U.S. and China ratify Paris Agreement, upping pressure on other nations

Inside Climate News reports: China and the United States, the two biggest emitters of the carbon pollution that has brought global warming to a crisis point, formally ratified the Paris climate agreement on Saturday. Their move propels the ambitious global pact toward its entry into force by the end of this year.

The leaders acted the day before a meeting in Hangzhou of the G20 group of international economic powerhouses. Those nations account for almost all current emissions, and must all act swiftly to strengthen their commitments if the Paris accord is to meet its objectives.

Appearing together, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping pledged to extend their countries’ Paris commitments to encompass “mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.” The treaty’s ultimate objective is to bring the whole world to zero net emissions of greenhouse gases as quickly as possible.

For the Paris agreement to take force early, 55 countries representing 55 percent of global CO2 emissions must ratify it. Together, China and the U.S. account for about 38 percent of emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, 24 other parties have already ratified, but together those parties only account for another 1 percent of emissions. The fastest way to hit the 55/55 goal would be for the European Union and a smattering of additional countries to sign on. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: With China, the US and a host of smaller countries signed up, the biggest emitter left outstanding is the EU, which negotiated the agreement as a bloc. The EU is unlikely to be able to ratify the accord any time soon, because of the mechanics of getting legal surety from its 28 member states.

There is a way around this. Nicholas Stern, chairman of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and author of the landmark 2006 report on the economics of climate change, called on EU member states and the UK to ratify the agreement individually, through their national parliaments, to speed up the process. EU members are legally parties to the accord at a national as well as a bloc level, so if enough major countries – including the UK and Germany – were to enact the necessary processes then the accord could pass the final hurdle.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Stern told the Guardian. “It’s very important for the credibility of the process [of gaining global agreement on climate action through the UN] to get the treaty ratified this year. EU countries can and should ratify as soon as possible. It’s not sensible to hold back, when they could make a big difference.” [Continue reading…]

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China seeks closer military ties with Syria

Reuters reports: China wants to have closer military ties with Syria, state media on Tuesday cited a senior Chinese officer as saying during a rare visit to the war-torn Middle Eastern country.

While relying on the region for oil supplies, China tends to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France and Russia.

But China has been trying to get more involved, including sending envoys to help push for a diplomatic resolution to the violence there and hosting Syrian government and opposition figures.

Guan Youfei, director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China’s Central Military Commission, met Syrian Defence Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij in Damascus, China’s Xinhua state news agency said. [Continue reading…]

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The specter of an accidental China-U. S. war

The Wall Street Journal reports: The last time America and China went to war—in Korea in 1950—they fought each other to a standstill.

Later that decade, as the Cold War ramped up, they came close to blows again; the Eisenhower administration repeatedly threatened “Red China” with nuclear devastation as tensions bubbled over Taiwan.

Today, given the astronomical stakes at play, many assume that armed conflict between the two giants is out of the question. They are each other’s largest trading partner. Military confrontation wouldn’t only threaten these huge flows but also student exchanges, scientific collaboration, joint technical projects and the myriad other ways in which the fates and fortunes of the world’s two largest economies and their peoples are inextricably linked.

Yet, as China flexes its muscles in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the risks of an inadvertent clash on the water or in the air are growing by the day.

A new RAND Corp study says that a Sino-U. S. war as a result of such a crisis “cannot be considered implausible.”

Violence could ignite quickly, the report warns. That is because each side has deployed precision-guided munitions, as well as cyber and space technologies, able to inflict devastating damage on the other’s military assets, including Chinese land-based missile batteries and American aircraft carriers. Thus they have a strong incentive to launch massive strikes first as part of a “use it or lose it” calculation. [Continue reading…]

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China launches quantum satellite for ‘hack-proof’ communications

The Guardian reports: China says it has launched the world’s first quantum satellite, a project Beijing hopes will enable it to build a coveted “hack-proof” communications system with potentially significant military and commercial applications.

