Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Don't Forget the Polar Bears Daddy

Energy dominates “strategic” part of US-China

In the hopes of salvaging bi-lateral cooperative goodwill, energy and the environment have taken the front seat in this year’s US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). What remains to be seen is if the Obama Administration will use this avenue as mere lip-service to the ailing “G-2” partnership, or as fresh inroads to resolving issues in the region and in bi-lateral trade.

Half of the 26 specific outcomes of the strategic track following the two-day high-level exchange focused on energy or environmental cooperation, most announcing progress on last November’s agreements.

The disappointments, on the other hand, are many:

Days after an international panel determined that North Korea is responsible for the March 26th sinking of the South Korean navy ship Cheonan, Chinese officials carefully avoided any mention of the incident during the talks. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the Chinese time for “careful consideration” – avoiding stronger tones she has taken in the past, i.e., on internet censorship

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made little headway on bi-lateral sticking points, backtracking in his concluding remarks that currency reform is “of course China’s choice.” Furthermore, China’s commitment to resolve WTO disputes is still at the “basic principles” stage.

What both sides touted as a forum for a range of global issues now seems relegated to important yet benign agreements on joint research centers and educational exchanges.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s arrival this week in Beijing to kick off the US-China Renewable Energy Forum and US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke’s clean energy trade mission last week indicate that other avenues of rapprochement might work better.

The joint statement on energy security cooperation following the dialogue reiterated the G-20 agenda and reaffirmed agreements on clean energy and energy efficiency.

However, as I suggested recently regarding the security implications of climate change, energy and environment present many opportunities for broader cooperation between the two countries. Orchestrating joint disaster relief exercises would resurrect military exchanges that could help to prevent an escalation on the Korean peninsula. Furthermore, the US Armed Services and the People’s Liberation Army support some of the most advanced scientific research programs in their respective countries.

Harnessing the “strategic” relationship will require a fresh look at the key security drivers of the Asia-Pacific region and progressively more engagement on the key economic driver: energy.

Michael Davidson
APP Visiting Fellow

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