — the Party, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) and propaganda. Since seizing the mainland and ousting Chiang Kaishek’s rival Kuomintang Party in 1949, the centrality of this ideology has only been tested twice. The first was the slow-boil Sino-Soviet split which began in 1956 and culminated in 1972 when China turned its back on its Big Brother in Communist ideology and welcomed Richard Nixon. The second came with the introduction of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms which started experimentally in 1978 and were formally adopted in 1982.

The effect of these reforms was monumental. For the first time since 1921, decision-making within the CCP was to be based on a predictable economic logic and not on malleable political ideology. It ushered in a 30-year period of economic growth which according to the World Bank has lifted 800 million people out of poverty. Western observers, myself included, tended to assume that this three decade burst of wealth creation under the post-WWII Pax Americana would be enough to make PRC leadership want to become a permanent “stakeholder” in this global order. In hindsight, we underestimated the strength of the CCP’s ideological ‘muscle memory,’ of its basic political motivation and of China’s civilizational pride (and resentments). What is a seventy-five year Post-WWII order measured against a four thousand year civilizational record in which the Peoples’ Republic of China is, in cultural terms, its latest dynasty. And, as Orville Schell has masterfully made the case in Wealth and Power, not even Deng Xiaoping probably ever saw wealth-creation for China in a Washington-led world order as an end in itself, but rather as a step toward global power that would enable China to challenge that world order in due course. For Xi Jinping, a true ideologue inspired by his father’s revolutionary experience, that time is now.

Secondly, the path that China has been taking to overt confrontation with the West has been revealing itself in planned and increasingly obvious stages ever since 2008. 2008 was the year of the Global Financial Crisis, which China weathered with less turmoil and damage than the advanced economies in the West and Asia. That is the year that CCP leadership started taking stock of what it had gained in capital accumulation and talent acquisition and began thinking about striking out on its own different path. There was still a need to access Western consumer and financial markets and to promote inflow of management expertise along with inbound investment but the critical need was technology. In 2008, China was in no position to compete with the West and Western-aligned countries like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea in advanced technology. For that reason, over the next fifteen years, CCP ambitions were always partially cloaked but increasingly revealed with each Five Year Plan cycle. (See Xi’s Ascension to the CCP Pantheon for a more detailed mapping of that 15-year course). In 2012, the CCP selected Xi Jinping as the horse they would ride on this epochal journey. He would break the mold which Deng Xiaoping had set limiting Chinese leaders to two five-year terms. And he would use his longer leash to bring Hong Kong and Taiwan to heel before stepping down. To usher in the next Five Year cycle of the Politburo in 2017, Xi gave a triumphalist speech telling the world what to expect in the years ahead. Now, fresh from securing an unprecedented third term of formal power last year, Xi is moving to make those stated intentions a reality. The pandemic and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Biden’s CHIPS Act were not part of the plan. But Xi and the CCP are ‘unswerving’ in pushing forward with this plan. It has been fifteen years in the making and, for much of it, the U.S. and its allies have been distracted in the Middle East and Ukraine. With its population now in decline, Xi knows the window is closing for him to reshape the global order to his and the CCP’s liking.

With ‘ideology in command’ and riding fifteen years of planning momentum, China’s direction under Xi is now clear for all to see. Xi’s strategic accommodation with junior partner (and client-state energy supplier) Russia last February was simply another way-station on its path. The path to open confrontation with the leaders of the post-WWII order, and the scramble for influence with less tightly aligned global players like Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, South Africa, India and Indonesia, is afoot.

Autocracy vs Democracy. Game on.

Experts predicting COVID cases in China to explode after the country ends strict zero-COVID policy (USA Today, 6 hours ago)

Scientists predict COVID surge in China this winter, with hundreds of millions of people infected (NPR, 1 day ago)

Strain on China’s hospitals may now be resulting in doctors and nurses infecting patients (BBC, 2 days ago)

So interesting how an existential threat — near-term: Russia/Ukraine; longer-term: China/Taiwan — helps focus the national mind.

