Dozens of “progressive” organizations recently sent a letter to the White House and Congress urging them not to antagonize China but instead pursue multilateral efforts to address the challenge of global climate change. This approach is naïve and a threat to global security. Conservatives should chart a different course that pursues the noble cause of freedom while holding China accountable for its contributions to global climate change.
While it’s true that partisanship should end at the water’s edge, human rights must not. America is founded upon the idea that human rights are not bound to geography, ethnicity, national borders, or moments in time. Our idea of freedom is still revolutionary 250 years after our founding because we unapologetically declare that human rights exist for all people, in all places, at all times.
“Progressives” who are arguing that human rights don’t extend to persecuted minorities in China are on the wrong side of history and justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
We believe that climate change is real. It is a global challenge that demands global solutions. Combating climate change does not, however, require the United States and the rest of the world to remain silent about human rights abuses, repressive policies, and the military ambitions of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, China.
The issues that “antagonize” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are ones U.S. policymakers should not ignore. China used forced labor from Uyghurs to manufacture solar panels. Beijing was angry when Japan and the U.S. announced COVID-19 vaccinations for the people of Taiwan. The list goes on. Failure to speak up is unconscionable.
China’s human rights abuses, military ambitions, and industrial policy cannot be separated from climate change. Even attempting to treat climate change as a stand-alone issue is dangerous. Andrew Erickson, professor at the U.S. Naval War College, and Gabriel Collins, a research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, wrote, “Xi’s bullish talk of combating climate change is a smokescreen for a more calculated agenda. Chinese policymakers know their country is critical to any comprehensive international effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and they are trying to use that leverage to advance Chinese interests in other areas.”
The reality is that China is now emitting more greenhouse gases than the entire developed world combined. China has previously under-reported its emissions, making it difficult to track its progress, or lack thereof, on climate targets. Any policies that fail to account for the global nature of emissions will be meaningless. In a real sense, “climate change” is increasingly an issue of “China change.” Because climate change is global, China’s emissions are helping to drain water from Lake Mead, which serves 25 million Americans and drying up the Great Salt Lake. China is cooking the planet.
In President Biden’s first speech to Congress in April, he said, “We’re in a competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century.” We are indeed engaged in a competition of ideas, values, and debate about what economic and political system best protects human rights, raises living standards, and improves the environment. We welcome that competition. History overwhelmingly demonstrates that free economies are clean economies.
We do not wish to see a new Cold War between China and the United States. However, if China continues to attempt to greenwash its human rights record with empty promises of climate action, the United States should make it clear that we are equally committed to protecting human rights and the planet’s health. If China does insist on a Cold War, we should remember the values that won the last Cold War – a belief in personal freedom, private property, consumer choice, and free enterprise.
The far left in America has lost its moral compass on human rights and climate. They have forgotten the wisdom of Soviet dissidents like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote, “When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers … we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”
The issues of China and climate change will be defining challenges for future generations of Americans. We must make it unmistakable clear to China that we will not sacrifice our commitment to human rights as we work to combat climate change. If we defend human rights by protecting personal and economic freedom, we’ll solve both challenges. If we neglect human rights, we’ll solve neither.
• John Hart is the co-founder of the Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions. Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition.