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Lithium-ion batteries, surely made of elements mined and/or processed in China. Photo from NASA (public domain).


We Need To Keep Cleantech Companies From Being Used Against Democracy (Part 3)

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This article is part of a short series. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

How China’s Working To Expand Its Influence To Capture Governments (Continued)

The other strategy we commonly see the CCP use is Grey Zone international relations. This is activities that fall between the typical war–peace paradigm that we normally think inside of. Instead of going directly to war, Grey Zone activities aim to put pressure on other states without provoking them to fight back.

One Grey Zone activity the CCP frequently uses against Taiwan (a de facto independent country they pretend is a renegade province) is military flights that cross the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Flying across the ADIZ alone isn’t enough to provoke a violent response, but it is enough to keep pressure on an enemy. In Taiwan’s case, this leads to public opinion against officially declaring independence, because the average person knows that the planes could come closer and drop bombs at any time.

Another Grey Zone tactic used against the United States is “reversible attacks” on satellites. Instead of outright destroying or permanently disabling a satellite, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) does things to temporarily disable them. Lasers aimed into camera lenses, radio frequency jamming, and hacking are all great ways to accomplish this. Once again, getting violent with a satellite would provoke a military response, but temporarily disabling one isn’t quite enough for the international community to think that a military response is justified.

But, in the event of conflict, these methods could be used to make satellites useless for military intelligence and both military and civilian communications. It would be wise for both governments and private individuals in China’s target territories (the first and second island chains) to invest in more HF (aka “shortwave”) radio communications gear to be prepared to communicate without infrastructure. I’m happy to help anyone who wants to do that, so feel free to DM me on Twitter about this.

Using Clean Technologies As A Weapon Against Democratic Governments

Now that I’ve reviewed some of the main strategies the CCP uses against democratic governments, let’s look at how clean technologies are being used as part of these strategies.

As most readers know, it’s vital that we shift from fossil fuels to cleaner technologies to prevent climate change from becoming an unmanageable problem for humanity. It’s also generally a good idea for both household budgets and national security to shift to EVs, solar power, wind power, etc. Whether you’re on the right, the left, or anywhere else on the political landscape, it’s a good idea.

Recent history with Japan shows us how the CCP can turn this into a trap. As I discussed in Part 2, the CCP is both dominating the industries it can dominate through artificially low prices and is doing what it can to obtain intellectual property to convert more cleantech industries into ones it can dominate. But, dominating an industry isn’t the only goal. The goal is to wield that dominance as a weapon as more free countries become dependent on rare earth minerals.

In 2010, they did just that to Japan. When a Chinese fishing boat entered Japanese waters, the boat’s captain ended up getting arrested. China naturally thought the waters in question were actually Chinese waters, and that the boat was unlawfully seized. Japan stood its ground, so China cut off the supply of rare earth minerals. Eventually, Japan caved and released the fishing boat’s captain, effectively ceding sovereignty over important ocean territory to China.

Now, we’re seeing a Japan that minimizes its needs for rare earth minerals because it doesn’t want China to be able to make such demands again. It doesn’t want to be Finlandized.

For American and European uses, hydrogen fuel cell technology is an inefficient clean technology or is an outright greenwashing scam. When clean energy is used to produce hydrogen for electrolysis, five times the electricity must be used. The alternative is to obtain hydrogen from fossil fuels, which isn’t an improvement at all over just burning the fossil fuels. But, if switching to battery EVs comes at the cost of national sovereignty, it’s a Faustian bargain most countries would be unwilling to make.

Since 2010, China’s actions toward neighbors have only become more aggressive. State-run media agencies have made it clear over and over and over again that they plan to use the supply of rare-earth minerals against the US and allies, so this isn’t some western conspiracy theory.

Free countries could all end up facing what Japan faces if we’re not careful. We could face the awful choice of either becoming Chinese tributary states or forgoing the best clean technologies. Most free countries would probably choose the latter, and end up having to make serious compromises, like focusing on hydrogen fuel cells. This would be an environmental disaster because it would make our needs for clean electricity go up five fold, or force us to use fossil fuels and accomplish nothing.

Dealing With This Situation

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to the mineral issue. Environmental opposition to basically any new mining operations makes it difficult to get European and North American alternatives off the ground. Regulatory hurdles also slow down operations, while Chinese operations are encouraged to do whatever it takes to up production, even if environmentally unsound practices are employed.

Other aspects of China’s cleantech dominance are more readily addressed, though.

The obvious thing people in free countries can do is vote with their dollars. While Chinese companies and their employees aren’t to blame for the situation, allowing them to become the dominant force in cleantech industries and electric vehicle production is not an option free countries can entertain if they want to avoid being dominated further by the CCP. As a consumer, it’s something you must consider before purchasing Chinese goods.

Cleantech companies not already doing business in China should avoid doing so. Not only is it bad for the company in the long run, but it’s bad for the future of democracy to let them get us by the shorts any more than they already have. If you’re a Tesla investor, try to be less short-sighted and do less cheerleading for the expansion of Tesla China operations.

There may come a time that China develops a more peaceful and trustworthy government, so it does make sense to be prepared for expansion into China when that time comes. Instead of opening up a small operation in China and risking becoming a pawn, a much safer and more moral alternative would be to do business in Taiwan or Singapore. This can enable a company to gain cultural competency and proximity without taking on too much risk.

I’m usually among the last to suggest this, but we probably also need some government interventions on this issue. Businessmen and investors are too easily blinded by the prospect of short-term financial gain to resist the temptation to expand their businesses in China and fall into the CCP’s trap. We obviously can’t rely on their dysfunctional moral compasses to keep our democracies out of danger.

At this point, I’d like to hand this issue off to readers. We’re fortunate to have many very intelligent and educated readers at CleanTechnica, so be sure to let us know in the comments what ideas you have to better counter CCP aggression in the cleantech industry!

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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