Printer Friendly

China-US Climate Cooperation: Creating a New Model of Major-Country Relations?

In recent years, China has been enthusiastic about building a new model of major-country relations (NMMCR), especially with the United States, which can be seen as an important new development in Chinese foreign policy. At the heart of this enthusiasm is China's desire to avoid the old pattern of competition and conflict between rising and status quo powers. More positively, China has also expressed its desire to enhance China-US cooperation, even strategic mutual trust. Of course, building such a relationship between a rising non-Western and nondemocratic China and a dominant, Western, liberal democratic United States would not be easy, for the lack of mutual trust remains a major obstacle and test for forging such relations (Wang et al. 2012). So, should the notion of NMMCR be treated as just a propaganda slogan with no practical implications? What does NMMCR really mean? Is such a model even possible, and can NMMCR actually be constructed between China and the United States? If so, what kinds of factors can contribute to the construction of NMMCR between the two great powers?

The proposition of this article is that emerging and expanding nontraditional security (NTS) challenges are, and have been, altering the character of global international society (GIS) and the nature of great power relations within it. (1) These common security threats open new opportunities and potential for great powers to search for new modes of relations, and this process has already begun between China and the United States. Though it has faced setbacks, bilateral climate cooperation is a good example. In this article I first examine the idea of NMMCR, identify major challenges in building such relations between China and the United States, then analyze the case of China-US climate cooperation by placing it in a broader context of the emerging and expanding NTS challenges in GIS. By doing so, I pay particular attention to whether its impact has altered the mode of great power relations. Drawing on this analysis, I conclude that the concept and initiative of NMMCR in the twenty-first century is not just an empty slogan but well reflects the changing environment of GIS as one that requires a new mode of great power relations.

NMMCR? China and the United States in Global International Society

The Idea of a New Model of Major-Country Relationship

The idea of a new model of major-country relationship (xinxing daguo guanxi, [phrase omitted]) (2) has emerged as a "novel" and "innovative" concept in China, particularly in policy circles (Ruan 2015, 23), representing an attempt to search for constructive relations with major powers in GIS, particularly with the United States. Meeting with US president Barack Obama in California in June 2013, Chinese president Xi Jinping summarized the contents of the NMMCR as "neither a confrontation nor a conflict; mutual respect; and win-win cooperation" (Xinhua 2013a). In recent years, especially after Xi Jinping took office in 2013, building a new model of international relations in general and building a new model of major country relations in particular have become one of China's major-foreign policy objectives (Wang 2014). This reflects China's more global and proactive foreign policy orientation under Xi Jinping.

While Chinese leaders see the term as straightforward enough, there have been disagreements and skepticism. Some have pointed out the vagueness of the concept and the difficulty in giving the term concrete policy relevance, hence treating it as just an official slogan. Such criticism emerged mostly from the US side (Diao 2015). Other critics have raised doubts about whether there is anything new in the concept. Glosserman (2013, 1) argues that what China wants to build is "a very traditional type of great power relationship, one characterized by the familiar notion of spheres of influence." Similarly, scholars outside of China often see China's more proactive foreign and security approaches, such as the "new Asian security concept" ([phrase omitted]) (3) "community of shared future" ([phrase omitted]), (4) and the NMMCR as China's bid for regional influence, which together resemble "the Monroe Doctrine: a Chinese sphere of influence where Beijing gets the first and last word on developments of importance in Asia" (Glosserman 2013, 1; Keck 2014; Singh 2014).

Understanding the dangers and difficulties associated with its ability to rise peacefully, China has proposed to build an NMMCR more for a "defensive purpose," aiming "to rise peacefully, to earn due respect in the international society" (Zhang 2014, 57). Of course, while many Western scholars are concerned as to whether a rising China would challenge the international order, many Chinese are more worried about whether a rising China can be accepted by the United States, whether China can gain legitimate great power status in GIS (Jin and Zhao 2014; Suzuki 2008), and whether China can participate in international norm-making processes (Zhang 2014). In this sense, Zhang Yongjin (2015, 320) sees China's call for an NMMCR as "an elegant expression of the struggle for legitimacy of a rising power" because by doing so it "seeks to justify the diffusion of power, as well as responsibilities, from the unipole to China." If that is indeed the case, how does China aim to achieve such strategic goals, and what is contained in the idea of building an NMMCR?

First, on a basic level in China's aim to construct an NMMCR with the United States is a strong desire and even belief that the so-called Thucydides Trap should and can be avoided (Jia and Yan 2015; Jin and Zhao 2014). This view is strongly shared in Chinese academic and policy circles. Xi Jinping has said that "there is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap in the world" (Xinhua 2015). Second, there is a strong desire that China and the United States should work together to face common challenges, despite the existence of differences between the two, such as differences in their political and social systems, cultural traditions, and levels of development (Xinhua 2013a). Tao Wenzhao (2014) is optimistic in this regard and believes that a China-US NMMCR is not only possible but necessary. This is because we are now living in a world of globalization and complex interdependence in which the United States may be the biggest beneficiary of globalization, but China's development has also gained enormous help from globalization and the international economic order.

An understanding of the importance and necessity of China-US cooperation is shared by the US side too. Susan Rice (2013), the former US national security adviser, argued, "When it comes to China, we seek to operationalize a new model of major power relations. That means managing inevitable competition while forging deeper cooperation on issues where our interests converge--in Asia and beyond." Thus, David M. Lampton (2013, 54) is right to argue that "Washington should, and seemingly does, welcome" the idea of an NMMCR, or at least did so under the Obama administration. While it may be too early to say how China-US relations will unfold under the Trump administration, as revealed at the first China-US Diplomatic and Strategic Dialogue (held on June 21, 2017) and by the visit of President Trump to China in November 2017, it appears that both sides have shown a strong desire to improve their relations and to enhance their mutual trust. Having said this, what are the major challenges and obstacles to forging such relations between them?

