Environmentalists have become the highest-profile cheerleaders for the CCP, helping divert attention from the regime’s worrisome pursuits.
Patricia Adams | Special to the Financial Post
Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army’s Honour Guard Battalion wear protective masks as they stand at attention in front of a photo of China’s president Xi Jinping at their barracks outside the Forbidden City, near Tiananmen Square, in Beijing. PHOTO BY KEVIN FRAYER/GETTY IMAGES.
For anyone under the illusion that China’s Communist regime was a force for good in the world, the past few years have been a wake-up call. Under President Xi Jinping, China has: incarcerated over a million Uyghur Muslims in “re-education” camps; allowed the coronavirus pandemic to sweep the world; violated its treaty with Britain by ending Hong Kong’s self-rule; and vowed to invade Taiwan.
As a result of these eye-opening actions, among others, public opinion throughout the West has changed dramatically. Where the majority previously saw China favourably as a benign giant, only 15 per cent of Australians, 14 per cent of Swedes, 22 per cent of British, 23 per cent of Canadians, and 22 per cent of Americans continue to view China favourably, according to a Pew survey. Most now recognize that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cheats and threatens to get its way and is hostile to rules-based institutions.
The big exceptions to those who have had their eyes opened are Western environmentalists and their funders who, rather than becoming more cautious about China’s role in the world, continue to lavish its environmental efforts with superlatives such as “herculean” and “momentous.” As recently as 2018, Natural Resources Defense Council’s Barbara Finamore wrote a laudatory book entitled Will China Save the Planet?
The environmental gushing for China is reciprocated by the regime, with Communist Party media organs such as the China Daily dedicating full-page articles to extolling the environmental movement for its positive role in partnering with China.
Western environmental organizations enjoy a privileged position in China. While foreign advocacy organizations of almost all stripes, from human rights groups such as Amnesty International to legal aid groups such as Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, are extremely restricted, if not effectively banned in China, the environmental groups are sponsored by a designated state agency or department of the CCP government, as all acceptable NGOs now must be under a 2017 law governing foreign NGOs. The sponsor does not play a passive role, as the term implies, however. Rather, it is responsible for monitoring and supervising the environmental group’s work and often works hand-in-glove with it on joint projects.
As part of their supervision, foreign NGOs are required to submit annual plans for their projects and use of funds to their sponsor and, after being approved, must file these plans with the public security organs. Supervision also includes “regulatory talks” and onsite inspections of NGO premises. Failure to comply can result in seizure of assets, detention of staff, and a five-year ban on further work in the country.
The environmental groups’ embrace of China is understandable. They are often lavishly funded. One U.S.-based foundation, Energy Foundation China, has provided over US$330 million to U.S.-registered organizations operating in China. As a result, they can spare no expense pursuing their efforts to rid the planet of fossil fuels. Apart from the power and prestige they enjoy in this role, many doubtless welcome the opportunity to use their research to promote their progressive goals. Given the perceived urgency of their cause — saving the very planet — they can easily justify turning a blind eye to China’s aggression in the South China Sea or human rights abuses on the mainland.
China’s embrace of Western environmentalists is also understandable. To borrow a line attributed to Lenin, the environmentalists are the CCP’s useful idiots. The government not only monitors their activities to ensure their compliance with policy, it also directs the environmentalists’ agenda via its de facto control over their use of funds and even through its staff. Energy Foundation China, for example, is headed by Ji Zou, a Chinese national with a long career as a senior official in China’s government, including during its climate negotiations for the Paris Agreement. Zou, as a paymaster for the Western environmentalists, decides what projects to fund, thus enabling him to effectively solicit work desired by his former employers in Beijing from the Western environmental organizations, who give the regime their imprimatur of legitimacy.
While critics of China’s many malign activities give it a black eye, the environmentalists’ glowing reports about its environmental leadership paint China in a favourable light and put critics on the defensive. In fact, environmentalists have become the highest-profile cheerleaders for the communists, helping divert attention from the regime’s worrisome pursuits. Chief among these is China’s appropriation of fossil-fuel resources in the South China Sea and elsewhere in pursuit of its goal of displacing the U.S. as the dominant economic and national security superpower by 2050.
As virtually all students of China now appreciate, the West was foolish to trust Communist China to embrace democracy once it had access to Western markets and Western values. The implication is, or should be, clear. As Conservative MP Garnett Genuis says, “A government that is genocidal and totalitarian … cannot be trusted.” Or, as Bonnie Glaser of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies puts it, China “should not be a model for the rest of the world.”
For most of us, China is not a model for the rest of the world. For Western environmentalists, sadly, all too often it is.