Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent “Journey of confidence” through the EU, including visits to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the European Commission in Brussels and Britain, was intended to demonstrate China’s international leadership and co-operation on the global economy and climate change.

Most interesting to watch, however, is the increasing power struggle which has emerged between China and her Western counterparts. On the one hand developed countries are desperate to court their slice of investment from China’s economic stimulus plan, while on the other, political tensions remain on the need to limit carbon emissions.

China has recently surpassed the US as the largest emitter of CO2 in absolute terms and with the financial crisis now affecting China’s own markets, China recognises that its economic survival depends on mitigating the environmental damage that costs it $200 billion annually.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Wen Jiabao asserted that “China supports the Copenhagen conference” and “gives top priority to meeting the challenge of climate change”, highlighting China’s proactive climate policies such as the National Climate Change Programme and targets to annually reduce the per unit GDP energy consumption by 4 percent and in total by 20 percent in five years.

However, it is clear that China sees clean technology as the solution to a low carbon future and carbon emissions reductions as the historical responsibility of developed countries. Wen stated “it’s difficult for China to take quantified emission reduction quotas at the Copenhagen conference, because this country is still at an early stage of development. Europe started its industrialisation several hundred years ago, but for China, it has only been dozens of years.”

Meanwhile, the European Commission President Barroso called on China “to put itself in the frontline of international efforts and to show an example”, pointing to the Commission’s proposal that developing countries should reduce growth in their greenhouse gas emissions by 15% to 30% by 2020.

While there is no doubt of the historical responsibility of developed countries to take significant action to reduce their emissions, in the spirit of such “good-will” and “co-operation”, political leaders might be a little braver in persuading China that its cake is also no longer for eating.

WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM ANNUAL MEETING 2009 - Wen Jiabao in Davos by World Economic Forum

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