China and the United States in Global International Society

China's relations with other great powers in general, and with the United States in particular, have encountered major challenges in the post-Cold War era. Both material and ideational factors--rising Chinese material power and the ascendency of liberalism with the end of the Cold War--seem to suggest more travails in their bilateral relations. First, the rise of China in the immediate post-Cold War period was seen, especially by realists, as the most serious security challenge in East Asia and even in the world, hence the "China threat" thesis, which became popular in the 1990s and still has adherents in the twenty-first century (Roy 1996). John Mearsheimer (2006, 162) made the view most explicit by arguing that "an increasingly powerful China is also likely to try to push the United States out of Asia, much the way the United States pushed European great powers out of the Western Hemisphere." Thus, in his view the future of China-US relations entails more "trouble ahead." More explicitly, Graham Allison (2015) argues that rather than escaping the Thucydides Trap, "war between the U.S. and China is more likely."

Second, in addition to China's rising material capabilities, the end of the Cold War and the onset of US primacy mean that China's identity and its status within GIS have encountered a new challenge from a GIS moving in a more liberal, solidarist direction. (5) The increased normative ambition of leading members of GIS was nowhere more visible than in the field of human rights and democracy (Hurrell 2007). These liberal political and social norms emerged as a "new standard of civilization" (Donnelly 1998, 1). While China could increasingly meet the economic (capitalist) standard of civilization as its economy became more marketized (Buzan and Lawson 2014), its one-party form of government could not reform to meet the democratic standard without undermining itself, and it consequently took a different view of human rights from the one prevalent in the West. The Chinese government's violent crackdown on demonstrations led by democracy-seeking students in the spring of 1989 particularly shocked the Western world, reinforcing China's underlying position as an ideological outlier within GIS.

Thus, the 1990s were a difficult and tense time for great power relations, especially between the dominant United States and the rising non-Western China, and the sense of distrust between them has not entirely gone away. Writing more recently, Deborah Welch Larson and Alexei Shevchenko (2010, 64) continue to argue that China together with Russia should continue to be seen as "the outsiders from the liberal Western community" with different values and interests. Thus, the challenge of overcoming the Thucydides Trap and building trust between China and the United States seems nearly insurmountable. How can they move away from this situation of mutual distrust? Lampton (2013, 57) argues that because mistrust is embedded so deeply on both sides, it is likely that "a series of positive, incremental moves, rather than a single transformational initiative, will prove to be the most feasible path forward." In this sense, increasingly shared security threats, such as climate change, may provide a window of opportunity.

Climate Cooperation as One Means Toward the End of Creating a New Model of China-US Relations?

Climate cooperation has become one of the most important areas and means for constructing a new model of China-US relations. To understand the logic and the main driving forces behind this move by China, one must understand how emerging and expanding NTS challenges are altering the general environment of GIS and great power relations therein.

NTS Threats and the Role of Great Powers in GIS

The role of great powers has long been considered as central to international relations, hence the idea of great power management, meaning that great powers must take primary responsibility for making the system work, has been a mainstay among IR scholars and policymakers for some time (Bull 1977). Yet, exactly what needs to be done to make the system work depends on the material and normative structure of GIS, which is constantly evolving (Cui and Buzan 2016). Traditionally, it has been "narrowly focused upon managing the security aspects of international order," but as the widening and deepening of the security agenda has proceeded, what has been accepted as the special responsibility of great powers has also been extended and deepened (Bukovansky et al. 2012, 47), hence the mode of great power relations has also evolved.

The end of the Cold War has, in a way, dramatically changed our understanding of what constitutes security threats in GIS. From previous interstate conflicts and wars, many threats that GIS faces in the post-Cold War era and twenty-first century are transnational and nonmilitary in nature. The global securitization of the environment is a good example. The environment emerged as a security issue in the 1960s and 1970s (Buzan and Hansen 2009), and the 1972 Stockholm Conference and the Rio Summit of 1992 can be seen as particular landmarks (Falkner 2012). Moreover, the real sense of urgency about the global environment came in 2007, when the UN Security Council held the "first-ever debate on the impact of climate change" (UNSC 2007, 1) and agreed on many policy declarations that were most urgently needed. Brauch and Oswald Spring (2009, 1297) consider 2007 as a turning point "from a process of politicization (since 1992) towards a securitizing of global environmental and climate change."

The impact of this widening conceptualization of security on GIS in general, and great power relations in particular, has been far-reaching. Traditionally, the state more or less monopolized the provision of security by military means, and security was primarily about the defense of territorial integrity against other hostile states. Hence, security was achieved largely through conflict, or the threat thereof. However, the expansion of the security agenda into nonmilitary areas has been altering this very traditional security logic, that is, from one of "security against" to one of "security with" (Cui 2013, 883-884). This is because many pressing security threats, such as global warming and pandemic diseases, are now shared. Jones, Pascual, and Stedman (2009, 18) call it "a world of transnational threats and interdependent security" and lament that US foreign policy has not come to grips with the implications of this. For them, in this new security environment US power and leadership are greatly needed, yet American power alone or even democracies alone would not be viewed as credible; instead, it is crucial for both major and rising powers to cooperate through strong international institutions and embrace new standards of responsibility, should their peoples be safe and prosperous.

In this sense, the shift from traditional to nontraditional security conceptualizations is not just a matter of extending the security agenda from military to nonmilitary sectors. The shifts involve the widening (from military to wider sectors), deepening (the referent object of security goes beyond nation-states), and shifting of security logic from exclusively conflict to potentially cooperative as well (Cui 2013). Together, these developments have had a considerable impact on great power relations, how they should relate with each other, and how they should be conducted in GIS to be considered legitimate and responsible. It is against this background that China-US relations in tackling a specific NTS issue, environmental governance, need to be examined with care.

