Trump Hands the Chinese a Gift: The Chance for Global Leadership

By DAVID E. SANGER and JANE PERLEZ   – The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump has managed to turn America First into America Isolated.

In pulling out of the Paris climate accord, Mr. Trump has created a vacuum of global leadership that presents ripe opportunities to allies and adversaries alike to reorder the world’s power structure. His decision is perhaps the greatest strategic gift to the Chinese, who are eager to fill the void that Washington is leaving around the world on everything from setting the rules of trade and environmental standards to financing the infrastructure projects that give Beijing vast influence.

Mr. Trump’s remarks in the Rose Garden on Thursday were also a retreat from leadership on the one issue, climate change, that unified America’s European allies, its rising superpower competitor in the Pacific, and even some of its adversaries, including Iran. He did it over the objections of much of the American business community and his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, who embraced the Paris accord when he ran Exxon Mobil, less out of a sense of moral responsibility and more as part of the new price of doing business around the world.

As Mr. Trump announced his decision, the Paris agreement’s goals were conspicuously reaffirmed by friends and rivals alike, including nations where it would have the most impact, like China and India, as well as the major European Union states and Russia.

The announcement came only days after he declined to give his NATO allies a forceful reaffirmation of America’s commitment to their security, and a few months after he abandoned a trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that was designed to put the United States at the center of a trade group that would compete with — and, some argue, contain — China’s fast-growing economic might.

“The irony here is that people worried that Trump would come in and make the world safe for Russian meddling,” said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was briefly considered, then rejected, for a top post in the new administration. “He may yet do that,” Mr. Haass added, “but he has certainly made the world safe for Chinese influence.”

The president, and his defenders, argue that such views are held by an elite group of globalists who have lost sight of the essential element of American power: economic growth. Mr. Trump made that argument explicitly in the Rose Garden with his contention that the Paris accord amounted to nothing more than “a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries.”

In short, he turned the concept of the agreement on its head. While President Barack Obama argued that the United Nations Green Climate Fund — a financial institution to help poorer nations combat the effects of climate change — would benefit the world, Mr. Trump argued that the American donations to the fund, which he halted, would beggar the country.

“Our withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of America’s sovereignty,” Mr. Trump said.

That, in short, encapsulates how Mr. Trump’s view of preserving American power differs from all of his predecessors, back to President Harry S. Truman. His proposed cuts to contributions to the United Nations and to American foreign aid are based on a presumption that only economic and military power count. “Soft power” — investments in alliances and broader global projects — are, in his view, designed to drain influence, not add to it, evident in the fact that he did not include the State Department among the agencies that are central to national security, and thus require budget increases.

It will take years to determine the long-term effects of his decision to abandon the Paris agreement, to the environment and to the global order. It will not break alliances: Europe is hardly about to embrace a broken, corrupt Russia, and China’s neighbors are simultaneously drawn to its immense wealth and repelled by its self-interested ambitions.

But Mr. Trump has added to the arguments of leaders around the world that it is time to rebalance their portfolios by effectively selling some of their stock in Washington. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has already announced her plan to hedge her bets, declaring last weekend after meeting Mr. Trump that she had realized “the times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over.”

That may be temporary: It is still possible that Mr. Trump’s announcement on Thursday will amount to a blip in history, a withdrawal that takes so long — four years — that it could be reversed after the next presidential election. But for now it leaves the United States declaring that it is better outside the accord than in, a position that, besides America, has so far only been taken by Syria and Nicaragua. (Syria did not sign on because it is locked in civil war, Nicaragua because it believes the world’s richest nations did not sacrifice enough.)

But it is the relative power balance with China that absorbs anyone who studies the dance of great powers. Even before Mr. Trump’s announcement, President Xi Jinping had figured out how to embrace the rhetoric, if not the substance, of global leadership.

Mr. Xi is no free trader, and his nation has overtaken the United States as the greatest emitter of carbon by a factor of two. Only three years ago, it was a deal between Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi that laid the groundwork for what became the broader Paris agreement.

Yet for months the Chinese president has been stepping unto the breach, including giving speeches at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that made it sound like China alone was ready to adopt the role of global standard-setter that Washington has occupied since the end of World War II.

“What the Paris accord represented, in a fractured world, was finally some international consensus, led by two big polluters, China and the United States, on a common course of action,” said Graham T. Allison, the author of a new book, “Destined For War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”

“What you’d expect us to do is sustain our position by maintaining our most important relationship around the world and address what the citizens of our allies consider their most important problems: economic growth and an environment that sustains their children and grandchildren,’’ he added. “Instead, we are absenting the field.”

That sentiment was evident on Thursday in Berlin. Just hours before Mr. Trump spoke, China’s premier, Li Keqiang, stood alongside Ms. Merkel, and used careful words as he described China as a champion of the accord. China believed that fighting climate change was an “international responsibility,” Mr. Li said, the kind of declaration that American diplomats have made for years when making the case to combat terrorism or nuclear proliferation or hunger.

