The Wall Street Journal reports that China has become the world’s top enery user, surpassing the United States. China has already passed the U.S. in overall greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time China is reluctant to accept its status as a economic and polluting powerhouse.
Let me start out by stating that the United States has failed in its leadership to develop international climate change policy. And the Chinese government and Chinese scholars often point this out. At the same time, China, in some sense, has not been willing to accept its role as a global leader. At a Roundtable discusion in China that I participated in with Chinese scholars, it was clear that, for strategic purposes, China wants to be seen as the leader of the developing world (i.e., the king of the BASIC countries-Brazil, South Africa, India, China), but, at least on the environmental front, does not want to have the same level of responsibility as the developed world especially the U.S. The problem is that on other accounts China deeply desires to a be superpower–see, e.g., Olympics, World Expo, UN Security Council. The question is whether China’s dramatic rise comes with more responsiblity. This concern might be why my Chinese colleagues and students often downplayed or denied that China is overtaking Japan as world’s second largest economy.
(Note: There is a large cultural aspect to this as well in terms of comfort level with accepting and announcing one’s own success, and choosing to impose one’s value systems on others. Chinese and U.S. citizens and foreign policy are culturally different in this way.)