China and the United States Tackle NTS Threats: The Case of Climate Cooperation

As Wang Jisi et al. (2012, 9) argue, China-US relations have developed into "the most complex international relations" in world history. Indeed, as rising and established powers, respectively, they compete seriously for geostrategic influence, especially in the Asia Pacific region. Yet they also cooperate in order to handle various regional and global issues, and cooperation between them, especially in handling shared transnational security threats, has been expanding steadily. Climate cooperation between China and the United States has emerged as one of the most significant developments in bilateral relations in recent years. Indeed, such developments are not without setbacks and problems.

That China and the United States could take steps to undertake climate cooperation is a significant move for both. This is not only because they are the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases and have received the most criticism as irresponsible great powers, but they have also previously often blamed each other and used the other to justify their own inactions. As Kenneth Lieberthal and David Sandalow (2009) have observed, in 2001 President George W. Bush often mentioned China when explaining his administration's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol; China's lack of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol was seen by many Americans as the principal failure of the treaty. However, in the view of many Chinese experts, the United States has greater historic responsibility for climate change and greater obligations, therefore, to address the problem. Even in the 2009 Copenhagen conference, despite growing references to the G-2 (China and the United States) and hopes that the two powers might work together to break the deadlock at the summit, the summit failed to reach consensus on one of the most pressing global governance issues. The major differences between developed nations and developing nations on proposed emission targets for 2050 were largely behind the failure (Yu 2015). China and the United States, too, continued to be at odds in Copenhagen and other international climate negotiations. Even in the 2012 China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, "climate change merited little more than a mention near the end of a long list of bilateral issues" (Finamore 2013).

In this sense, 2013 was an important year for China-US relations and for the world as the world's two largest economies and GHG emitters finally decided to intensify their cooperation on climate change. Toward that end, a new Joint China-US Statement on Climate Change was signed on April 12, 2013, followed by the creation of the Joint Climate Change Working Group, which was to make preparations for their Strategic and Economic Dialogue by taking stock of existing cooperation related to climate change. (6) To encourage more substantial cooperation, the two sides also explored a variety of innovative ways to cooperate. For instance, in September 2013, China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the California state government signed "a landmark agreement" on low carbon development across economic sectors, which was praised as "a first-of-its-kind agreement" that represents an important step in international cooperation and serves as a "model for other states and even for the Congress" to enhance cooperation. (7) Indeed, the State of California emerged as a leading player in enhancing China-US low carbon and clean energy cooperation thereafter. Such efforts seem particularly valuable when climate cooperation between the two governments faces new challenges.

In 2013, climate cooperation also became an important component of the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue. (8) Then, the historic moment came in November 2014, a year before the Paris Summit, when China and the United States announced an ambitious new deal on climate change and clean energy cooperation. In the agreement, China, for the first time, agreed to peak its CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030 (NDRC 2014). The United States also announced a new target to cut net GHG emissions to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. It thus paved the way to success in the Paris conference. As President Obama noted, the agreement is "a major milestone in US-China relations and shows what is possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge" (Guardian 2014). The announcement was highly appreciated and described as a game-changer for the climate (Ghauri 2014). Of course, it is not without serious criticisms, especially toward what China promises and what it actually delivers. Elizabeth Economy (2014) argues that there are three stages in understanding Chinese policy on climate change: "statement of intent, policy design, and policy implementation," and she emphasizes that "in the end, only the last matters." Based on these perspectives and observations, Economy argues that even though China deserves credit for adopting a CO2 reduction target, "its record on delivering on environmental protection promises over the past few decades is poor" (2015).

Yet, despite the mix of reactions and assessments about China's climate policies, developments have moved in a generally positive direction in China-US climate cooperation. Importantly, at the 2016 China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, "over 50 of the 120 outcomes listed were directly related to climate change, energy issues, and the environment," revealing how NTS issues have evolved into high priority policy items in China-US relations (Reynolds 2016). On September 3, 2016, both China and the United States formally joined the Paris Agreement, demonstrating how "developed and emerging economies are now working in tandem to make the transition to non-polluting energy" (Taraska and Light 2016). Thus, "the win-win cooperation on climate change" between China and the United States (at least under the Obama administration) is viewed not only as "a model for future South-North cooperation" but also as "a bright spot" in the establishment of an NMMCR between China and the US (Xinhua 2016). Of course, things have changed greatly since Donald Trump took office as US president.

President Trump, however, is skeptical in the extreme about climate change. Indeed, in his presidential campaign, he called climate change a Chinese hoax. After his election he packed his administration with climate-change deniers (Guardian 2017b) and has sought to cut significant funding from NASA climate research and the Environmental Protection Agency while seeking a repeal of the Clean Power Plan (Middlehurst 2017). Furthermore, on June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, dealing a huge blow both to global efforts to tackle climate change and to China-US climate cooperation. As Tang (2017) notes, the research initiatives and industrial pilots created by the Strategic and Economic Dialogues of the Obama-Xi era that covered such topics as clean energy, smart cities, and the water-energy-climate nexus have been severely weakened. It is unclear how Trump's presidency will affect US-China cooperation on combatting global warming. Does this mean the end of China-US climate cooperation? How shall one estimate the effects of the Trump presidency on global environmental governance?

