Under President Donald Trump, the United States has seen an impressive run of climate change denial. The rollback of signature climate and environmental initiatives, including Trump’s abrogation of the Paris Climate accord, unsettles those who think scientific and economic consensus should guide policy. Many Americans take a clean environment for granted, ignoring its origins in sound science and responsive policy.
At the same time, China is taking a page from the US playbook – our research shows that China is making independently verifiable progress in reducing sulfur dioxide from coal power plants – and this is good news for the world. Meanwhile, the US has signaled its indifference and even disdain for global environmental progress. How much should we worry?
We focus on recent trends in environmental policy by the two biggest national players: the US and China. Here, the US and China are moving in opposite directions. We argue China’s improved policies are real and, moreover, more newsworthy and significant than the US retrenchment insofar as global emissions are concerned.
GUANGZHOU, China — Earlier this month, Jack Ma announced that he was stepping down as executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the world’s largest e-commerce company. His decision caught many by surprise. At an economic forum in Russia, President Vladimir V. Putin reportedly asked him, “You are still so young. Why are you retiring?”
Maybe Mr. Ma, 54, knows something that Mr. Putin does not. Two of the three forces, globalization and marketization, that have propelled Alibaba to its current $500 billion valuation are dissipating. The third force, technology, is mired in the trade war between China and the United States, and its prospects in China are now uncertain.
Alibaba didn’t just transform e-commerce in China; it transformed the entire economy by helping build up the private sector. Mr. Ma’s departure from the company now — though he claims to have been planning it for a while — adds to a gathering sense that China’s private sector, the engine of the economy, is losing steam — and faith.
Alibaba is China’s globalization story par excellence. Founded in 1999, the company created a website that allowed people outside China to buy directly from Chinese exporters. At that time, China was opening up but foreign buyers were hampered by their lack of knowledge of Chinese suppliers. Alibaba set up a program called TrustPass, allowing third parties to verify the quality and trustworthiness of Chinese suppliers. This system enabled foreign buyers to bypass the slow and often bureaucratic state-owned intermediaries that typically performed verification, and it eased Chinese companies’ access to the global marketplace.
Alibaba also tapped international capital markets. The company’s founders hailed from modest backgrounds and had little capital, but they benefited from liberal policies that China had put in place as it was negotiating to join the World Trade Organization (which it did join, in 2001). During the company’s early years, its leaders turned to foreign suppliers of capital, such as Goldman Sachs, SoftBank and Fidelity Investments. Later on, Yahoo also provided funding.
In the early 2000s, Alibaba structured its investment arrangements via what are known as “variable interest entities.” V.I.E.s are intermediary structures in which foreign firms can invest to acquire contractual rights over revenues generated by Alibaba. They were an innovative solution to help foreigners navigate China’s murky legal system while bringing critical financing to Chinese high-tech entrepreneurs.
But today globalization is under assault. The Chinese government is enforcing more strictly regulations over V.I.E.s that it had long ignored, creating uncertainty for foreign investors. And the trade war between the United States and China is disrupting Chinese exports, threatening the supply chains of which Alibaba is an integral component.
Alibaba has elevated China’s private entrepreneurs in another way: by providing direct financing to them. China has a massive banking system, but it is almost entirely organized to support the less efficient state-owned enterprises, leaving China’s dynamic private sector chronically short of capital and credit. Alibaba, through its financing operations, has stepped in to provide much-needed capital, especially to China’s very small businesses.
The burgeoning trade war between the United States and China has as much to do with technology as with the balance of trade. Reports have surfaced that the Treasury Department is drafting rules to block Chinese firms from investing in American companies doing business in so-called industrially significant technology, while the Commerce Department is planning new export controls to keep such technologies out of Chinese hands.
These moves follow President Donald Trump’s proposal to impose tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese products, many of which are on the priority list for “Made in China 2025,” President Xi Jinping’s blueprint to transform China into a global leader in high-tech industries like aerospace, robotics, pharmaceuticals, and machinery. Although the Chinese government has refused to modify its initiative, the U.S. is demanding that China end all government subsidies and grants under the program. Trade talks have stumbled on this point.
America’s concern with Made in China 2025 is understandable; China’s approach to technology development has been controversial, to say the least.But there are better ways to respond to China’s policies. Two ways, to be precise. Read More »
China has achieved much since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping initiated the transition to a market economy. In terms of headline economic progress, the pace of China’s transformation over the past 40 years is unprecedented. The country’s GDP grew by nearly 10% per year on average, while reshaping global trade patterns and becoming the second-largest economy in the world. This success lifted 800 million people out of poverty, and the mortality rate of children under five years old was halved between 2006 and 2015.
The question now is whether China, well positioned to become the world’s innovation leader, will realize that opportunity in 2018 or soon after.
China’s transformation has been underpinned by an unprecedented manufacturing boom. In 2016, China shipped more than $2 trillion worth of goods around the world, 13% of total global exports. It has also pursued economic modernization through massive infrastructure investment, including bridges, airports, roads, energy, and telecoms. In less than a decade, China built the world’s largest bullet train system, surpassing 22,000 kilometers (13,670 miles) in July 2017. Annual consumption is expected to rise by nearly $2 trillion by 2021, equivalent to adding another consumer market the size of Germany to the global economy.
Earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared that, “China stopped being a low-labor-cost country many years ago, and that is not the reason to come to China.” The country’s manufacturing strengths now lie in its advanced production know-how and strong supply-chain networks. Understandably, China’s leadership wants to increase productivity and continue to move further up the value chain.
China is the only country with the power to compel North Korea to change its nuclear policy. Convincing Chinese leaders to wield that power, by fully isolating the regime economically, must be the international community’s top priority.
Last week, in a brazen rebuff to tough new United Nations sanctions, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime fired a ballistic missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido – its second launch over Japan in less than three weeks. But, far from indicating that sanctions don’t work, Kim’s move shows that they still aren’t tough enough.
The latest sanctions cap oil imports, ban textile exports, and penalize designated North Korean government entities. Following Kim’s response, sanctions should be tightened even further, to stop all trade with North Korea, including halting all fuel imports.
North Korea is one of the most insular countries in the world. That insularity is a curse for the long-suffering North Korean people, but an advantage for a sanction-based strategy, because only one country is needed to make it work: China.
From an economic perspective, China is the only country that really matters to North Korea, as it controls about 90% of the North’s foreign trade and supplies almost all of its fuel. Yet China’s economy would barely register the effect of new sanctions: North Korea’s annual GDP, at a meager $28 billion, constitutes little more than a rounding error for its giant neighbor.