Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective.
I. Xi’s UN Speeches
There were two speeches related to the UN that Xi Jinping delivered this week. First, he spoke commemorating the 75th anniversary of the UN and then at the UNGA.
First, let’s look at Xi Jinping’s speech (full English text) at the 75th anniversary of the UN. He basically talked up the UN and said that it remains significant in today’s world. It was a short speech that hit the key talking points, from criticising unilateralism, Cold War mentality, and hegemonism to talking up multilateralism, win-win partnerships and the need to respect international commitments. All this is fine rhetorically, but the issue is whether Beijing has also been practicing what it preaches. So Xi said that “the world now stands at a new historical starting point. Let us renew our firm commitment to multilateralism, work to promote a community with a shared future for mankind, and rally behind the banner of the UN to pursue greater unity and progress.” His proposals to this effect were as follows:
- “No country has the right to dominate global affairs, control the destiny of others, or keep advantages in development all to itself. Even less should one be allowed to do whatever it likes and be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world. Unilateralism is a dead end. All need to follow the approach of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.” He then added that “representation and voice of developing countries be increased.”
- “Relations among countries and coordination of their interests must only be based on rules and institutions; they must not be lorded over by those who wave a strong fist at others. Big countries should lead by example in advocating and upholding the international rule of law and in honoring their commitments.” (Great advice, but will China take this when it comes to SCS or bilateral agreements in Ladakh)
- “Cold War mentality, ideological lines or zero-sum game are no solution to a country’s own problem, still less an answer to mankind’s common challenges. What we need to do is to replace conflict with dialogue, coercion with consultation and zero-sum with win-win.”
- Finally he spoke vaguely about the UN needing to address tangible problems. Smart line here: “There must be a cure, not just a therapy.”
Next, Xi’s speech (English version + Xinhua’s English report) to the UNGA. He defended China’s record in combating COVID-19, and told countries to “put people and life first and enhance solidarity.” This was basically a speech about Xi emphasising his global vision, and projecting China as a responsible power. Of course, there are many holes in his narrative. So Xi said:
“Seventy-five years ago, China made historic contributions to winning the World Anti-Fascist War and supported the founding of the United Nations. Today, with the same sense of responsibility, China is actively involved in the international fight against COVID-19, contributing its share to upholding global public health security. Going forward, we will continue to share our epidemic control practices as well as diagnostics and therapeutics with other countries, provide support and assistance to countries in need, ensure stable global anti-epidemic supply chains, and actively participate in the global research on tracing the source and transmission routes of the virus. At the moment, several COVID-19 vaccines developed by China are in Phase III clinical trials. When their development is completed and they are available for use, these vaccines will be made a global public good, and they will be provided to other developing countries on a priority basis.”
He then pitched some of his key agenda points, saying that the pandemic had underscored:
- The need for building a community with a shared future
- That economic globalization is an indisputable reality and a historical trend
- Saying yes to multilateralism and no to unilateralism
- The need for a green revolution and move faster to create a green way of development and life
Then he pledged that China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures, with the aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. This puts China in more closely in alignment with the European Union, in particular, which has pledged neutrality by 2050. Yet, this remark by Xi has stirred much debate. For instance, state media report that since signing the Paris Climate Accord in 2014, China has taken numerous measures, including adjusting industrial structures, optimizing energy mixes, improving energy efficiency, and promoting the construction of carbon markets. This means cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2060 is realistic. China does account for 30% of the world’s installed capacity of renewable energy. It is also going by on EVs. And there could be a boost now for nuclear energy in China. Yet, as Steven Lee Myers writes in NYT that while this is an impressive pledge, there’s some need for caution: “Coal consumption, which had declined from 2013 to 2017, driven in part by a push to improve China’s notorious air quality, began to rise again in recent years as the economy faced economic headwinds and the government sought to stimulate industrial growth. The rise was interrupted by the Covid-19 shutdown, but China’s economy is recovering more quickly than others. Research by Mr. Myllyvirta has shown that by May, carbon dioxide emissions from energy production, cement making and other industrial uses were 4 percent higher than the year before. China also granted more construction permits for coal-fired power plants in the first six months of 2020 than it had each year in 2018 and 2019.”
Back to Xi’s speech, in which he then went on to talk about differences between states. He said: “What’s important is to address them through dialogue and consultation. Countries may engage in competition, but such competition should be positive and healthy in nature. When in competition, countries should not breach the moral standard and should comply with international norms. In particular, major countries should act like major countries. They should provide more global public goods, take up their due responsibilities and live up to people’s expectations.”
And then this: “China is the largest developing country in the world, a country that is committed to peaceful, open, cooperative and common development. We will never seek hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence. We have no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot war with any country. We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation. We do not seek to develop only ourselves or engage in a zero-sum game.” This just sounds incredible given China’s actions not just in the neighbourhood but also with Australia.