The Biden Administration announced on Tuesday that, in rapid-fire sequence following the launch of the multi-lateral Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in Tokyo last week, the U.S. Government is making a decisive step, through Executive Action, in the direction of a bilateral U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

The economic logic in support of a U.S.-Taiwan FTA was evident 20 years ago. Here, dusted off, are two publications which make that point:

Now, finally, U.S. domestic political logic is swinging in line with the geoeconomic imperatives. If it comes to pass, it will have been worth the wait.

On May 27th speaking at the annual Stanford University Oksenberg Conference, Kurt Campbell, Biden’s National Security Council Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, delineated the new ‘continental divide’ in U.S.-China Relations.

The period in U.S. policy toward China that was broadly described as ‘engagement’ has come to an end, said Dr. Kurt M. Campbell, deputy assistant to the President and coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs at the National Security Council, speaking at Shorenstein APARC’s 2021 Oksenberg Conference. “The dominant paradigm is going to be competition. Our goal is to make that a stable, peaceful competition that brings out the best of us,” he added.

This low-key pronouncement is attention-grabbing for several fundamental reasons: (1) it marks the end of a 39-year bipartisan effort to encourage China to become, through a concerted program of cooperative outreach, a “responsible stakeholder” in the post-WWII liberal democratic world order and (2) the epitapth was delivered by one of the principal architects of that cooperative program.

To back up this somewhat sweeping statement on my part, I’ll be spending the weeks ahead examining what this sea-change portends from three perspectives:

Aspirationally …

On Mondays, we’ll be looking at various aspects of what heightened competition with China will look like for the Biden Administration in the tech sphere. This will include high-level perspectives of competition in artificial intelligence and robotics; sourcing of rare earths needed for smart phones, electric vehicles and other high-tech products; 5G build-out in domestic and international markets; quantum computing competition; the Great Firewall of China as an export product to Belt & Road partners countries; and social media platforms and data privacy issues. But most saliently, we’ll be looking in-depth at global supply chains in microelectronics and the fraught issue that 40% of the world’s microchip production — and 80% of its high-performance products — are produced in Taiwan at a distance of only 90 miles from the PRC mainland.

On Wednesdays, we’ll be examining the fields of energy and environment where cooperation still rules the day under Cabinet-level John Kerry’s aegis but where cooperation is shifting from a government-to-government level to a more market-based model of comparative advantage cooperation.

On Fridays, we’ll be examining what these changes look like from the Chinese perspective. Our sources for this perspective — what cultural anthropologists call the emic (in-group) view as opposed to the etic (outside observer) view — will include macro-perspectives such as the Five Year Plans, primary-source research findings provided by my UPenn masters-level students, and also micro-perspectives such as interviews and insights gleaned from business people operating on the ground in China.

My heart-felt thanks go out to the many subscribers who have been with me on the journey to date. I look forward to welcoming hopefully many others choosing to subscribe to the blog for this next leg of the journey.

Publisher’s Note: Please see note following Dori’s Guest Blog explaining the interruption of regular blogging in Q4 of 2020 and the schedule for the resumption of regular blogging throughout the remainder of 2021,

Three Reassuring Perspectives on China

by Dori Jones Yang

These are dark times for any American who has spent years working to improve US-China relations. Some 80 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of China, up from 47 percent just three years ago. After writing a memoir of my experiences as a BusinessWeek correspondent covering China during more hopeful times—the 1980s—I can offer three perspectives that offer some reassurance.

First, historical. As a child of the Cold War, I was taught that China had a totalitarian system where children were asked to spy on their parents. China was isolated, poor, and mired in destructive political struggles. I chose to study the Chinese language during the 1970s, and just as I completed my master’s degree in international studies, Washington and Beijing re-established diplomatic relations, setting off a decade of optimism. For eight years, I reported on Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening, with ever more euphoric articles as Chinese people were finally given the freedom to speak up and take control of their lives.