China has long viewed the possibility of a partnership with Europe as a balancing strategy against the United States. Now, with Mr. Trump questioning the basis of NATO, the Chinese are hoping that their partnership with Europe on the climate accord may allow that relationship to come to fruition faster than their grand strategy imagined.

Naturally, the Chinese are using the biggest weapon in their quiver: Money. Their plan, known as “One Belt, One Road,” is meant to buy China influence from Ethiopia to Britain, from Malaysia to Hungary, all the while refashioning the global economic order.

Mr. Xi announced the sweeping initiative last month, envisioning spending $1 trillion on huge infrastructure projects across Africa, Asia and Europe. It is a plan with echoes of the Marshall Plan and other American efforts at aid and investment, but on a scale with little precedent in modern history. And the clear subtext is that it is past time to toss out the rules of aging, American-dominated international institutions, and to conduct commerce on China’s terms.——————————————————————————————–

David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Jane Perlez from Beijing. Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Paris, and Somini Sengupta from the United Nations.


Annex 1:

Trump Gratuitously Rejects the Paris Climate Accord

Paul Krugman – The New York Times

As Donald Trump does his best to destroy the world’s hopes of reining in climate change, let’s be clear about one thing: This has nothing to do with serving America’s national interest. The U.S. economy, in particular, would do just fine under the Paris accord. This isn’t about nationalism; mainly, it’s about sheer spite.

About the economics: At this point, I think, we have a pretty good idea of what a low-emissions economy would look like. I’m sure that energy experts will disagree on the details, but the broad outline isn’t hard to describe.

Clearly, it would be an economy running on electricity — electric cars, electric heat, with internal combustion engines rare. The bulk of that electricity would, in turn, come from nonpolluting sources: wind, solar and, yes, probably nuclear.

Of course, sometimes the wind doesn’t blow or the sun shine when people want power. But there are multiple ways to deal with that issue: a robust grid that can ship electricity to where it’s needed; storage of various forms (batteries, but also maybe things like pumped hydro); dynamic pricing that encourages customers to use less power when it’s scarce and more when it isn’t; and some surge capacity — probably from relatively low-emission natural-gas-fired generators — to cope with whatever mismatch remains.

What would life in an economy that made such an energy transition be like? Almost indistinguishable from life in the economy we have now.

People would still drive cars, live in houses that were heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, and watch videos about superheroes and funny cats. There would be a lot of wind turbines and solar panels, but most of us would ignore them the same way we currently ignore the smokestacks of conventional power plants.

Wouldn’t energy be more expensive in this alternative economy? Probably, but not by much: Technological progress in solar and wind has drastically reduced their cost, and it looks as if the same thing is starting to happen with energy storage.

Meanwhile, there would be compensating benefits. Notably, the adverse health effects of air pollution would be greatly reduced, and it’s quite possible that lower health care costs would all by themselves make up for the costs of energy transition, even ignoring the whole saving-civilization-from-catastrophic-climate-change thing.

The point is that while tackling climate change in the way envisaged by the Paris accord used to look like a hard engineering and economic problem, these days it looks fairly easy. We have almost all the technology we need, and can be quite confident of developing the rest. Obviously the transition to a low-emissions economy, the phasing out of fossil fuels, would take time, but that would be O.K. as long as the path was clear.

Why, then, are so many people on the right determined to block climate action, and even trying to sabotage the progress we’ve been making on new energy sources?

Don’t tell me that they’re honestly worried about the inherent uncertainty of climate projections. All long-term policy choices must be made in the face of an uncertain future (duh); there’s as much scientific consensus here as you’re ever likely to see on any issue. And in this case, uncertainty arguably strengthens the case for action, because the costs of getting it wrong are asymmetric: Do too much, and we’ve wasted some money; do too little, and we’ve doomed civilization.

Don’t tell me that it’s about coal miners. Anyone who really cared about those miners would be crusading to protect their health, disability and pension benefits, and trying to provide alternative employment opportunities — not pretending that environmental irresponsibility will somehow bring back jobs lost to strip mining and mountaintop removal.

While it isn’t about coal jobs, right-wing anti-environmentalism is in part about protecting the profits of the coal industry, which in 2016 gave 97 percent of its political contributions to Republicans.

As I said, however, these days the fight against climate action is largely driven by sheer spite.

Pay any attention to modern right-wing discourse — including op-ed articles by top Trump officials — and you find deep hostility to any notion that some problems require collective action beyond shooting people and blowing things up.

Beyond this, much of today’s right seems driven above all by animus toward liberals rather than specific issues. If liberals are for it, they’re against it. If liberals hate it, it’s good. Add to this the anti-intellectualism of the G.O.P. base, for whom scientific consensus on an issue is a minus, not a plus, with extra bonus points for undermining anything associated with President Barack Obama.

And if all this sounds too petty and vindictive to be the basis for momentous policy decisions, consider the character of the man in the White House. Need I say more?


