Friday, August 18, 2006


The main discourse about the 'environment' today is the increasing impact of the use of resources by human beings and the resulting degradation of the natural environment. We know that China is fast becoming a global economic superpower with an appetite for resources to match. What few of us realise is that China is also expanding its influence globally on the diplomatic front, whilst building an increasingly stronger military machine. No surprise here as all major powers have done this. What is interesting is the growing number of countries in Africa, Central Asia and South America who are taken in by Chinese diplomacy and offers of business. A number of such governments are impressed that the Chinese do not come with a long list (or any list!) of prerequisites, such as the American's demands for democratic institutions. This Chinese approach to diplomacy and doing business is called 'soft power'. It involves seducing other parties to 'want what you have'.

What does this mean for the environment? It means that all negotiations at the global level for conventions on environmental law must involve the Chinese. It means, as I say, negotiation rather than trying to tell China what's best, as this obviously will not work. It means helping China to start by looking at it's own back yard (as must all countries) and to look for solutions to their pollution problems/water shortages/housing needs (for example).

It is time that the World Bank stepped into trade policy, via its GEF (Global Environment Facility) organisation, (the WTO has proved ineffective). Trade policy needs environmental law linked into it and who better than the World Bank and the GEF to strengthen this process. As China will continue to expand it's global resource reach and its diplomatic approach implies that rules of democracy do not matter, therefore environmental law probably won't either, there is more urgency to try and bring environmental law into the centre of trade policy. After all, Sudan makes up 7% of China's oil imports but, it's a country with no democracy, extreme poverty and an environment that needs protecting for its agricultural food needs. We may not need regime change but, the world's environment surely needs protection and care as resource extraction speeds up.


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