President Xi Jinping’s speech during general debate in the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 21 is notable for highlighting China’s sincerity and its new messages in addressing the problems facing the world today.
By sincerity, I mean the sincerity to take responsibility and seek cooperation. Xi’s speech began with a statement of China’s respect for the United Nations. He considers the UN as the central platform for countries to jointly safeguard universal security, share development achievements and chart a course for the future of the world. He stressed that China will continue to actively promote cooperation with the UN and resolutely fulfill the mission it entrusted to China. To this end, he positioned China as a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, a defender of the international order and a provider of public good.
Sincerity was also expressed with respect to the current struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Xi emphasized the need to deliver vaccines for the benefit of all and to ensure accessibility and affordability in developing countries. He stated, “Of pressing priority is to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines globally. China will strive to provide a total of 2 billion doses of vaccines to the world by the end of this year. In addition to donating $100 million to COVAX, China will donate 100 million doses of vaccines to other developing countries in the course of this year.”
Reflecting China’s sincerity in seeking cooperation, Xi proposed to “increase input in development” and prioritize cooperation on poverty alleviation, food security, COVID-19 response, vaccines, development financing, climate change, green development, industrialization, digital economy and connectivity, among other areas, and to “accelerate implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to build a global community of development with a shared future.”
He committed China to an additional $3 billion of international assistance in the next three years “to support developing countries in responding to COVID-19 and promoting economic and social recovery.”
Xi also sincerely stated: “Differences and problems among countries, hardly avoidable, need to be handled through dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect… The world is big enough to accommodate the common development and progress of all countries.” He urged all to expand the convergence of their interests and achieve the most synergy possible.
A Financial Times article on Sept. 21 — “Climate change is a common enemy the U.S. and China must fight together” — addressed the issue of China-U.S. cooperation. It said the two countries lead international locations on the local weather front line and so it’s in their self-interest to collaborate. But a state of mutual mistrust means they’re failing to confront an enemy that is overwhelming their defenses.
Xi’s new and concrete ideas were a key focus of attention in the speech. “China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” he said. “This requires tremendous hard work, and we will make every effort to meet these goals. China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.”
U.S. Climate Commissioner John Kerry welcomed the latter promise as a “great contribution.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also thanked China for its efforts. A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment gave it a “very, very positive” assessment.
Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said: “China’s commitment shows that international public funding is cutting off coal.” She added that "this is a historic turning point.”
Boston University professor Kevin P. Gallagher said China should be commended for committing to no new offshore coal-fired power projects, noting that it is the first developing country to make that commitment and the last major funder of public funding for overseas coal projects.
It is well-known that fossil fuel pollution has serious consequences. According to a Sept. 21 article on the Financial Times website, fossil fuel pollution kills 8 million people each year, causes billions of dollars in damage and destroys our natural world.
Before Xi’s speech, China’s overseas investment in coal power has been declining, and its investment in renewable energy has been increasing. Last year, its overseas investment in renewable energy, including solar, wind and hydropower, reached 57 percent of total overseas energy investment, far exceeding the investment in coal power. In February this year, the Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh said that China would no longer consider continued investment in coal mining, coal-fired power plants and other such projects in Bangladesh.
In addition, according to Bloomberg, a year ago Chinese leaders surprised world by promising to achieve carbon neutrality in China before 2060. In the first half of this year, China’s overseas development projects under the Belt and Road Initiative provided no funding for coal projects. “This is a major step forward,” said Manish Bapna, president of the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council. “This opens the door to bolder climate ambitions from China and other key countries, at home and abroad.”
It should be acknowledged that the price China has paid for all this is enormous. According to estimates by U.S. think tanks, the aftermath of the Chinese move would mean the evaporation of more than $50 billion in investment in the sector and the reduction of 200 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The cost is great but the benefits are equally attractive.