January 14, 1985

By the time I completed my assignment, in 1990, the wheel had turned full circle. After Chinese troops suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests, US-China relations went dark again, with US sanctions over human rights violations. We reporters, we Americans, predicted a “great leap backward”—the end of Deng’s great experiment in modernization.

June 12, 1989

But we were wrong, and China embarked on a steady path of rapid growth that enabled 850 million people to rise out of poverty. Chinese cities gleamed with new subways, high-speed rail lines, skyscrapers, shopping malls, and neon advertising. Many US companies profited from China’s low-cost manufacturing and ever-expanding market. Yet I, like many, was caught unawares, again, when US-China friendship turned combative and confrontational during the Trump years.

My historical perspective is this: Americans are passionate about China. Unlike India, or Indonesia, or Brazil, China evokes strong feelings in these United States. Even people who have never set foot on the Great Wall express strong opinions about the Middle Kingdom. We love it. We hate it. Then we love it again. As John Pomfret wrote in The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, “Both sides experience rapturous enchantment begetting hope, followed by disappointment, repulsion, and disgust, only to return to fascination once again.”

Second, I view China through the lens of business. As a BusinessWeek reporter, I wrote about the early pioneers, American companies that dared to invest in China just as Beijing was starting to allow foreign trade and investment. I interviewed some of the earliest Chinese pioneers, too, entrepreneurs who defied their fears of being labeled “capitalist roaders” and started their own companies. During the 1990s and beyond, US corporations were the strongest advocates for China, pushing the US government to grant China most-favored-nation trade status and then championing China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. In recent years, some US companies turned to the Trump Administration to help pressure Beijing to remove barriers, not necessarily realizing that the result would be a decline in the overall relationship—mistrust and a push for China to become self-reliant.

Today, some of those companies regret their support of Trump’s tariff war. Those that view China as a major market and an important supplier—and the one major economy that is actually growing again—are likely to speak up again in support of better relations. Even those in industries that view China as a competitor are torn, because China is also a huge market for them. Few, if any, US companies benefited from the trade war, and business support for it is likely to fade.

Third, I have a personal perspective on China. During my years as a reporter there I met and married a Chinese man—one who had fled the Communists as a child but who later benefited from selling US equipment to China’s rapidly growing market. Through him, I came to know a wide range of individuals in China who were able to better their lives because of new opportunities. Sadly, these people-to-people contacts that I and other Americans have forged with Chinese individuals are now more difficult to maintain. The pandemic forced us to cancel plans to travel to China last year, and our Chinese relatives in the United States fled back home to safety.

Yet hundreds of thousands of Chinese have studied at US universities, and millions have traveled here as tourists—and untold millions of Americans have come to know Chinese as friends. These interpersonal ties may help to keep the two nations from flying into enmity and to moderate the negative impressions citizens on both sides have of the other’s government. They help to humanize our understanding of China, and those of us who have such links should convey that to our American friends and neighbors who feel alienated from China.

After living through several swings of the pendulum, I have learned to be both patient and persistent. Over the past forty years, the United States and China have created strong ties that may pull us out of our current “repulsion and disgust” and return us to fascination once again.

                —Dori Jones Yang is author of When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China’s Reawakening.

For more information, see her website, https://dorijonesyang.com/when-the-red-gates-opened/.

For her National Committee on U.S.-China Relations webinar presentation, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCbTTs6GshM&t=208s

Publisher’s Note: I offer heartfelt apologies to all followers of the TEA Collaborative Blog — and especially to Dori — for the unexpected and unexplained interruption of service which began in the 4th quarter of 2020 and continued through until today. Cryptically, all I can say at this moment is that the interruption had to do with the lead-up to the November 3rd election and then with efforts to help the new administration Build Back Better in the area of pandemic response along the NE Corridor. Hope to have more I can share in the near future. In the meanwhile, the resumption of regular blogging on our three themes — Technology, Energy/Environment, and (PRC macrodevelopment) Ambitions (spiced up occasionally with guest blog posts added as the opportunities present themselves) — will resume shortly. Again, apologies to Dori for this appearing so late after your book launch in September. Sending my wishes here for the book’s continued success!