Of course, there is no doubt that the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has a negative impact on global efforts to tackle climate change, not only because the United States is the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitting nation, but also because it has a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change as the largest economy. However, the negative impact of Trump should not be overemphasized. As many scholars and experts have pointed out, the Paris Agreement can survive US withdrawal because it is built on a decentralized system of voluntary mitigation pledges, and it is more resilient to political shocks than Kyoto (Falkner 2016, 2017; Guardian 2017c). More positively, despite worries about a domino effect of other countries following the United States and backtracking from the agreement, other countries have shown they will continue to implement the Paris Agreement in the interest of combatting climate change. This was vividly demonstrated at the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July 2017. The final G-20 communique says that all other G-20 members, except the United States, regard the Paris Agreement as "irreversible" and confirm their "strong commitment" to achieving its swift implementation (Wehrmann 2017). Within the United States, too, activities at the subnational level, including by many states, cities, companies, and communities, seem to support the argument that the agreement will prevail and that they will continue to "maintain their pursuit of economic growth that is modern, smart, clean, efficient and resilient" (Stern and Ward 2017). They demonstrated their sustained commitment at the Bonn climate summit, where they joined together to make "America's pledge," which was in stark opposition to the Trump administration's rejection of Obama-era climate commitments (Guardian 2017d).

Against such a backdrop China-US climate cooperation has continued. Indeed, we cannot overlook the loss of momentum and outright setbacks that have resulted from the lack of high-level attention and support on the part of the Trump administration. The cancellation by Boston mayor Marty Walsh of his planned attendance at a US-China meeting on climate change in the summer of 2017 offers a case in point. However, as Vance Wagner and Ji Zou (two former government officials from the United States and China who worked on US-China climate diplomacy between 2012 and 2016) rightly point out, the cancellation was the exception, not the rule; instead, "working-level climate and clean energy cooperation" (2017) between the two countries has continued. Even the US Environmental Protection Agency has continued to engage with China, including by co-convening the US-China Green Ports and Vessels Initiative in Tianjin in May 2017 (Wagner and Zou 2017).

Other important continuities are found among the many action plans under the Ten-Year Framework (TYF) for cooperation on energy and environment (2008-2018), which was established by the United States and China in June 2008. In particular, the Eco-Partnerships program under the TYF, with its emphasis on and promotion of collaboration at the subnational level, as well as between the private and public sectors, has gained wide support from both governments. Over the past nine years the program has facilitated forty-two partnerships from the two countries, and this year, it welcomed three new EcoPartnerships, including a partnership between the Natural Resources Defense Council (US) and Shenzhen Power Supply Bureau (China), which will focus on such activities as the establishment of market mechanisms for energy demand response (see US Department of State 2017).

More importantly, Trump's blow to the Paris Agreement has pushed many US nonfederal actors to search for climate actions from the bottom up (Tang 2017), hence bringing closer links between Chinese and US regions committed to a low-carbon path. Just a day after Trump's announcement on the Paris Agreement, California's governor, Jerry Brown, flew to Beijing to attend the eighth Clean Energy Ministerial and the Under2 Clean Energy forum, after which he also visited Sichuan and Jiangsu provinces to scale up California's regional clean energy partnerships with them (Feng and Yao 2017). California is establishing relationships with seven Chinese provinces, focusing on green energy. Thus, cooperation has begun to sidestep the top-level pause. Behind this, as Tang Wei (2017) argues, is the fact that the commercial synergies underpinning US-China low carbon development partnerships remain unchanged. It is also said that such initiatives have not emerged overnight but developed over the years. When Arnold Schwarzenegger (then governor of California) visited Beijing in 2005, he put climate and energy issues on the agenda. Then, when Chinese president Xi Jinping visited the United States in 2015, the two countries formally signed a state/provincial clean energy development cooperation agreement. Thus, the local level of climate cooperation has developed particularly with China's rich eastern coastal cities, but now it is even extending into poorer western inland regions. For example, Sichuan province, in southwest China, has now emerged as the hotspot for US-China climate cooperation.

In 2015, Sichuan and Jiangsu became the first Chinese provinces to join the Under2 Coalition at an event in Los Angeles fostering subnational and regional climate cooperation. Sichuan has also promoted setting up national clean energy demonstration provinces in China. Apple has become one of the globally famous companies with operations in Sichuan, providing a model for renewable energy partnerships. In 2015, Apple built a 40-megawatt solar farm in Sichuan, and its Sichuan factory has approval to buy renewable energy direct from the producers. Sixty-seven percent of the factory's power now comes from renewables, and it hopes to reach 100 percent by next year. Such a target would be impossible without local government support, according to Katie Hill, an Apple global supply chain and clean energy project manager. Local officials see the clean energy transition creating jobs in their provinces, thus creating a win-win situation for both China and the United States (Feng and Yao 2017).

Why, then, has climate cooperation not only emerged as such a high policy priority but also shown resilience in China-US relations? Given the limited space, I do not discuss here whether climate cooperation has had spillover effects into other areas but instead focus on why and how the environment, seen as one of the most challenging NTS issues in the China-US relationship and in the world, offers a source of potential cooperation. The global securitization of environmental issues, as I argued earlier, is important in this regard. This is because environmental ideas and norms have now been "woven into the normative fabric of the states system" (Falkner 2012, 503). Christian Reus-Smit (1996, 119) observed that there was an emerging "green moral purpose" among states; many scholars now share the assessment that "environmental responsibility" or "environmental stewardship" has "emerged and strengthened as a primary institution in international society" and hence become a legitimate basis for moral claims within GIS (Falkner and Buzan 2017, 26; Kopra 2017). Against this background both the United States and China have been subject to pressures and criticisms as the "two great irresponsibles." Particularly, the international community (on the part of both state and nonstate actors) has looked to the United States more than any other state "to fulfill its climate leadership responsibilities," which Bukovansky et al. (2012, 131) call its "extra special responsibilities."