Xinhua, Beijing’s official news service, said Micius, a 600kg satellite that is nicknamed after an ancient Chinese philosopher, “roared into the dark sky” over the Gobi desert at 1.40am local time on Tuesday, carried by a Long March-2D rocket.

“The satellite’s two-year mission will be to develop ‘hack-proof’ quantum communications, allowing users to send messages securely and at speeds faster than light,” Xinhua reported.

The Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, or Quess, satellite programme is part of an ambitious space programme that has accelerated since Xi Jinping became Communist party chief in late 2012.

“There’s been a race to produce a quantum satellite, and it is very likely that China is going to win that race,” Nicolas Gisin, a professor and quantum physicist at the University of Geneva, told the Wall Street Journal. “It shows again China’s ability to commit to large and ambitious projects and to realise them.”

The satellite will be tasked with sending secure messages between Beijing and Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, a sprawling region of deserts and snow-capped mountains in China’s extreme west.

Highly complex attempts to build such a “hack-proof” communications network are based on the scientific principle of entanglement. [Continue reading…]

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The rising power of China will create new political fissures in the West

Gideon Rachman writes: Whether he wins or loses the US presidency next November, Donald Trump has already come up with one of the defining slogans of 2016 – “Make America great again”.

Trump’s vision of an America in precipitous decline is all-encompassing. At home, he points to falling living standards for many Americans and the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs. Overseas, he claims the world is laughing at the US and laments that “we don’t win any more”.

Many in Europe are tempted to see Trump as an “only in America” aberration. Yet the fear of economic and geopolitical decline that Trump is capitalising upon is widely visible across the west. The coalition of frustrated working-class voters and nostalgic nationalists that the Republican has put together is uncomfortably reminiscent of the alliance that voted for Brexit in the UK. Trump’s “make America great again” mantra has an echo of the Brexit campaign’s winning slogan – “Take back control”. Nor is this is just an Anglo-American phenomenon. Across the EU, including in France, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland, protectionists and nationalists are gaining ground.

As Trump might put it: “Something’s going on.” That something is a historic shift in economic and geopolitical power that is bringing to an end a 500-year period in which western nations have dominated global affairs. This erosion of the west’s privileged position in world affairs is creating new economic, geopolitical and even psychological pressures in both the US and the EU.

The driving force of this change is the extraordinary economic development of Asia over the past 50 years. In 2014, the IMF reported that, measured in purchasing power, China is now the world’s largest economy. The US had held this title since 1871, when it displaced the UK; now China is number one. The rise of China is just part of a broader shift of economic power towards Asia. The IMF reports that three of the world’s four largest economies are now in Asia. China is first, the US is second, India third and Japan fourth. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. launches quiet diplomacy to ease South China Sea tensions

Reuters reports: The United States is using quiet diplomacy to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalize on an international court ruling that denied China’s claims to the South China Sea, several U.S. administration officials said on Wednesday.

“What we want is to quiet things down so these issues can be addressed rationally instead of emotionally,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private diplomatic messages.

Some were sent through U.S. embassies abroad and foreign missions in Washington, while others were conveyed directly to top officials by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials, the sources said.

“This is a blanket call for quiet, not some attempt to rally the region against China, which would play into a false narrative that the U.S. is leading a coalition to contain China,” the official added. [Continue reading…]

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For U.S. leaders, confronting China is a dangerous game

Tonio Andrade writes: China is increasingly asserting itself as a great power, and nowhere is its rise more likely to lead to war than in the South China Sea. This vital seaway not only is filled with shipping lanes, but also contains rich fishing grounds and oil and gas deposits, and China claims vast swaths of it. Neighboring countries have reacted angrily to its assertions, and China has responded by ratcheting up air and naval patrols and building artificial islands with airstrips and barracks.