A short forty minutes has rarely been been as consequential and historically transformative as Maestro Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony proved to be in Beijing on September 16, 1973.

That performance reminded the world that music creates human connection and has the power to bridge a quarter-century-long rift dividing the globe.

Today is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birthday. To help celebrate, my friends Sam Katz and Jennifer Lin — supported by many others — have pulled together the narrative and the music, along with magnificent archival film and images, to tell that story of “Beethoven in Beijing.”

China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia cordially invites you to join as our guest a special, limited audience viewing of the film to celebrate Beethoven’s 250 birthday. The film will be followed by live-streamed and interactive Q&A session with the two co-producers and the filmmaker.

Watch the Trailer

FREE Tickets Here

Website: www.beethoveninbeijing.com 

A word to the wise — don’t miss it! Hope to “see” you there.

When I lived in the Himalayas in the early 1980s, the villagers in Manang would frequently distill their harvested buckwheat into potent ‘rakshi’ (रक्सी), the Nepali word for spirits (which carries the exact same double meaning of “high-proof alcoholic beverage” and “supernatural beings” as does the English word).  An aspect of the distillation process which I gained appreciation for as I observed and sometimes lent a hand was the quantity of the grain stock needed to produce a given quantity of home-grown moonshine.  A large quantity of grain distilled down to a precious few, highly potent drops.

Thirty-eight pages of, as officially named, The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice can be distilled down to the 11 words of that title and the 33 words of its first sentence.  That first sentence reads, “From coastal towns to rural farms to urban centers, climate change poses an existential threat – not just to our environment, but to our health, our communities our national security, and our economic well-being.”

There is of course much more that could be said about what is unofficially called the Biden Climate Plan.  And I will have more to say about it in future posts.  But it seems as good a place to start as any to look at those first 44 words and savor them as a distillation of the entire plan.  The plan packs a wallop compared to Trump’s tasteless concoction while also revealing a different blend than the Green New Deal. 

The three key ideas embedded in the title are: (1) the link between the environmental crisis and a clean energy-led transformation of the economy;  (2) the scale and urgency of the transformation requiring revolutionary, not incremental, levels of response; and (3) the implication that neither the environmental nor economic response can grow fully — sustainably and with regenerative power — without a social justice tap-root.

 The first idea restates an approach to mitigating climate change initially developed in the second term of the George W Bush Administration and then substantially expanded during the eight years of the Obama Administration.  That approach was to take the U.S. National Labs model for innovation, developed after WWII, and update it to a Version 2.0 in order to foster clean energy industries for the 21st century challenge of climate change.  In both versions of the model, government leads the way with basic research and early commercial proof-of-concept work until the private-sector is motivated to take over with commercialization, applying skills in lowering costs and building consumer acceptance.  Government’s role during commercialization shifts to articulating policy so that investors have enough time-horizon certainty to deploy capital to accelerate commercialization and build out the market. The story of DARPA and the development of the Internet is the classic case study cited for this approach.

As to the “revolutionary” aspect, thoughtful conservatively-minded people – by which I mean, political conservatives who don’t deny anthropogenic (i.e., human-caused) climate change — have gravitated to an alternative approach. Their preferred approach is to keep government out of the market except to articulate an across-the-board carbon tax system  This latter approach, promoted most prominently by James Baker, George Shultz, and Hank Paulson at the Climate Leadership Council, is one that current Big Oil companies are more willing to work with.  It raises their cost of doing business but does not pose the existential challenge of a government-led ‘new economy’ transformation.  Conservatives argue that nothing will happen until the oil giants and the big utilities sign on.  An evolutionary approach. Liberals argue that the oil giants and big utilities will only sign on when a ‘new economy’ transformation forces them to.  In other words, a revolution.

The third pillar holding up the title is ‘environmental justice’ highlighting the fact, equally apparent with the COVID-19 pandemic, that climate change affects the health, livelihood and well-being of disadvantaged communities much more deeply and perniciously than it does more privileged communities.   Rather than plunge into that deep topic here, I recommend anyone who’s looking for an informative and lively toe-dip into the subject to view this three-and-a-half primer on the topic by Grist.

