China should lead with sustainable development

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/26 18:58:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


Sustainable development means the idea of economic development that is socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. It is the idea of combining three objectives: economic growth, social justice and environmental sustainability.

I regard this challenge the biggest challenge all countries, including China and the US, face. Given China's and America's current challenge of sustainable development, both countries are facing similar challenges now.

Why are there so many problems in the China-US relationship and what should we do about them? I believe the entire world needs to cooperate on a different approach to economics. This approach combines growth, fairness and the environment, all in one package.

Both the US and China adopted in 2015 this idea of sustainable development. In fact, all governments in the United Nations - China, the US and all the other 191 countries of the UN - adopted the sustainable development goals, which are 17 goals to achieve prosperity, fairness and environmental sustainability. But when governments adopt goals, they are not necessarily enforced or even implemented. They are just political declarations that may or may not be relevant for the actual behavior of governments.

In the US, the government of Donald Trump doesn't pay any attention to these goals. Right now Mr. Trump has many other things on his mind, especially his Twitter account. So he doesn't pay any attention to long-term sustainable development at all. That's why we need a new president in the US with a different approach.  

In principle, the sustainable development challenge is a challenge for the entire world. We are in principle to be working together for these purposes. If we work together, there is a lot we can do to accelerate the progress to zero-carbon energy, to sustainable land use, toward a digital society, and so on. There are many ways in which one country could be supporting other countries to achieve these objectives.

Instead, the US is waging an economic war on China. At least till now this economic war is a bit superficial, and so far there is no great damage. But the attitude of the US government needs to be understood a little bit.

The problem is the US does not like the rivalry with China, because the US was the dominant country in the world politically, economically and technologically for at least half a century from 1950 to 2000. The mind-set of the political leaders is that the US should always remain the dominant country, because it's assumed that's the only right way for the world to be. Of course this is a very selfish attitude and occurs almost in any country if it's a dominant country for a long time. The result is arrogance, in which the powerful country believes that it deserves to be the dominant country.

In the US, after 50 years, many people came to believe that the country should be without any rivals in the world. When the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union ended in 1991, the latter split into 15 countries. The US became the only superpower in the world and it assumed it would have no rivals economically for generations to come.

So it was a very big surprise to American policymakers and the public to see how fast China emerged as a country of the same economic scale and with very advanced technology as a counterpart of the US.

This dynamism in China is wonderful. This is China's progress and makes for great news. This means a lot for the economic well-being of the people of China. There is no reason for us not to cooperate to solve all the problems of climate, poverty and diseases. But unfortunately in the US the view was "Oh my God, China now is a threat to us."

According to the American mentality, within a few years China went from being a developing country, to an interesting counterpart, and then suddenly to a threat, and even in many newspaper articles recently, an enemy. This is mainly a psychological phenomenon, not a true geopolitical phenomenon.

Remember that very few Americans have ever come to China. It's easy for politicians to tell the Americans now China is the enemy. This is the problem with Mr. Trump. He made a whole political campaign on the basis that if we have any problems in the US, it's the fault of other countries. This is a fantasy and a big danger.  

I try to explain in the US almost every day that China is not an enemy, but a counterpart. It's not cheating, just developing very well and impressively. What we really need is a cooperative approach. But all of the measures you see in the last couple of years - tariffs imposed by the US, trying to stop Chinese technology, for instance Huawei, selling around the world - are part of the psychological phenomenon being led by some American politicians.

The China-US relationship should never become a hostile relationship, which would be very dangerous for both sides. This could get out of control as during the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the US were enemies for 40 years, which was very dangerous for the world and something that we should never let happen.  

One of the ways that I hope this tension can be eased is by China becoming a leader in sustainable development, a very clear world leader, saying "Not only are we not a threat, we are leading to solve problems in the world and we can help solve some of the big challenges in the world."

One of the big areas that I believe is a place for China to lead is the Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative is a great project of China cooperating with the countries of Europe and Asia to build modern infrastructure and connectivity across Eurasia, East Africa, and Latin America.

What I advise the Chinese government on the BRI is to be a leader in sustainable development. That means especially when China works with neighboring countries on energy systems, China should not be building coal-fired power plants or new oil pipelines, but instead should be building solar power, wind power, hydropower, clean energy and in that way showing its neighbors and the world the way to 21st century's sustainable development.

China should use its advanced technologies for renewable energy, 5G, artificial intelligence, smart grids, long-distance power transmission, battery electric vehicles, and others, to help the regions in Europe and Asia to have clean air, less pollution, sustainable land use, high technology, digital services and clean zero-carbon energy. If this could be done, it will be very inspiring. It will show clearly to the world that China's rise is good for the whole world. 

The article is an abstract of a speech recently delivered by Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University, at the Chongyang Institute of Finance, Renmin University of China in Beijing. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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