These tensions are likely only to increase in the wake of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling Tuesday undermining China’s claims and bolstering those of the Philippines, one of the closest U.S. allies in the region. China has rejected the ruling; its state-controlled media outlets call the court a “law-abusing tribunal.” The United States, for its part, is determined to enforce the ruling and has stepped up naval patrols in the region in anticipation of China’s negative reaction.

This is a dangerous game. China is more prepared for a confrontation than Western experts may expect. We are, quite literally, in perilous waters. U.S. leaders would do well to understand China’s military past, a history far more warlike and bellicose than has long been assumed. [Continue reading…]

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South China Sea ruling was aimed at easing tension – but may just stoke conflict

Simon Tisdall writes: By taking its case to the UN’s arbitration court in The Hague, the Philippines government hoped to find a peaceful, internationally acceptable solution to its long-running maritime dispute with China, its vastly more powerful neighbour. But Tuesday’s ruling, largely backing Manila and rejecting Beijing’s claims to exclusive control of large parts of the South China Sea, may do the exact opposite, stoking regional tensions, drawing in the US and Japan, and increasing the risk of armed confrontation.

The possible trigger for such an escalation is China’s refusal to accept the authority and jurisdiction of the UN court, and its instant rejection of its findings, despite the fact Beijing is a signatory of the UN’s convention on the law of the sea, which the court oversees, and is a permanent member of the UN security council. This attempt by Beijing to cherry-pick which treaties and rules it follows poses a significant challenge to the supremacy of international law and the UN system, of which it, in theory, is a key guardian. Its supporters will argue it is only following the US example.

That Chinese officials and state media pre-empted the court ruling over a period of months before the verdict, disparaging the court and proclaiming its proceedings null and void, suggests a disturbing new doctrine of Chinese exceptionalism may be emerging under the muscular tutelage of Xi Jinping, China’s authoritarian president. The irony should not be lost on the US, which justified its 20th-century global expansion in terms of exceptionalism and now finds itself on the receiving end. [Continue reading…]

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The growing risk of a war in space

Geoff Manaugh writes: In Ghost Fleet, a 2015 novel by security theorists Peter Singer and August Cole, the next world war begins in space.

Aboard an apparently civilian space station called the Tiangong, or “Heavenly Palace,” Chinese astronauts—taikonauts—maneuver a chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) into place. They aim their clandestine electromagnetic weapon at its first target, a U.S. Air Force communications satellite that helps to coordinate forces in the Pacific theater far below. The laser “fired a burst of energy that, if it were visible light instead of infrared, would have been a hundred thousand times brighter than the sun.” The beam melts through the external hull of the U.S. satellite and shuts down its sensitive inner circuitry.

From there, the taikonauts work their way through a long checklist of strategic U.S. space assets, disabling the nation’s military capabilities from above. It is a Pearl Harbor above the atmosphere, an invisible first strike.

“The emptiness of outer space might be the last place you’d expect militaries to vie over contested territory,” Lee Billings has written, “except that outer space isn’t so empty anymore.” It is not only science fiction, in other words, to suggest that the future of war could be offworld. The high ground of the global battlefield is no longer defined merely by a topographical advantage, but by strategic orbitals and potential weapons stationed in the skies above distant continents.

When China shot down one of its own weather satellites in January 2007, the event was, among other things, a clear demonstration to the United States that China could wage war beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. In the decade since, both China and the United States have continued to pursue space-based armaments and defensive systems. A November 2015 “Report to Congress,” for example, filed by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (PDF), specifically singles out China’s “Counterspace Program” as a subject of needed study. China’s astral arsenal, the report explains, most likely includes “direct-ascent” missiles, directed-energy weapons, and also what are known as “co-orbital antisatellite systems.” [Continue reading…]

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China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered by climate campaigners

The Guardian reports: The Chinese government has outlined a plan to reduce its citizens’ meat consumption by 50%, in a move that climate campaigners hope will provide major heft in the effort to avoid runaway global warming.