Moving on to the 33 words of the first sentence, three key points are being communicated here:

First, climate change is an existential threat.  Period. 

Second, it threatens every single American, wherever they live and whatever they think about it.  Like with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, if we don’t master it, it masters us. 

Third, the threat is varied and far-reaching, applying to the quality of the environment we live in, to our health and morbidity, to the strength of our communities, to our economic well-being and, importantly, to our national security.

Rather than go through each of these, I’ll close this post with just a quick look at the threat to our national security.  To outline the different dimensions of threat posed to our national security, I’ll draw directly – and with a grimace of irony —  from the Trump Administration’s own assessment, an assessment it is required by law to make even while the White House studiously ignores it.

So here goes in the Trump Administrations own words …

  • “Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth;”
  • “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century;”
  • “The quality and quantity of water available for use by people and ecosystems across the country are being affected by climate change, increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation and the environment;”
  • “Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable;”
  • “Ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being altered by climate change and these impacts are projected to continue. Without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, transformative impacts on some ecosystems will occur; some coral reef and sea ice ecosystems are already experiencing such transformational changes;”
  • “Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability;”
  • “Our Nation’s aging and deteriorating infrastructure is further stressed by increases in heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat, wildfire, and other extreme events, as well as changes to average precipitation and temperature. Without adaptation, climate change will continue to degrade infrastructure performance over the rest of the century, with the potential for cascading impacts that threaten our economy, national security, essential services and health and well-being.”

We’ll have occasion in the future to look into the health and morbidity impacts, the community well-being impacts, and importantly the economic impacts of climate change. But this quick inventory of some of the national security impacts, by the Trump Administration’s own reckoning, should be enough to make clear that we need to be doing more.

So, what would I tell the Biden team after taking this first sip of the Biden Climate Plan?  It’s all good as far as it goes.  But it could go farther.  Why take an either/or approach when the scale and urgency of the problem call for both/and.  A commitment to advancing the carbon tax solution in parallel with the plan’s advocacy of clean energy market transformation would make it possible to move farther and faster.  Like a climber uses two surfaces to climb an otherwise unclimbable rock-wall. 

We need to be moving up this mountain fast and skillfully. We’re currently stuck mid-way up, staring at a formidable facade, and wondering how in the world we’re going to scale it.

The global scientific consensus, most prominently supported by the work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), assesses with high confidence a global warming increase of 1 °C as measured against preindustrial levels. Currently experienced effects from the 1 °C global warming which has already occurred include: loss of sea ice and glacial shrinking, accelerated sea level rises, shifting atmospheric and oceanic currents, longer and more intense heat waves and hurricane seasons. Impacts on the biosphere include the shifting of plant and animal ranges, earlier plant and tree flowering, and rapid declines in bio- diversity. All of these changes threaten the equilibrium of the planet and, more fundamentally, the continued viability of human adaptation to the planet.

The most recent comprehensive report issued by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 compares the difference in impacts on human societies (the ‘delta’) if global warming is allowed to reach 2 °C as opposed to being stabilized at 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels. These delta effects2 include: an additional 10 million people endangered by sea level rise; several hundred million more people made susceptible to poverty; 50% more people exposed to water stress; loss of 1.5 million additional tons of global annual catch for marine fisheries; the number of plant and animal species on which human life depends losing half their habitat.

Clearly, the challenge is epochal. Even assuming that all countries in the world fulfill their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) pledged in the Paris Agreement, the world is currently on track to exceed 1.5° C by 2050 and to remain well above that threshold into the next century.