The securitization of the environment and the associated normative changes to GIS have domestic implications too. According to Robert Falkner's (2009) study, the US relationship with international climate norms is much more complicated than is conventionally known, which has led many to overemphasize the antagonistic nature and fundamental tension between the United States and the international climate norm. Yet, despite the US refusal to ratify Kyoto, "the international climate norm did find its way into domestic discourses and strategies," particularly with actors below the federal level (Falkner 2009, 4). For example, individual municipalities and states have taken up the challenge of setting GHG emission reduction targets, and a host of initiatives have sprung up that seek to reinsert key elements of the global climate norm into US politics. In November 2014, the Obama administration even pledged to double the pace to cut its emissions to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 (Guardian 2014). In this environment, when Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, domestic opponents of Trump's decision mobilized quickly. Immediately after Trump's announcement, political and corporate leaders, including the governors of California, New York, and Washington, and leading CEOs from Goldman Sachs, Unilever, and Coca Cola went on record to declare their support for Paris. Thus, Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope (2017) are right to claim that climate leadership in implementing solutions is already emerging not so much from national governments as from cities, businesses, and citizen activists. This "bottom-up leadership," they believe, will prove key to accelerating the climate action and, therefore, the prospects for avoiding catastrophic risks to the climate.

In the Chinese case, twin pressures from both international and domestic sources are particularly strong. Internationally, after China surpassed the United States as the biggest carbon emitter in the world in 2006, the international community in general and the United States in particular urged China to shoulder more responsibility in climate change mitigation (Kopra 2017). Such pressure seems even more real in the context of gradual transformation of international climate politics throughout the 2000s. For example, the number of climate change laws and policies worldwide in the twenty-first century increased rapidly, from 426 in 2009 to 804 by the end of 2014. Crucially, these policies now apply not just to Annex I countries, (9) but also to non-Annex I countries (Falkner 2016), making it more difficult for China to use its status as a developing country as an excuse.

Internally, China also faces enormous pressure from recurring pollution crises as the scale and scope of protests against air pollution are on the rise. Its worsening environmental problems have been largely caused by its economic development model. Fergus Green and Nicholas Stern (2016, 425) call China's economic policy between 2000 and 2013 an "energy-intensive, heavy industry-based growth model." Under such a development model, although its GDP growth averaged 10.5 percent each year, it was done with high levels of energy and coal consumption, causing intensive CO2 emissions, both growing at an average rate of around 8 percent per year (Hilton and Kerr 2016).

Thus, in responding to both internal and external pressures, the Chinese government stepped in to make radical changes to its economic policy, as was evident in its Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), which explicitly linked economic policy with the climate agenda (Li and Wang 2012). The need for fundamental structural change and policy reform was reconfirmed and intensified at the Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Party Congress in November 2013, signaling a marked change in economic policy compared to the previous decade (Xinhua 2013b). Under this "new normal" developmental model, environmental sustainability was no longer seen as an issue separate from economic policy but inextricably linked to accelerating economic restructuring, even elevated into talking about reform of the "eco-civilization" system (State Council 2015). Isabel Hilton and Oliver Kerr (2016) believe that the shift to a new normal model of economic development has largely contributed to China's more constructive role in the global climate regime. This trend will continue as the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held in October 2017, further emphasized this high quality and green development (see 2017).

Thus, despite the Trump administration's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement and to cut funding from environmental programs, the positive developments in China-US cooperation in the climate arena did not die out; rather, an even greater subnational level of operation on green energy has emerged. The limited impact of Trump's climate rollback should be understood in terms of both global consensus on the dangers of climate change and the widespread nature of global environmental norms. It is widely accepted that "climate change is one of the greatest challenges of all time.... The scientific evidence is unequivocal" (Guardian 2017b), and climate responsibility as an international norm has been institutionalized and is now "approaching the stage of assimilation" (Kopra 2017, 1). Robert Falkner and Barry Buzan (2017, 31) even argue that environmental stewardship has a "noticeable," if not redefining, "impact on the criteria for rightful membership of GIS." Thus, Trump's climate denial and his retreat from climate action have only eroded his global leadership role. Fearing any negative blows to the fight against global warming, as soon as Trump was elected to office, Chinese president Xi Jinping was quick to point out the necessity for "all parties to work together to implement the Paris agreement"; by doing so, Xi could "bolster China's image as a reliable and dedicated climate leader" (Guardian 2017a). Indeed, it is unclear whether China wants or even qualifies to become such a leader. Elizabeth Economy (2017) is extremely skeptical that China can fill the void left by the United States. She argues that global leadership "must be earned, not simply granted by overeager officials and pundits," and she believes that China has yet to demonstrate that it merits the position. Within China, too, many scholars have questioned if such "global leadership is too much, too soon for China" and emphasized the necessity for all great powers, including the United States, the EU, and India, to work together (Chen 2017). In this sense, the solidarity and willingness of world leaders to cooperate on global climate change at the G-20 summit in Hamburg is a positive sign. At the end of the summit, Trump was left isolated after every other world leader signed a declaration that the Paris climate agreement was irreversible (Guardian 2017c).

Thus, despite remaining uncertainties and challenges, the shared nature of NTS threats, like climate change, have had a considerable impact on how states view the logic of security, that is, moving gradually from one of "security against" to one of "security with." It is also argued that environmental stewardship "does not get caught up in ideological division because it is not a liberal value. Its logic arises from a shared fate/threat that transcends liberal versus authoritarian concerns" (Falkner and Buzan 2017, 27). In addition, global environmental governance is no longer an exclusively government-initiated top-down process, and the expanding role of multistakeholders has become ever more important. China-US climate cooperation at subnational levels has become an important bright point, particularly in the face of growing challenges at the central governmental level, which is precisely what distinguishes the NMMCR from the traditional mode of great power relations. Thus, despite their many differences, China and the United States could move from blaming and competing with each other into greater cooperation on climate change, one of the most pressing and shared NTS issues.

