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Climate Justice with Chinese Characteristics?

After funneling hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment to developing countries, China has now launched a new grand concept geared toward sustainable development in the Global South. But, given its own slowing economy and entrenched political priorities, success is far from guaranteed.

LONDON – Since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has regularly unveiled a grand new strategic concept every four years or so. Each has been deeply rooted in the Chinese political system and communicated via ambitious slogans (“A Harmonious World,” “New Types of Great Power Relations”). And all have reliably generated both excitement and confusion, both abroad and within China.

China’s latest grand concept, the Global Development Initiative, is no exception. When Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced it at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2021, it made hardly any splash in the West, perhaps because China has already signaled its determination to shape international development in the post-COVID era.

But the GDI is more than just a new label for an ongoing project. One of its core political functions is to deflect some of the fierce criticism that has been directed at its older sibling, the gigantic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has a tarnished reputation for being neither transparent nor sufficiently “green.”

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