Will China’s move against coal-fired power improve its image in the EU? | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW

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The Chinese government made the surprise announcement last week that it would stop building coal-fired power plants abroad, a move that could put it on the good books of the increasingly concerned European Union. ‘environment.

The pledge was made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a pre-recorded speech to the United Nations General Assembly, although he gave few details and questions remain as to whether he meant China would stop funding coal-fired power plants abroad or simply stop building them, a much less impressive commitment. .

South Korea and Japan said earlier this year they would stop funding overseas coal-fired power plants, and along with China, the three Asian countries account for 95% of all foreign funding for power plants. coal in the world, according to a Georgetown University report. .

In the past, Beijing had pledged to stop coal production by 2030, but last year it commissioned 38.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired electricity, three times the rest of the world.

EU-China tensions

Beijing’s seemingly eco-friendly pledge could mend some bridges between China and the EU, analysts say. Relations have deteriorated since early 2020 due to China’s human rights record, its actions during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its further foreign policy goals. more assertive.

Tensions peaked in March this year when the EU imposed economic sanctions on four Chinese officials in Xinjiang province, where Communist authorities are accused of massive human rights violations against the Muslim Uyghur population.

A few hours later, Beijing reacted by sanctioning several European politicians and regional think tanks.

In the process, the European Commission suspended the ratification of an investment pact that the EU controversially concluded with China last December.

“Since the collapse of the EU-China investment deal earlier this year, European officials have desperately sought ways to reconnect with Beijing,” said Noah Barkin, Europe-China expert at US research group Rhodium.

“Xi’s commitment to coal will reinforce the idea that the climate is an area where cooperation is still possible,” he added.

However, it is still unclear whether China has made a commitment to stop funding the construction of coal-fired power plants abroad or simply to stop building them abroad.

Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, dodged the question at a press conference last week, pointing reporters to President Xi’s statement that Beijing “will not build new electricity projects. coal abroad “.

But comments made by senior EU officials would suggest they believe Xi meant funding. “Excellent news … that China is joining the EU and others in ending coal funding overseas,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans tweeted on September 22.

China’s impact on the environment is “fruit within reach”

Yet what the Beijing announcement means for EU-China relations is unclear.

“The devil is in the details,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund. If China stops funding coal-fired power plants through its Belt and Road Initiative, a multibillion-dollar global investment plan, it “will be welcomed” by the EU, Glaser said.

“But that will not eliminate European concerns about many other issues such as human rights and China’s predatory trade policies,” she added.

This decision could, however, improve Beijing’s image among the European public. China’s impact on the global environment is one of the issues most negatively perceived by ordinary Europeans, whose views on China have also deteriorated since early 2020, according to a Sinophone opinion poll Borderlands, a project of Palacky University in Olomouc in the Czech Republic. .

Richard Q. Turcsanyi, who is the principal investigator of the survey released this year, described China’s engagement as a tactical and smart move.

“There are many other aspects of China’s interactions with the EU that are viewed negatively, such as human rights and governance. Obviously, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not want to address these things. “, did he declare.

However, China’s impact on the global environment is a “handy fruit” that does not impact the CCP’s political position in the country but has the potential to improve its reputation in the country. foreigner, he added.

Growing environmental demands

The EU is increasingly raising its environmental demands not only for its own regional agenda, but also for its cooperation with the rest of the world.

Funds for member states now come with more strings attached on green policies, while the EU also plans to revise its global trade privilege regime for developing countries in 2024 to attach conditions to climate action.

“The timing, amid the new tensions in transatlantic relations over the Australian submarine deal, was impeccable from Beijing’s point of view,” Barkin said, referring to the new alliance between the United States, the UK and Australia announced this month. sowed divisions between European countries and the United States.

“The climate is likely to become a growing source of friction between China, Europe and the United States as competition for green technologies intensifies,” he said.

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