The rewards of rivalry: US-Chinese competition can spur climate progress

The rewards of rivalry: US-Chinese competition can spur climate progress

Jeff D Colgan and MIT Security Studies Program affiliate Nicholas L Miller write in Foreign Affairs on how US-Chinese competition could be leveraged to make inroads in climate change goals. An excerpt is featured below. 

October 1, 2022 | Foreign Affairs | Jeff D Colgan and Nicholas L Miller
Jeff D Colgan and Nicholas L Miller
October 1, 2022
Foreign Affairs

In many ways, competition between the United States and China is just that—a rivalry between two powerful countries. But it is also much more than that. This is a contest not only between two rival states but also between two rival hierarchies. As the United States and China square off against each other, they are also vying for the allegiance of countries across the globe.

The broad arena of competition does increase the number of potential points of friction and raise the odds that countries wishing to remain outside the contest will be dragged into it. But the main effect is to force the United States and China to outdo each other, to the benefit of the states they are trying to woo. Just as competition between the United States and the Soviet Union contributed to remarkable accomplishments—such as sending humans to the moon, developing civilian nuclear power, and lifting millions out of poverty—so, too, could a new era of international rivalry. Already, U.S. and Chinese efforts to win over other countries mimics the patterns of Cold War competition between Washington and Moscow. The two superpowers are engaging in competitive shaming, attempting to attract or retain partners by drawing attention to the abuses of their rival. And they are trying to outbid each other, bestowing economic benefits on countries to win them over to their side. They also, however, sometimes pursue institutionalized cooperation when facing common threats. To combat the influence of authoritarianism and illiberal economics—and to intelligently compete against a rising China—U.S. policymakers must understand how these three styles of engagement work.

At stake is leadership of the global order and its rules for the world economy. To prevail, Washington will need to understand how far to press its competition with Beijing. As the war in Vietnam and other Cold War proxy conflicts demonstrated, it is possible for U.S. leaders to become so obsessed with the potential influence of a rival superpower that they walk into a quagmire of their own making. Washington will also need to manage the domestic responses to such competition, so that electoral politics does not sabotage national strategy.

The twenty-first century version of superpower competition is important for a variety of issues but perhaps none more consequential than climate change. New environmental conditions create new threats and opportunities for many countries, altering the geopolitical landscape. The United States can use its recent domestic accomplishments on climate change, most notably the adoption of the Inflation Reduction Act, to pressure China to do more to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate solutions. Working with European partners, the United States can force China to either clean up its act or become a climate villain in the court of world opinion.

Read the full article here.