Blog.Dec 02, 2015

China Water Diplomacy. Climate Diplomacy. Diplomacy full stop.

The climate negotiations are helping to highlight the priorities of different countries, as they relate to water. I attended two seminars that gave more insight into China’s approach. By: Elin Weyler

With the climate negotiations underway, our attention turns to the policy-makers. I have attended two seminars on Chinese foreign policy recently – both with specific focus on water and climate respectively. First, a SEI-UI co-organized roundtable on China’s role in the COP-negotiations. It was moderately encouraging in terms of how willing the Chinese government is to make active contributions to the climate change agenda. The general consensus was that even if China is now perceived as forthcoming and seemingly taking a greater responsibility, the government (not unlike many others) is not committing to anything that was not already in the pipeline.

Also, during the International Centre for Water Cooperation Water Dialogue co-convened with Swedish Water House Water, Chinese diplomacy was in focus. Visiting scholar Dr. Li Zhifei, Associate Research Fellow of the National Institute of International Security at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) presented “China’s transboundary water issues and diplomacy – challenges and responses” emphasising China’s overall foreign policy as also laying the land for water diplomacy.

The challenges included EU and US interventions via support to regional multi-stakeholder programmes and infrastructure projects. These are perceived as challenges because the Chinese government is focusing on the development of its up-steam regions, and many the EU/US efforts are targeting the downstream countries, hinting at geopolitical interests. Transboundary diplomacy is gaining awareness in China, as elsewhere, but the bilateral approach is still very active.

The main infrastructure project “One Belt – One Road” was emphasised in both discussions as setting the tone and pace in foreign policy and development focus for China today. It impacts not only water infrastructure, climate adaptation schemes and CO2 emissions, but has wide-ranging regional implications on trade and stability.
Needless to say, the negotiations in Paris will be interesting to follow, not least because they may reveal more about the regional intentions, especially in relation to India and other neighbouring countries. What is evident, is that the Chinese government is taking its water issues seriously, strengthening both scientific competence and legislation in this regard.