Sucking Up to China Is Unseemly, Even on Climate Change

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I understand the impulse of Gov. Brown and leading Democrats to stick it to President Trump. Our so-called president has lied so often about California that he deserves to be on the business end of a never-ending counterattack.

And climate change is a vital issue. Trump’s portrayal of the issue as a hoax merits California’s scorn, and state leaders’ efforts to build a coalition to address climate change, in the face of presidential intransigence, make sense.

But do we have to counter one would-be dictator (Trump) by embracing another?

There was something ugly about the solicitous way Gov. Brown approached Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping. Seeking cooperation on an issue like climate change is important. But the Californians seem to seeking some sort of validation and friendship with Chinese leaders. The fact that Brown, not Trump, was engaging diplomatically with the Chinese was portrayed as a triumph.

And that goes too far.

We’re talking about a Chinese government that is absolutely brutal in suppressing dissent, democracy and anyone who dares defend the rule of law.

Brown and other Californians should have been, at the very least, acknowledging and noting that, firmly but politely in sessions. If they did, it went unreported. Instead, we got praise for China’s leadership on climate change and high-speed rail. Indeed, China’s lack of democracy seemed to be portrayed as a virtue—look how much the government can do there.

And that’s deeply wrong. Democracy is not a side show in the bid to save the world. It’s the main plotline. China’s lack of democracy and self-government, its lack of respect for law and rights, have all contributed to terrible environmental degradation there. That’s why, in any conversation with the Chinese, democracy needs to come before the weather.

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