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China Emerges As The Leader In The Clean Energy Boom

The trade war with China isn’t over yet. While the Trump administration is now a thing of the past, tensions between the United States and China are still going strong. Erica Poon Werkun, head of Asia Pacific securities research at global financial giant Credit Suisse Group AG, noted the possibility of an outburst or “retaliation” in the short term as U.S.-Chinese relations begin to thaw, but remain tense.  Speaking on the sidelines of the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference with Sophie Kamaruddin on "Bloomberg Daybreak: Asia,” Werkun said that while it’s natural to hope for warming relations between Beijing and Washington after four years of tension and trade wars, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping aren’t going to get busy cozying up any time soon. 

A few months ago, Oilprice reported that “An Energy Trade War Is Brewing Between China And The U.S.,” and that assertion continues to ring true as the world gropes around for the “new normal” as the pandemic begins to subside. China was the only major economy on Earth that managed to achieve even a modicum of growth in 2020 and remains poised to dominate global clean energy supply chains, while the United States is rushing to get into the global renewable energy sector with a renewed vigor under its new climate-conscious administration.

Related: Pandemic Puts Saudi-Kuwaiti Oil Plans On Ice
China will be a force to be reckoned with in a changing energy landscape in which fossil fuels are set to lose influence. Not only will China have more energy security and more production capacity than ever thanks to Beijing’s unprecedented ramping up of its domestic green energy sector, but it also already has a chokehold on many of the resources that are needed for industries around the world to produce renewable energy technologies. In fact, on top of the beginnings of an energy trade war that continues to percolate, a renewable energy resource war could be on the horizon as well. While renewable energies are not reliant on finite fossil fuels by definition, they are reliant on certain finite rare earth metals such as lithium and cobalt - and as of now, China controls more than 90 percent of some of these essential resources. What’s more, Beijing has demonstrated that it's more than willing to exploit that monopoly for political gain and intimidation. 

While this has many in the west feeling a bit worried about China’s potential domination of the global renewable energy sector, for others it’s a massive and unmissable investment opportunity. Credit Suisse is currently working on tripling its headcount in China over the next three years and is looking at President Xi’s sustainability commitment as a key factor in the country’s ongoing economic growth thanks to what is certain to be a rapidly expanding renewable energy sector.

Related: Oil Prices Drop On Third Wave Of Coronavirus Lockdowns

This growth, however, and the entry of foreign investors into the Chinese energy sector will not happen linearly nor will it happen overnight. As promising as the sector’s projections for growth may be, China has not had a great track record in the past with renewable energy developers. In fact, “after shortchanging renewable energy developers for years to the point where it owes billions of dollars in unpaid subsidies, the Chinese government is now proposing that those companies may have to cancel part of the debt if they want to keep building new projects,” Bloomberg Green reported earlier this month. 

Ultimately, it’s not only in Beijing's best interest to woo investors and continue to scale up its renewable energy capacity, it’s in everyone’s interest that China gains access to clean energy. While there are many reasonable and important arguments to be made about not letting any one country monopolize any one part of a sector or supply chain, as China is doing with rare earth metals among other commodities, it’s undeniably good for our global needs and common interests for China to decarbonize, and to do so in a hurry. Getting the world’s single-largest greenhouse gas emitter and second-largest economy to wean itself off fossil fuels would be a net good for the world. 

By Hayley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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