Conclusion: China-US NMMCR in the Changing Environment of GIS

In conclusion, constructing a new model of major-country relations between China and the United States in the twenty-first century is not just an empty slogan or a concept without any practical utility. It can be seen as a creative initiative that attempts to reflect the changing environment of GIS as it faces ever expanding and complex global governance challenges. Even though China-US relations have experienced great challenges caused by both material and ideational factors, especially since the end of the Cold War, there are noticeable points of consensus on both sides in searching for constructive relations between them. More positively, there is recognition on both sides that the two great powers should work together to tackle common transnational challenges, despite the existence of differences between them.

Climate cooperation between China and the United States provides an interesting example of how a rising power and an established power, or the largest developing country and the largest developed country, can work together to tackle common-fate problems, and this is at the heart of the NMMCR concept. Emerging and expanding NTS challenges, with their nonmilitary and transnational nature, have altered the general environment of GIS and the way great powers should relate to one another and with a variety of other actors, including nonstate actors, to fulfill their responsibilities (Cui and Buzan 2016). This does not mean that there is no contention over the issue of climate change between the two powers or that there have been no setbacks in the process. However, the cost of such backtracking would be extremely high for both sides, not only because the threat of climate change cannot be tackled singlehandedly, but also because climate responsibility has become deeply embedded and institutionalized in GIS, such that ignoring it would have negative implications for that state's stature and legitimacy. In other words, environmentalism or the "green moral purpose" has emerged and been firmly embedded as an international norm. It has become an important criterion for any claim to be a responsible great power or even a claim to rightful membership in GIS, hence it is an important basis for states' moral claims today (Falkner and Buzan 2017; Kopra 2017; Reus-Smit 1996).

The continuity of China-US bilateral climate cooperation, such as action plans under the Ten-Year Framework, even in the Trump era, is a good indication that China-US climate cooperation did not end altogether. As evident when Trump made his first official visit to China in November 2017, he was accompanied by many energy and environmental protection companies (eleven out of twenty-nine entrepreneurs in his business delegation). Many believe that clean energy cooperation between China and the United States is likely to expand (Huaxia 2017). Moreover, China-US bottom-up climate cooperation has also been developing steadily, now involving many US cities and states, while in China it has been expanding from rich eastern coastal regions into poorer western inland regions. China-US climate cooperation has become more resilient in the face of political shocks. Thus, I conclude that building an NMMCR as part of China's new foreign policy development well reflects this changing twenty-first century GIS environment. China and the United States have together taken an extremely important step to manage their global common-fate challenges despite the existence of many differences between them so as to fulfill their great power responsibilities, at least in one of the most important NTS issues. Indeed, climate change is one area among broader NTS issues, and one case study will certainly not tell us everything there is to know about China-US relations. However, it remains a very important and valuable positive step for China to search for constructive relations with the United States so as to realize an NMMCR, both for itself and with the United States and a variety of other actors in the changing environment that is GIS.


Shunji Cui is associate professor of international politics at the School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University, China. Her research concerns international relations and nontraditional security and human security cooperation. She has published articles in several journals including the Chinese Journal of International Politics, Asian Perspective, Journal of Contemporary China, Journal of Historical Sociology, and Cooperation and Conflict, among others. She can be reached at This research was supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, China.

(1.) The concept of international society is central to the English School approach to IR, which emphasizes the institutionalization of mutual interest and identity among states rather than mere power politics. It thus puts the creation and maintenance of shared norms, rules, and institutions at the center of its theorizing. Since the contemporary international society has reached a global scale and has abundant shared interests, norms, and values, scholars refer to it as global international society or global order (see, among others, Bull 1977; Buzan 2014; Hurrell 2007).

(2.) The term xinxing daguo guanxi ([phrase omitted]) has been translated in a variety of ways, such as "new type of great power relations" and "new type of major power relations," but in the past year the "new model of major-country relations" has been adopted as the standard translation; therefore, this article uses this expression.

(3.) The idea of "new Asian security concept" was popular in China and received international attention after Chinese President Xi Jinping made his speech entitled "New Asian Security Concept for New Progress in Security Cooperation" at the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, which was held in Shanghai in May 2014. See the speech at

(4.) Previously, [phrase omitted] (mingyun gongtongti) was translated as "community of common destiny," but now "community of shared future" is the official translation.

(5.) For pluralist/solidarist conceptions of international society, see, among others, Wheeler (1992).

(6.) About the Joint Statement and the Working Group, see the US Department of State website at

(7.) See "Governor Brown Expands Partnership with China to Combat Climate Change," California Governor's Office, September 13, 2013, www

(8.) The China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue is now replaced by four new dialogue mechanisms, that is, Diplomatic and Strategic Dialogue, Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialogue, Social and Cultural Dialogue. The decision was made in the wake of the Xi Jinping-Donald Trump summit meeting at Mar-a-Lago in April 2017, and the first China-US Diplomatic and Strategic Dialogue was held in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2017.

(9.) The Kyoto conference categorized Annex I (industrialized countries) with specific quantitative targets and non-Annex I countries without such targets. See "List of Annex I Parties to the Convention" at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, /annex_i/items/2774.php.


Allison, Graham. 2015. "The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?" The Atlantic, September 24,

Bloomberg, Michael, and Carl Pope. 2017. Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Brauch, Hans Gunter, and Ursula Oswald Spring. 2009. "Towards Sustainable Peace for the 21st Century." In Hans Gunter Brauch, Ursula Oswald Spring, John Grin, Czeslaw Mesjasz, Patricia Kameri-Mbote, Navnita Chadha Behera, Bechir Chourou, and Heinz Krummenacher, eds., Facing Global Environmental Change: Environmental, Human, Energy, Food, Health and Water Security Concepts. Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace, vol. 4. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, pp. 1295-1310.

