As Copenhagen kicks off to muted expectations and a pervasive pessimism over its likelihood to achieve a binding treaty, the United States finds itself in a paradoxical situation. For over two decades successive U.S. presidents and policymakers have steadily expanded the concept and application of free trade with allies near and far. Free trade agreements in force or awaiting ratification cover much of the Western hemisphere and countries throughout the Middle East, Asia and Australia. Whether their rationale was American competitiveness or foreign development, these agreements now pose a significant obstacle to U.S. climate change efforts.
China is not a ‘status quo’ power but one that would like to alter Asia’s balance of power in its own favor – Condoleezza Rice, 2000
As the 14th ASEAN summit gets ready to kick off in Pattaya, Thailand this week, climate change may be an unlikely source of debate. The role of climate action in ASEAN nations is intricately linked to the looming presence of China, and lately China-ASEAN cooperation has bloomed. Chinese sources in particular stress the importance of “mutually beneficial cooperation” with ASEAN on economic and climate issues. In fact, the ASEAN secretariat and China’s environment ministry recently inked a draft environmental protection strategy (see sidebar) focusing heavily on climate change. Moreover, last September ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan praised a memorandum of understanding between ASEAN and China’s Guangdong province.