US can catch up with China in EVs but not by wishing others ill
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that China has been leading the electric vehicle (EV) race but that's about to change. He made the remarks while an Australian company announced to build a manufacturing facility in Tennessee to make EV chargers.
Even during a tour of the Ford electric car center in Michigan in May, Biden had said "China is leading in this race", but added that "they think they're going to win. Well, I got news for them: They will not win this race. We can't let them," drawing applause from the small audience.
It's good that Biden admits that the United States has fallen behind China (and Europe), for China has invested heavily in the sector to become a global leader in EVs, charging stations, batteries and other components.
Yet Biden's language and tone were so toxic, sounding as if manufacturing and sale of EVs are a contest between different political systems. No, it's not a "democracy versus autocracy", as Biden would want the world to believe. EVs are not political or ideological.
EVs are better for the environment and mitigating climate change. That's exactly why China has invested huge amounts in green technology over the past decade.
If a setback to, or a collapse of, China's EV sector would make Biden happy, then he is not serious about global cooperation on climate change as he claimed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last year.
Yes, the US should strive to catch up with China and Europe in EVs using robust investment and sound policies, not by hatching plots to sabotage China's EV sector. The same applies to solar photovoltaic panels and other solar power products which are critical to reducing carbon emissions. China is the top investor, producer and exporter of, and market for, solar energy products.
Despite the strong opposition from industrial leaders and environmental groups, Biden extended the Donald Trump-era tariffs on Chinese solar energy equipment for another four years on Feb 4. The Biden administration also banned US imports of a key solar panel material from China-based Hoshine Silicon Industry in June over baseless "forced labor "allegations, adding the company to a list of Chinese new energy companies subject to penalization under US laws.
In 2018, the Trump administration imposed restrictions on civilian nuclear technology exports to China to undermine China's clean energy program. The US has been trying to justify its trade war, tech war and decoupling efforts by citing national security concerns. Such reckless efforts to contain China's clean energy and EV sectors are an attempt to sabotage not only China's but also the international community's fight against climate change, because China is home to one-fifth of the global population and a leading exporter of EVs, solar panels and other clean technology products.
Having served eight years as vice-president in the Barack Obama administration, Biden should know that Sino-US cooperation on clean energy and climate change was a highlight in those years. Among other things, the cooperation resulted in the establishment of the US-China Clean Energy Research Center. I listened to many of Biden's speeches in Washington in those years during which he highlighted the importance of Sino-US cooperation.
But his language and tone on Tuesday and last May were a departure from those years.
No wonder Jeff Bader, a China expert who served as special assistant to Obama in the National Security Council, criticized the Biden team for continuing Trump's "destructive approach" to China. Bader cited a recent poll to show that grassroots Democrats are far less hostile to China than Republicans, and warned that Biden should not "pander to domestic politics whenever there is an attention-getting headline".
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.