Monday, July 30, 2007

US-China relations: Paulson Eyes Debate Shift to Environment

For Europe and the rest of the world it must seem strange that the US has now decided to bring the environment into the picture as a way of "reducing tensions". Those NGOs and governments that have spent years attempting to get the US government to get its own house in order cannot fail to see the irony of the US now (indirectly) lecturing China on its environmental record.

Paulson's argument is that there is so much tension relating to the trade negotiations why not start with something that concerns both countries - the environment. The idea is that there is "less" tension surrounding this subject. I can see that situation changing quite rapidly.

The fact that neither country signed up to Kyoto does, I suppose, give them some common ground. China's defence as always will be:

1. China's per capita CO2 emissions are way way below those of the US.
2. Any climate change happening now was a result of Western industrialisation and not the current Chinese growth.
3. Why should China not be allowed to grow as the West did?
4. A good percentage of China's pollution is a result of producing goods to sell in the West - meaning the West has effectively exported its pollution to China either directly (via foreign Multinational) or indirectly.

In China, Paulson Eyes Debate Shift to Environment [PlantetArk]
XINING - US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Sunday acknowledged high trade tensions with China and said he would start a four-day visit by focusing on an issue with more common ground: the environment.

Aiming to keep his strategic economic dialogue with China on track amid controversies over Chinese product and food safety and currency legislation gaining momentum in the US Congress, Paulson will visit Qinghai lake in western China on Monday before meeting President Hu Jintao and Vice Premier Wu Yi on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The lake and surrounding glacial watershed are threatened by global warming and encroaching desert, with Paulson saying the area was a strong symbol of the need for US-China cooperation on environmental issues.

"There is much more tension in the trade area, so this is an important area where there is less tension and I think it's a good place to start this trip," Paulson told reporters on his plane on the way to China.

He said he would again press Hu and other top officials for faster appreciation of China's yuan currency and other reforms, such as moves to rebalance the Chinese economy away from exports and toward more domestic consumption and to increase foreign access to China's financial services sector.

Paulson's visit comes as US lawmakers, frustrated with slow progress in reducing US trade deficits with China, are advancing legislation aimed at pressuring Beijing to allow open markets to set the yuan's value.

The US Senate Finance Committee last week passed a bill that would allow companies to seek anti-dumping duties against products from countries that have "fundamentally misaligned" currencies and eventually intervention by the Federal Reserve.

Many US lawmakers and manufacturers believe the yuan is deliberately undervalued by 25 to 40 percent, keeping Chinese products cheap in US consumer markets. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, a Republican, said the bill would end the Bush administration's "pussyfooting" over the currency issue.


Paulson sought to rebut criticism that the strategic dialogue with China, launched in December 2006 to link top officials, had achieved little so far, citing a more than 9 percent appreciation in the yuan against the dollar since July 2005 and increased access to China for US airlines.

"We are getting results through this process we wouldn't have achieved without it," he said.

But he reiterated that the Chinese needed to allow the yuan to appreciate more quickly and said tensions over trade and currencies were likely to continue, adding that the dialogue "wouldn't make the problems go away."

Chinese officials "may not be pleased" about the US currency legislation but should not be surprised after receiving warnings from lawmakers since the last dialogue meeting in May, Paulson said.

Environmental and energy issues were among the most productive areas of the May meeting. The two sides agreed to further talks on eliminating tariffs on environmental goods and services and announced clean coal technology projects.

China's booming economy has put a severe strain on its environment, with air and water pollution reaching critical levels in heavily populated areas and sparking protests.

China is expected to soon overtake the United States as the world's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Neither country has signed the Kyoto protocols for reducing carbon emissions, although US President George W. Bush is trying to form his own coalition of the 15 largest carbon emitters among industrialized and developing countries.

Paulson said "air and water don't know national boundaries" and added that he believes Hu wants to address China's environmental problems.

In Qinghai province, Paulson saw an opportunity to keep the dialogue going on the environmental front in the hopes of solidifying his relationship with Chinese officials.

"Do I think that working together on the environment is going to make it easier to work together on the currency and other things? Not necessarily," Paulson said.

"What's important to making progress on all of them is building the relationships, the trust that lets us manage our discussions, a respectful and a mature and a professional manner to keep the relationship on an even keel."

Paulson said the Qinghai lake region illustrated the problems of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change because rising temperatures are causing the lake to shrink and glaciers to melt, which could threaten the source of several major rivers in Asia.

Story by David Lawder

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