At a national level, the challenge is no less urgent or less central to societal well-being. Even for an administration notably skeptical of climate change science and aggressively committed to deregulating and redefining environmental standards so as to lessen the severity of threat assessments, the outlook remains dire. According to the Trump Administration’s most recent Climate Assessment3, which synthesizes the data and projections from thirteen federal agencies, key risks facing the nation as a direct result of climate change include risks to communities, the economy, water quality, citizen health, ecosystems, agricultural and food supply; the nation’s infrastructure; and the nation’s defense. To quote directly several specific examples:

  • “Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth;”
  • “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century;”
  • “The quality and quantity of water available for use by people and ecosystems across the country are being affected by climate change, increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation and the environment;”
  • “Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable;”
  • “Ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being altered by climate change and these impacts are projected to continue. Without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, transformative impacts on some ecosystems will occur; some coral reef and sea ice ecosystems are already experiencing such transformational changes;”
  • “Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability;”
  • “Our Nation’s aging and deteriorating infrastructure is further stressed by increases in heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat, wildfire, and other extreme events, as well as changes to average precipitation and temperature. Without adaptation, climate change will continue to degrade infrastructure performance over the rest of the century, with the potential for cascading impacts that threaten our economy, national security, essential services and health and well-being.”These effects are felt most directly at the local level. This is because the costs which climate change inflicts globally and nationally – costs of community disruption, slowing economic growth, deteriorating water quality, ecosystem disequilibrium, and infrastructural decay – are mostly borne at the local level. To address this challenge, the City of Philadelphia, like most major cities in the country and many counties and townships as well, has its own Climate Action Plan. Generally, these local plans have three major components: (1) at the grassroots level, the plan serves to connect with various stakeholder groups such as businesses, educational institutions, residential associations, and engaged constituencies to raise awareness and help coordinate common effort; (2) at the local governmental level, the plan articulates the limited number of focal areas where local government has determined its scarce dollars canhave greatest, proactive impact; and (3) at the supra-local governmental level, these plans serve as the blueprints for collaboration with other cities and regions, as the justification for federal budget requests, and as the channel for consolidating and reporting local ‘carbon emissions savings’ into the Paris Agreement NDC process.

As we have learned with the COVID-19 pandemic, a straightforward scientific fact can be politically complicated.  Acknowledging and addressing human-caused climate change is politically complex in the U.S. at this moment.  So is cooperating with China on anything.  Recognizing those complexities does not, however, absolve us of the responsibility to find a way forward on both the science and the international relations.

1.5° is where the U.S. and China must meet.

FPRI HK Publication Graphic

On January 29, the Hong Kong governent announced potential amendments to its extradition laws that would allow suspects to be extradited to countries with which the city has no formal extradition agreements. According to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the bill was a response to a murder case in Taiwan, where the suspect had fled back to Hong Kong and now could not be called to face justice. In Lam’s mind, plugging this legal loophole would also fulfill a longtime wish of Beijing: that political dissidents and corrupt officials alike could now be tried in the mainland’s own courts.

When Lam subsequently fast-tracked the bill through the legislature, confident that rising concerns were either misguided or sure to eventually be assuaged, she could not have foreseen the oncoming storm: that resistance to the bill, to her leadership, and eventually to the entire political system altogether would spiral into marches of millions and an opposition movement that shows no signs of going away. After all, hadn’t the pro-democracy movement largely splintered and faded away in the wake of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, having failed to achieve its political goals and suffered decisive losses at the polls in 2018? Wasn’t the populace as a whole widely apatheticcynical, and disillusioned with civil disobedience?

Yet for over a month and counting, protest after protest has been staged in the city, with a cumulative participation of 4,228,900. Carrie Lam has been forced to declare the bill first “suspended” and now “dead”—though even this most recent announcement still stops short of full withdrawal, and has failed to appease her critics. Opponents of the bill have decried sending fugitives to a justice system that boasts a 99.9% conviction rate and argued that extradition would violate the autonomy promised to Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” policy, which was designed in the lead-up to the 1997 handover of the former British colony back to China and which granted Hong Kong its own separate judiciary, legislative system, and free Internet and press. More than being a simple change of law, the bill was seen as a fundamental challenge to the rights and freedoms that have made Hong Kong more than just another Chinese city.