Bukovansky, Mlada, Ian Clark, Robyn Eckersley, Richard Price, Christian ReusSmit, and Nicholas J. Wheeler. 2012. Special Responsibilities: Global Problems and American Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bull, Hedley. 1977. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. London: Macmillan Press.

Buzan, Barry. 2014. An Introduction to the English School of International Relations: The Societal Approach. Cambridge: Polity.

Buzan, Barry, and Lene Hansen. 2009. The Evolution of International Security Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buzan, Barry, and George Lawson. 2014. "Capitalism and the Emergent World Order." International Affairs, vol. 90, no. 1 (January), pp. 71-91.

Chen, Qingqing. 2017. "China Cannot Lead Climate Change Battle Alone: Experts." Global Times, June 5.

China Daily. 2016. "Climate Meet Stays on Track." November 11. 2017. "Press Conference: Pursuing Green Development." October 27,

Cui, Shunji. 2013. "Beyond History: Non-Traditional Security Cooperation and the Construction of Northeast Asian International Society." Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 22, no. 83 (May), pp. 868-886.

Cui, Shunji, and Barry Buzan. 2016. "Great Power Management in International Society." Chinese Journal of International Politics, vol. 9, no. 2 (July), pp. 181-210.

Diao, Daming. 2015. [phrase omitted] [The discussion of the new type of great power relations in American academic circles]. Quarterly Journal of International Politics, no. 1 (February), pp. 78-99.

Donilon, Tom. 2013. "The United States and the Asia-Pacific in 2013." Remarks by Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to the President, New York, March 11,

Donnelly, Jack. 1998. "Human Rights: A New Standard of Civilization?" International Affairs, vol. 74, no. 1 (January), pp. 1-23.

Economy, Elizabeth. 2014. "Climate Change: What Is China Doing and Not Doing?" The Council on Foreign Relations, New York, September 24,

--. 2015. "China and Climate Change: Three Things to Watch After Paris." The Diplomat, December 19.

--. 2017. "Why China Is No Climate Leader." Politico Magazine, June 12,

Falkner, Robert. 2009. "The United States and the Global Climate Norm: Who's Influencing Whom?" Paper presented at the 2009 annual convention of the International Studies Association, New York, February 15-18.

--. 2012. "Global Environmentalism and the Greening of International Society." International Affairs, vol. 88, no. 3 (March), pp. 503-522.

--. 2016. "The Paris Agreement and the New Logic of International Climate Politics." International Affairs, vol. 92, no. 5 (August), pp. 1107-1125.

--. 2017. "Trump's Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement: What Next for International Climate Policy?" The GRICC Commentaries, June 5, www. uk/GranthamInstitute.

Falkner, Robert, and Barry Buzan. 2017. "Global Environmental Politics in English School Perspective: Environmental Stewardship as an Emerging Primary Institution of International Society." Paper presented at the 2017 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, Baltimore, February 22-25.

Feng, Hao, and Zhe Yao. 2017. "California Pushes Ahead for New Era of US-China Climate Partnerships." China Dialogue, July 6.

Finamore, Barbara A. 2013. "How the U.S. and China Are Reinvigorating the Battle Against Climate Change." Huffington Post, April 23.

Ghauri, Clare Saxon. 2014. "China and US Announce Game-Changing Climate Deal." The Climate Group, November 12, www.theclimategroup .org.

Glosserman, Brad. 2013. "A 'New Type of Great Power Relations'? Hardly." Pacific Forum CSIS, no. 40 (June 10), https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws .com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/Pac1340.pdf.

Green, Fergus, and Nicholas Stern. 2016. "China's Changing Economy: Implications for Its Carbon Dioxide Emissions." Climate Policy, vol. 17, no. 4 (March), pp. 423-442.

The Guardian. 2014. "US and China Strike Deal on Carbon Cuts in Push for Global Climate Change Pact." November 12.

--. 2017a. "China's Xi Jinping Says Paris Climate Deal Must Not Be Allowed to Fail." January 19.

--. 2017b. "Theresa May Must Challenge Trump's 'Contempt' for Climate Change, Say MPs." January 27.

--. 2017c. "Trump Left in Cold over Paris Climate Agreement at End of G20 Summit." July 8.

--. 2017d. "US Groups Honouring Paris Climate Pledges Despite Trump." November 11.

Hilton, Isabel, and Oliver Kerr. 2016. "The Paris Agreement: China's 'New Normal' Role in International Climate Negotiations." Climate Policy, vol. 17, no. 1 (October), pp. 48-58.

Huaxia. 2017. [phrase omitted] [Trump visits China accompanied by 29 entrepreneurs, shows hope for ChinaUS energy cooperation]. November 8,

Hurrell, Andrew. 2007. On Global Order: Power, Values and the Constitution of International Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jia, Qingguo, and Jun Yan, eds. 2015. [phrase omitted] [New type of great power relations: Opportunities and challenges]. Beijing: Peking University Press.

Jin, Canrong and Yuanliang Zhao. 2014. [phrase omitted] [Exploring and taking advantage of favorable conditions to establish a new model of major-country relations between China and the United States]. World Economics and Politics, no. 3 (March), pp. 50-68.

Jones, Bruce, Carlos Pascual, and Stephen John Stedman. 2009. Power and Responsibility: Building International Order in an Era of Transnational Threat. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Keck, Zachary. 2014. "China's Growing Hegemonic Bent." The Diplomat, June 26.