Annex 2:

Trump, Prioritizing Economy Over Climate, Cites Disputed Premises


WASHINGTON — In making his case for abandoning the Paris climate accord, President Trump characterized the agreement as an economic straitjacket — one that would impose terrible burdens on Americans by shuttering the coal industry, suffocating growth and redistributing jobs and wealth from the United States to its competitors.

One thing Mr. Trump did not do in the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon was question the underlying science behind climate change. Indeed, the president suggested the 194-nation accord did not go far enough in stemming the rise in global temperatures because of greenhouse gas emissions.

But the president’s address — a mix of dry statistics and emotive language — was designed to discredit the pact, point by point. And several of Mr. Trump’s claims either relied on dubious data or distorted research reports.

Mr. Trump’s argument started with a faulty premise — that emissions reductions under the Paris agreement are compulsory — even though at one point he acknowledged they were voluntary.

“The United States,” he said, “will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

The president referred to a published study to claim that the climate pact would result in “as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” of which 440,000 would be in manufacturing. By 2040, he said, the losses would balloon to 6.5 million industrial jobs, or $3 trillion in lost economic output, or about $7,000 in reduced income for the average household.

Critics dispute the methodology of that study, by the National Economic Research Associates. They note that it was conducted for the American Council for Capital Formation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — both vocal opponents of climate regulations.

Economists argue that the projected job losses in the study assume the American economy will not use innovation to adapt to the new regulations. Apple, Mars, and Unilever are among companies that have said complying with the Paris agreement would open markets and generate jobs.

A raft of studies — from environmental organizations, Citibank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — argue that a failure to mitigate the effects of climate change could cost the economy trillions of dollars.

“China and Europe have become world leaders on the path toward green development already,” said Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “and will strengthen their position if the U.S. slips back at the national level.”

To dramatize the unfairness of the agreement, Mr. Trump asserted that it allows China, the world’s largest polluter, “to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years — 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years.”

Under China’s pledge, emissions would indeed continue to climb until 2030, and then begin declining. But as its consumption of coal slows, China is on pace to beat that target.

Its government has pledged to generate 20 percent of its energy from nonfossil fuel sources by 2030, a formidable goal that will require the Chinese to install at least 800 gigawatts worth of solar, wind and nuclear energy capacity — a process that is already underway.

Mr. Trump noted that the pact would allow China and India to build more coal plants, while effectively shutting down development of a clean coal industry in the United States.

“The agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs,” the president said. “It just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States, and ships them to foreign countries.”

Because the Paris accord is nonbinding, it has no direct effect on coal consumption in the United States. The coal industry is in long-term decline because of cheaper alternatives, such as natural gas and renewable energies, along with stricter pollution standards imposed by the Obama administration. Mr. Trump has moved to lift many of those restrictions, and he would be free to do so, even under the Paris agreement.

Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn, acknowledged the declining role played by coal in the nation’s energy mix. Speaking to reporters last week, he said, “Coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock.”

Mr. Trump tried to diminish the value of the accord by citing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, which said that if each nation lived up to its commitments, it would result in a reduction of only two-tenths of a degree Celsius in global temperatures by 2100.

“Tiny, tiny amount,” he said, holding his thumb and index finger together to drive home the point.

But that assertion does not accurately reflect the M.I.T. research.

The M.I.T. study in question looked at the difference between climate pledges made at previous talks and those made in the run-up to Paris, and it found that the Paris pledges would avoid an additional 0.2 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.

But the M.I.T. researchers also looked at the difference between all of the climate pledges made to date and a business-as-usual scenario in which countries failed to act. In an updated 2016 analysis, they found that current climate pledges would result in global average temperatures rising between 2.7 and 3.6 degrees by the end of the century, compared with between 3.3 and 4.7 degrees if no action were taken, a difference of nearly a degree. And the aim of the Paris agreement was to improve those pledges over time.

Mr. Trump saved particular vitriol for the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program under which richer countries transfer funds to poorer ones to help them mitigate the effects of climate change.

“Nice name,” he said, adding, “We’re going to be paying billions and billions and billions of dollars, and we’re already way ahead of anybody else. Many of the other countries haven’t spent anything, and many of them will never pay one dime.”

The United States has pledged $3 billion to the fund, which is the most of any country in aggregate terms. But it is far from the only contributor, and on a per-capita basis, it is not the highest. Sweden has contributed $581 million, which works out to a little less than $60 per person, six times the amount the United States is pledging per capita.

Even operating outside the Paris accord, Mr. Trump insisted that the United States would be an environmental exemplar. “We’ll be the cleanest,” he promised. “We’re going to have the cleanest air. We’re going to have the cleanest water.”

That optimistic statement is contradicted by Yale University’s latest annual Environmental Performance Index.

The United States ranked 26th of 180 countries, according to the index, which assesses each nation’s water and air quality, biodiversity, agricultural outputs and climate change efforts. It ranked 43rd in air quality, 22nd in water sanitation, and 44th in climate and energy policies.

Moreover, even after recent reductions, America’s carbon emissions per capita remain significantly higher than those of China or India — countries that Mr. Trump branded as the world’s big polluters.

A version of this news analysis appears in print on June 2, 2017, on Page A1


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