The United States and China concluded a joint climate agreement yesterday. While the effect of this agreement on the rate and scale of climate change is potentially significant, it may also serve a broader geopolitical benefit as the United States gradually “rebalances” its foreign and security policy to the Asia-Pacific region, and pursues other national security interests in forums such as the UN Security Council.
Enduring tensions between China and the United States (and its allied and partner nations) over the South China Sea, as well as a broad range of other difficult dynamics in the relationship (e.g. cyber warfare, U.S. concerns over a growing and more assertive Chinese military, human rights, consistent disagreement at the UN Security Council, and competing proposals for free trade zones in the region, one that excludes China and the other that’s China-led), are likely to continue for some time to come. However, an agreement of this kind can spill over into other areas of the relationship, thereby broadening the aperture for U.S. cooperation (and competition) with China on a range of issues of core concern to U.S. national security.
In other words, this is not just a climate agreement. It’s also a trust-building exercise that may offer the United States a greater amount of freedom and flexibility in pursuing the national security goals of the US and its allied and partner nations.