Green Technology, Climate Change, and the U.S. and China

Posted by: Dexter Roberts on September 10, 2009

On the sidelines of the so-called “Summer Davos” meeting here in the coastal city of Dalian I had an interesting conversation earlier today with scholar Orville Schell (he now serves as director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at New York’s Asia Society.) The gist of his remarks: that the U.S.-China relationship has great potential to grow stronger, in particular by jointly fighting climate change, with the two countries together accounting for 40% of global greenhouse emissions. His center is in the process of updating a report on the topic for the Obama administration. “Sino-US relations are at an interesting tipping-point moment. There has been a lot of hard work done to stabilize relations even though the two countries are very different, with very different political systems obviously, and even could end up being antagonists.”

Schell warned that there is the real risk that the U.S. Congress will derail efforts by the two countries to cooperate, however. That prospect, even more alarmingly, could over time see the U.S. lose its edge when it comes to developing new green technologies including carbon sequestration, but also industries like electric vehicles and even alternative energy, he said. “The biggest roadblock to closer relations between the U.S. and China is the U.S. Congress. China because of its authoritarian government can both form, plan, and effect policy much more readily than the United States can. With Obama and his people—perhaps we’ve never had a more brilliant group—but they could run right into Congress,” he said. “The real contradiction is not between the U.S. and China. It is between the leadership in Beijing, the Obama administration, and the U.S. Congress.”

Meanwhile, U.S. fears about losing proprietary technology, although reasonable, could ultimately be damaging to the future of American technology, Schell said. “When it comes to building the green economy, the U.S. is paralyzed by a fear that our intellectual property will be stolen. But what instead may actually happen is that we will miss the chance to take it to China—and eventually they will get it somewhere else.”

“If the U.S. is going to have a dynamic future it has to be in concert with China in significant areas. Trade and climate change are two areas where we can’t escape each other,” Schell warned. Whether or not that cooperation happens, “China is moving very rapidly in a lot of areas that Americans blithely think they still own,” he said citing the fact that China has dozens of electric car companies, leads the world in wind turbine production, and makes much of the world’s solar photovoltaic cells. “The opportunity now is to collaborate. Later, it will be to be eaten.”

Reader Comments

Stone

September 10, 2009 10:54 AM

We have no leaders of meaning in the United State anymore. Their density of ego is too heavy to be moved or see the bigger picture. If you want to see the me generation, just look at Congress.

O' bama

September 10, 2009 11:51 AM

US and China should learn to live in a more harmonious world.

nmm

September 10, 2009 11:59 AM

I'll bet the folks at Airbus would disagree with your assertion of the transfer of technology. Google Comac c919

Zak

September 10, 2009 12:46 PM

What utter nonsense. China's apparent rise is nothing more than a transfer of technilogical knowledge and capital. Setting up shop in China only makes it more difficult to compete with them. Not only that, the US needs to focus on PRODUCING high end products (electronics) again. Outsourcing to China (who we know is notorious for stealing IP---that's the reason the fear exists in the first place!) is no solution to the US's problems (trade deficit, etc..). Let's get real here!

Jonathan M. Feldman

September 10, 2009 7:08 PM

Sure the U.S. could cooperate with China and should cooperate (to a certain extent) rather than trying to engage in an arms race with China (as some advocate). But cooperate how and on what terms? Here is where things get confusing.

It's not just that China is authoritarian. Honestly, there is a governance problem in the U.S. Congress which makes its decisions diverge from popular opinion and registered preferences. The Congress has done nothing to oppose and has actually accelerated de-industrialization, weakening the ability of the U.S. to sustain industries that compete internationally. The U.S. lacks the basic infrastructure to exploit any technology sharing with China, lacks the co-partnership framework for extracting concessions for cooperation developed by the Chinese and other nations, lacks the capital investment banks necessary to promote innovation systematically, often lacks the systems integrators sufficiently loyal to domestic markets who could back the ideas we might gain from the Chinese,etc. Let's look at GE and IBM, the former is promoting a new production facility in Latin America for trains (or was planning to) and the later supporting this in China. Are they doing this in the U.S. (opening new production plans for trains related to the mass transit market)? Not to my knowledge. There you have the nub of the problem, the failure to properly develop industrial policies, a word which some economists don't even want to use.

Jonathan M. Feldman

September 10, 2009 7:08 PM

Sure the U.S. could cooperate with China and should cooperate (to a certain extent) rather than trying to engage in an arms race with China (as some advocate). But cooperate how and on what terms? Here is where things get confusing.

It's not just that China is authoritarian. Honestly, there is a governance problem in the U.S. Congress which makes its decisions diverge from popular opinion and registered preferences. The Congress has done nothing to oppose and has actually accelerated de-industrialization, weakening the ability of the U.S. to sustain industries that compete internationally. The U.S. lacks the basic infrastructure to exploit any technology sharing with China, lacks the co-partnership framework for extracting concessions for cooperation developed by the Chinese and other nations, lacks the capital investment banks necessary to promote innovation systematically, often lacks the systems integrators sufficiently loyal to domestic markets who could back the ideas we might gain from the Chinese,etc. Let's look at GE and IBM, the former is promoting a new production facility in Latin America for trains (or was planning to) and the later supporting this in China. Are they doing this in the U.S. (opening new production plans for trains related to the mass transit market)? Not to my knowledge. There you have the nub of the problem, the failure to properly develop industrial policies, a word which some economists don't even want to use.

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