Underpinning the events of the past month has been a recurring pattern of government indecision and inertia fueling the momentum of the movement. Demand after demand went unacknowledged; scenes of police brutality shocked a city whose police force had until then been considered “Asia’s finest”; and demonstrators’ slogans have evolved from calling for the extradition bill’s withdrawal to asking for universal suffrage and democracy. Most recently, protests have moved on to explicitly attract the attention of Chinese from the mainland, as on July 7 a march of 230,000 was held at the West Kowloon station that connects the mainland to Hong Kong, and many slogans were shouted in Mandarin instead of Cantonese. Protesters are no longer simply demanding the bill’s withdrawal, although even that demand alone has yet to be granted, but for fundamental reform. Here’s how it all happened.

Hong Kong in Protest

June 9Over 1 million people took to the streets protesting the extradition law (1 in 7 of the city’s population). Backlash to the bill came not only from traditional opposition stakeholders but also from the likes of judges and businesses; the crowds that turned up on June 9 reflected this diverse set of converging interests.

June 10Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to withdraw the bill and instead doubled down on her commitment to push the amendments forward. In response, organisers called on protesters to reconvene around the Legislative Council (LegCo) building at 10:00 on June 12.

June 12: Tens of thousands of protesters began occupying the roads to the point that lawmakers were unable to gain access to the legislative complex, forcing the debate on the bill to be postponed. Shortly after 3:00—the deadline protesters had set for the government to withdraw the extradition bill—some protesters tried storming LegCo headquarters.

At this point, police began using tear gaspepper spray, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. Video footage documents police violence against largely unarmed crowds of mostly young people; at least 72 protesters were injured, and two were arrested while in the hospitalIn response, Lam reaffirmed her support for the police, described the protests as an “organised riot,” and continued to stand by the extradition amendment.

June 15: Lam announced the suspension of the extradition law, stating that no date had been set for the “next step forward.” Protesters remained unhappy Lam ignored their other core demands, and argued that since suspension did not mean withdrawal, the bill could still be reintroduced at any time.

June 16: Two million people packed the streets, more than a quarter of the city’s population, demanding a full withdrawal of the bill, the retraction of the “riot” characterization, the release of all arrested protesters, an investigation of police brutality, and Lam’s resignation.

June 21-June 30A series of road occupations were staged after authorities failed to answer protesters’ demands. Protesters occupied the area around government and police headquarterskey thoroughfares, and other government buildings.

July 1Ahead of the flag-raising ceremony commemorating the 1997 handover, police deployed pepper spray and batons against demonstrators who occupied roads around the venue early in the morning. In the afternoon, 550,000 protesters attended the annual July 1 democracy march, the highest ever turnout.

In a separate demonstration, protesters stormed the legislative building, smashing through glass walls and vandalizing the inner chamber. Demonstrators tore down portraits of past LegCo presidents and spray-painted pro-democracy slogans on the main chamber’s walls, including one that said, “It was you who told me peaceful marches did not work”. At the same time, they barricaded off books and cultural artifacts for protection, and left cash behind for the drinks they helped themselves to.

July 7In attempts to reach mainland audiences, and to breach China’s extensive censorship of the protests230,000 marched to the West Kowloon high-speed rail terminal located in a popular tourist district. The peaceful demonstration ended in baton charges by riot police in a bid to disperse protesters.

The Anti-Extradition Protests in a Hong Kong Perspective

The anti-extradition protests have been about far more than extradition. This specific topic may have proven the most perfectly calibrated to the frequencies of public anger, yet crowd sizes, breaking record after record, point to a far deeper wellspring of outrage long fomented by cumulative years of misgovernance—and, most recently, of sharply escalating repression.