New dietary guidelines drawn up by China’s health ministry recommend that the nation’s 1.3 billion population should consume between 40g to 75g of meat per person each day. The measures, released once every 10 years, are designed to improve public health but could also provide a significant cut to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Chinese Communist party has found unusual allies among Hollywood celebrities, with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron involved in a series of new public information adverts encouraging Chinese people to consume less animal flesh to help the environment.

Should the new guidelines be followed, carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from China’s livestock industry would be reduced by 1bn tonnes by 2030, from a projected 1.8bn tonnes in that year.

Globally, 14.5% of planet-warming emissions emanate from the keeping and eating of cows, chickens, pigs and other animals – more than the emissions from the entire transport sector. Livestock emit methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, while land clearing and fertilizers release large quantities of carbon. [Continue reading…]

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How China fell off the miracle path

Ruchir Sharma writes: For years now, Donald J. Trump has been sounding the alarm on China, calling it an economic bully that has been “eating our lunch.” The crux of Mr. Trump’s attack is that Beijing manipulates its currency to keep it cheap and give Chinese exports an unfair advantage. But that narrative is so last decade. China is now a threat to the United States not because it is strong but because it is fragile.

Four key forces have been shaping the rise and fall of nations since the 2008 financial crisis, and none of them bode well for China. Debts have risen dangerously fast in the emerging world, especially in China. Trade growth has collapsed everywhere, a sharp blow to leading exporters, again led by China. Many countries are reverting to autocratic rule in an effort to fight the global slowdown, none more self-destructively than China. And, for reasons unrelated to the 2008 collapse, growth in the world’s working-age population is slowing, and turned negative last year in China, depleting the work force.

It will be difficult for any country to grow as rapidly as 6 percent, and all but impossible for China. Nevertheless, in an effort to exceed that target, Beijing is pumping debt into wasteful projects, and digging itself into a hole. The economy is now slowing and will decelerate further when the country is forced to reduce its debt burden, as inevitably it will be. The next step could be a deeper slowdown or even a financial crisis, which will have global repercussions because seven years of heavy stimulus have turned the world’s second largest economy into a bloated giant.

In Beijing, confidence has given way to a case of nerves. Local residents often sense trouble coming before foreign investors and are the first to flee before a crisis. Chinese moved a record $675 billion out of the country in 2015, some of it for purchases of foreign real estate. If China were eating America’s lunch, its people would not be rushing to buy safe-haven apartments in New York or San Francisco. Far from conspiring to cheapen its currency, as Mr. Trump charges, Beijing is struggling to keep the weakening renminbi from falling more, which would further erode local confidence and make a crisis more likely. [Continue reading…]

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China’s scary lesson to the world: Censoring the Internet works

The Washington Post reports: First there was the Berlin Wall. Now there is the Great Firewall of China, not a physical barrier preventing people from leaving, but a virtual one, preventing information harmful to the Communist Party from entering the country.

Just as one fell, so will the other be eventually dismantled, because information, like people, cannot be held back forever.

Or so the argument goes.

But try telling that to Beijing. Far from knocking down the world’s largest system of censorship, China in fact is moving ever more confidently in the opposite direction, strengthening the wall’s legal foundations, closing breaches and reinforcing its control of the Web behind the wall.

Defensive no more about its censorship record, China is trumpeting its vision of “Internet sovereignty” as a model for the world and is moving to make it a legal reality at home. At the same time — confounding Western skeptics — the Internet is nonetheless thriving in China, with nearly 700 million users, putting almost 1 in 4 of the world’s online population behind the Great Firewall.

China is the world’s leader in e-commerce, with digital retail sales volume double that of the United States and accounting for a staggering 40 percent of the global total, according to digital business research company eMarketer. Last year, it also boasted four of the top 10 Internet companies in the world ranked by market capitalization, according to the data website Statista, including e-commerce giant Alibaba, social-media and gaming company Tencent and search specialists Baidu. [Continue reading…]

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