The reshuffling of the world order in the wake of Trump’s announcement could be seen almost immediately, with top Chinese and European leaders criticizing the US’s withdrawal side by side on Thursday.
Standing next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that “fighting climate change is a global consensus” and pledged that China would remain committed to the Paris agreement.
Merkel said “the cooperation of the European Union with China in this area will play a crucial role, especially in regards to new technologies.”
In a statement to the press, Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union commissioner on climate action and energy, made the point even more forcefully: “No one should be left behind, but the EU and China have decided to move forward. Our successful cooperation on issues like emissions trading and clean technologies are bearing fruit. Now is the time to further strengthen these ties to keep the wheels turning for ambitious global climate action.”
It won’t be the last time that Beijing and Brussels find themselves seeing eye to eye, or that the two sides look past the US and look to work on joint initiatives that don’t involve Washington. And Europe and China’s enhanced cooperation is quite likely to go beyond coordinating on climate change.
“These agreements … build ties and align interests in ways that reduce the likelihood of conflict and bolster the opportunities for greater growth and development,” Wang says.
To make that a little more concrete, let’s take something like China’s jaw-droppingly ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative. It’s a Chinese-funded infrastructure project designed to connect China to 64 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa that make up around 60 percent of the world’s population.
As is often the case with countries that deal with trading with China, Europe has expressed concern about China’s compliance with global trade norms as Beijing goes about pitching its proposals for trains and tunnels. Those are big issues that aren’t easy to surmount, but they become a little bit easier to deal with when you’re able to build goodwill through cooperation on issues like climate change.
If Europe and China are actually able to grow closer through their coordination on climate change, it could potentially build a better relationship for navigating conflicts over trade.
In the meantime, the US and Europe are going through the roughest patch they’ve had since they split over the Iraq War in 2003. Even before Trump pulled out of the Paris agreement on Thursday, he had already alienated Europe during his trip abroad last week, when he, among other things, refused to reaffirm America’s commitment to NATO and accused Germany of being a trade cheat.