In 2003, a law known as “Article 23” was proposed that would criminalize acts of sedition and subversion against mainland China; in 2014, a “Moral and National Education” civics course was announced for all Hong Kong schools in response to Chinese senior leaders’ observations that the city’s youth needed to better “love the motherland”; in 2014, long-awaited constitutional reforms that would have allowed for general elections for the Chief Executive were revealed to only permit voting on a limited number of pre-approved candidates. The next year saw five people, all linked to a Hong Kong bookshop that published books banned in China, disappear. Hong Kong dropped to 70th in the world on the global press freedom index, from 18th best in 2002. In July 2017, Carrie Lam became the Chief Executive despite not being the most popular candidate—she was, of course, favored by Beijing. In October 2018, the government issued its first-ever visa denial to a foreign journalist, after he moderated a Foreign Correspondents’ Club event in August that featured a talk by the convenor of the pro-independence National Party, Andy Chan Ho-tin. The National Party was banned on national security grounds in September that year. In April 2019, shortly after introducing the extradition amendments, nine leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement were convicted for “public nuisance.”

Millions of people in Hong Kong marched in recognition that the extradition bill was simply the latest of many attempts at suppression—and that, should the law pass and vastly expand the reach of China’s retribution, this act of protest could very well be their last.

Yet, in a city that has been both a bridge to and a refuge from the mainland, political space has long been defined by a continuous push-and-pull between authoritarian pressures from Beijing and civic freedoms in Hong Kong: free Internet, tenacious independent journalists, industrious activists, prominent dissidents, and, perhaps most importantly of all, an entire generation of young people who in 2014 came to maturity on the picket lines of protest. The 2003 sedition law was withdrawn, followed by the then-Chief Executive’s resignation after crowds of over 500,000 marched against its implementation. The 2011 national education law was also shelved, having drawn protests of 90,000 in July and 120,000 in September. Members of the 2014 Umbrella Movement might not have brought about the change in the system they dreamed of, but they left a legacy nonetheless. In this city of “liberty without democracy,” described as such (and fittingly so) by Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, citizens have long been voting with their feet. To protest in the streets of Hong Kong is to partake in, and add to, this shared inheritance of civil protest.

Demonstrators this time around knew what to be afraid of. Throughout the week, departing protesters formed unusually long lines at subway stations’ single-use ticket machines, because cash is less easily tracked. Demonstrators turned off location tracking on their phones, and deleted conversations and photos on social media and messaging apps; switching, in the latter case, from the typically most popular WhatsApp to the better encrypted Telegram, which became the #1 most downloaded app in the city. Yet, for all its encryption, protesters may not be fully safe, as police have reportedly collected identification information from protest group chats with tens of thousands of members; on June 11, authorities arrested the administrator of a group chat of 20,000, Ivan Ip, despite Ip being at his home miles away from the protest site. One day later, Telegram reported experiencing powerful distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks from “IP addresses coming mostly from China.” Gas masks, goggles, caps, and helmets helped protect protesters against tear gas and pepper spray—and they also helped hide their faces. Following major demonstrations, police have been searching vehicles and hospital rooms for protesters, with one driver arrested on July 2 for possessing “offensive weapons”—a pair of scissors and his asthma drugs. As of July 7, 61 have been arrested on protest-related charges. One of them is 14 years old.

What comes of the anti-extradition movement is of paramount importance; at the same time, it almost doesn’t matter. If the protests succeed, they should inspire the world. If the protests fail, they should still inspire the world. Governed by a system where the ballot is largely meaningless, people are voting with their bodies instead. Hong Kongers are more afraid, and more determined, than ever before.

 

Authors:

Due to the situation in Hong Kong after the implementation of the National Security Law, the identity of the primary author of this piece has been removed for safety concerns.

M. Terry Cooke is a Senior Fellow in the Asia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He founded the China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia in 2011.

@mterrycooke

The headwinds are strong at the moment but, knowing how to tack, we at China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia will still get to our goal. Market forces are at center-stage now and with the Trump Administration stepping back at the national level, sub-national leaders like California and Philadelphia are stepping forward in support of U.S.-China co-leadership on climate change.
 
Xi Jinping by Abode of Chaos artist Thierry Ehrmann
(Even the Trump Administration’s effort to undo the Clean Power Plan has a long way to go through the courts and the constitutional process. The clear science of proven medical benefit behind the Clean Power Plan (i.e., closing down coal-fired utilities) may prove decisive for the judicial branch and hand the Trump Administration yet another loss in federal court).

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