Kopra, Sanna. 2017. "China and International Norm of Climate Responsibility: Agency and Institutional Change." Paper presented at the 2017 annual convention of the International Studies Association, Baltimore, February 22-25.

Lampton, David M. 2013. "A New Type of Major-Power Relationship: Seeking a Durable Foundation for U.S.-China Ties." Asia Policy, no. 16 (July), pp. 51-68.

Larson, Deborah Welch, and Alexei Shevchenko. 2010. "Status Seekers: Chinese and Russian Responses to U.S. Primacy." International Security, vol. 34, no. 4 (March), pp. 63-95.

Li, Jun, and Xin Wang. 2012. "Energy and Climate Policy in China's Twelfth Five-Year Plan: A Paradigm Shift." Energy Policy, vol. 41, no. 2 (February), pp. 519-528.

Lieberthal, Kenneth, and David Sandalow. 2009. Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change. Monograph Series no. 1. Washington, DC: John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings.

Mearsheimer, John J. 2006. "China's Unpeaceful Rise." Current History, vol. 105, no. 690 (April), pp. 160-162.

Middlehurst, Charlotte. 2017. "Climate Leadership Shifts to Cities as US Shows Uncertainty." China Dialogue, April 6.

NDRC. 2014. China's Policies and Actions on Climate Change (2014). Beijing: National Development and Reform Commission, China.

Reus-Smit, Christian. 1996. "The Normative Structure of International Society." In Fen Osler Hampson and Judith Reppy, eds., Earthly Goods: Environmental Change and Social Justice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 96-121.

Reynolds, Ben. 2016. "Climate Change Outcomes of the 2016 Strategic and Economic Dialogue." China-US Focus, June 30,

Rice, Susan. 2013. "America's Future in Asia: Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice." White House, November 20,

Roy, Denny. 1996. "The 'China Threat' Issue: Major Arguments." Asian Survey, vol. 36, no. 8 (August), pp. 758-771.

Ruan, Zongze. 2015. "Toward a New Type of International Relations: Transcending History to Win the Future." China International Studies, no. 51 (April), pp. 23-44.

Singh, Jawant. 2014. "A Chinese Monroe Doctrine?" Project Syndicate, June 5,

State Council. 2015. "China Plans to Reform Eco-Civilization System." August 12,

Stern, Nicholas, and Bob Ward. 2017. "Nicholas Stern and Bob Ward Respond to President Trump's Announcement About the Paris Agreement on Climate Change." The GRICC Commentaries, June 1,

Suzuki, Shogo. 2008. "Seeking 'Legitimate' Great Power Status in Post-Cold War International Society: China's and Japan's Participation in UNPKO." International Relations, vol. 22, no. 1 (March), pp. 45-63.

Tang, Wei. 2017. "US-China Climate Co-operation in the Trump Era." China Dialogue, July 5.

Tao, Wenzhao. 2014. [phrase omitted] [Why China and the US could build the new type of great power relations]. Chinese National Conditions and Strengths, no. 1 (January), pp. 64-65.

Taraska, Gwynne, and Andrew Light. 2016. "World's Biggest Carbon Emitters Officially Join the Paris Climate Deal." China-US Focus, September 28,

UNSC. 2007. "Security Council Holds First-Ever Debate on Impact of Climate Change." UNSC, SC/9000, April 17,

US Department of State. 2017. "U.S.-China EcoPartnerships Program." October 13,

Wagner, Vance, and Ji Zou. 2017. "What's Next for US-China Climate Cooperation?" China Dialogue, November 7,

Wang, Jisi, Yingyi Qian, Min Wang, Qingguo Jia, and Chong'en Bai. 2012. [phrase omitted] [Constructing China-US strategic mutual trust]. International Economic Review, no. 2 (March), pp. 9-16.

Wang Yizhou. 2014. "China's New Foreign Policy: Transformations and Challenges Reflected in Changing Discourse." The ASAN Forum, March 21.

Wehrmann, Benjamin. 2017. "Isolating Trump, 19 G20 Members Say Paris Climate Deal 'Irreversible.'" China Dialogue, July 10,

Wheeler, Nicholas J. 1992. "Pluralist or Solidarist Conceptions of International Society: Bull and Vincent on Humanitarian Intervention." Millennium: Journal of International Studies, vol. 21, no. 3 (December), pp. 463-487.

Wu, Xinbo. 2012. "Forging Sino-US Partnership in the Twenty-First Century: Opportunities and Challenges." Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 21, no. 75 (May), pp. 391-407.

Xinhua. 2013a. "Xi Jinping Sums Up China-US New Type of Great Power Relations as No Conflicts and Confrontation, Mutual Respect, and Cooperation with Win-Win Benefits." June 10.

--. 2013b. [phrase omitted] [Decision on major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms]. November 13.

--. 2015. "Full Text of Xi Jinping's Speech on China-U.S. Relations in Seattle." September 24.

--. 2016. "China, U.S. Ready for Climate Change Cooperation." June 6.

Yu, Jie. 2015. "An Evolution in China's Climate Diplomacy." The Diplomat, December 4.

Zhang, Xiaoming. 2014. [phrase omitted] [An interpretation of the new type of great power relationship]. Journal of International Studies, no. 1 (February), pp. 49-58.

Zhang, Yongjin. 2015. "China and the Struggle for Legitimacy of a Rising Power." Chinese Journal of International Politics, vol. 8, no. 3 (August), pp. 301-322.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]
COPYRIGHT 2018 Lynne Rienner Publishers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cui, Shunji
Publication:Asian Perspective
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2018
Previous Article:Ideology and Relationality: Chinese Aid in Africa Revisited.
Next Article:Bismarck or Wilhelm? China's Peaceful Rise vs. Its South China Sea Policy.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters