China, India must heed call of the times

Updated: 2013-01-22 07:42

By Suhit K. Sen (China Daily)

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Doha has never been hospitable for contentious North-South dialogue. The negotiations on climate change that signed off in the Qatari capital in December 2012 have proved that again. And, of course, it is difficult to forget that the negotiations on trade liberalization held under the auspices of the World Trade Organization in Doha remain deadlocked even after about a decade.

The 18th Conference of the Parties (COP 18) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change proved once again that reaching a globally sanctioned agreement remains all but impossible. We shall not go over the old ground in detail, though it must be mentioned that the virtual refusal of the developed world to honor the letter and spirit of the Kyoto Protocol remains the toughest sticking point. This brings us to the two important questions: Who are the deal-breakers and who are going to suffer the most from the broken attempts to seal an agreement?

For a long time now - but most virulently since the negotiations in Copenhagen in 2012 - China and India have been stigmatized as the most recalcitrant among the negotiators. By extension the guilt is imputed to the entire developing world. This is because Beijing and New Delhi, along with the dispensations in Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg, have been especially intransigent in their position that the two fundamental principles of the Kyoto Protocol - historical responsibility and equity - continue to be honored.

In addition, the developing world has stuck fast to its demand that commitments made under the Bali Road Map on transfer of green technologies and funds from the North to the South be executed. Needless to say, they haven't been till date.

So are Beijing and New Delhi, along with most of the developing world, which actually translates as most of the world, the guilty parties, while the developed world led by the United States is the avatar of sweet reasonableness put, unfairly, upon?

The simple truth is that the developing world has been the deal-breaker for almost two decades. The US, of course, is the primary culprit. It refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol even after practically the whole world ratified it. When Barack Obama became US president, he held out the promise that Washington would take giant steps to reduce emissions but even the baby steps his administration took were ruthlessly shot down by Congress. At Doha, the US chief negotiator refused to even countenance a more stringent emissions regime because, as he put it, it did not have a domestic constituency.

Europe had been more reasonable till recently, at least for public consumption. But even as it made commitments on emissions reduction, first, it did not deliver. Later, it made commitments on transferring technology and funds only to renege all over again. Over the past few years, Europe has been taking a tougher line close to that of the US.

In this situation, the developing world is trapped in an invidious dilemma. If it accedes to the demands of the developed world, it will get an emissions-control regime that will seriously compromise its development agenda and, with it, its ability to address problems of poverty, hunger and disease. If it does not and a new emissions-reduction plan is not agreed, it will suffer the most, because climate change will hit large parts of the developing world the hardest.

This impasse is a replication of the WTO's Doha round of talks. For over two decades, the developed world led by the US has been trying to open the markets of the developing world with pickaxes and sledgehammers, while refusing to compromise on domestic policies that constrain "free trade". In their ideal world, the US and the rest of developed world would like to have unrestrained access to these markets but will continue to subsidize agriculture to the tune of billions of dollars and restrict, for instance, the global mobility of labor of any kind.

Clearly, such unilateral "negotiations" cannot be countenanced. It is, therefore, imperative that Beijing and New Delhi, and others, continue to provide leadership to the global South and that the developing world remains unified. It is not particularly difficult to appreciate that no serious solution to climate change can be worked out unless the US drastically reduces emissions.

It is equally clear that the kind of WTO regime the US and the European Union envisage would destroy a substantial part of the agricultural sector in many developing countries where agriculture has already become non-remunerative and is becoming more so with the passage of time.

To say that Beijing and New Delhi must stand together in this conflict is not to say they must resolve all bilateral issues overnight. That is obviously not possible.

Every nation in the world has its unique configuration of interests - economic, geopolitical, strategic and all the other factors that come with them. In the pursuit of these interests, equally obviously, there will always be areas of conflict as there will be areas of solidarity.

This is true of China and India as well. But any dispute can be resolved bilaterally over time. Until solutions are found it is usually possible to live with such disputes unless their significance is cataclysmic. The areas of identity of interests between India and China are significant enough to form the basis of wide-ranging cooperation. The areas of divergence can be narrowed down, as has been the case for a while now.

The adoption of hawkish postures will certainly not help either country. On the contrary, it could significantly damage the vital cause of South-South cooperation and solidarity, which will only lend to the ailing US and the global regime it runs fresh vim and vigor.

The author is a senior journalist and independent researcher based in India.

(China Daily 01/22/2013 page9)