Perspective

A sample of published commentaries by Paul G. Harris

China’s ‘ecological civilization’: a large-scale form of greenwashing?

What at first glance looks like a promising avenue toward environmental protection may instead be cover for something that President Xi has demonstrated is more important than anything else: unbending authoritarian rule. Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Water is power: How Southeast Asia pays the price for China’s dam-building frenzy

“In the years and decades to come, the people of South and Southeast Asia will be warily watching water levels along their rivers that originate in China. … As water becomes scarcer in the future, affected countries will have little choice but to submit to the new reality that China’s control over water has produced: they will be dependent on Beijing for an indispensable resource.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Covid-19: Is China’s pandemic response a sign of strength or weakness?

“The Chinese government launched an infectious boomerang in late 2019 when it covered up a viral outbreak in Wuhan that turned out to be Covid-19. That boomerang has returned home with a mighty thwack, threatening to slow China’s economic rise while undermining its global reputation.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

To get rich is glorious? Money can’t buy happiness for China or the wider world

“China’s rise over the last several decades has seen dramatic growth in the income and wealth of its citizens. But the expanding economy has not been universally good for its people, nor has it always benefited the wider world. Indeed, the nation’s embrace of capitalism and growth at any cost has left many feeling miserable.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

China’s nuclear weapons build-up threatens mutually assured destruction

“China’s economic rise since the 1970s has been miraculous. With that rise has come greatly increased spending on China’s nuclear arsenal. Is that spending buying China more security, or is it instead bringing the world closer to nuclear Armageddon?” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Can China be trusted? As the Russia-Ukraine war shows, Beijing often says one thing and does another

“China’s rise over the last several decades, characterised by its expanding economic and military power, has been miraculous. But there is a paradox associated with that rise: as its power has increased, trust in China has declined. The war in Ukraine helps to explain this paradox.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

How China’s fishing fleet is devastating ecosystems, harming poor countries and contributing to conflict

“The rise of China over the last several decades has been accompanied by adverse impacts on the global environment, ranging from plastic pollution and destruction of the world’s forests to emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. The world’s fisheries have also suffered the effects of China’s rise. Those fisheries are in crisis.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Russia-Ukraine war gives a glimpse of China’s new world order, and of Beijing’s faltering reputation

“February 2022 may turn out to be an important month in Chinese and world history. It was the month when China’s ‘no limits’ embrace of Russia was codified in a sweeping statement of mutual support, just as Russian troops were massing on the borders of Ukraine. Russia’s invasion not many days later revealed what the world may look like if China’s leader Xi Jinping and … Russian President Vladimir Putin, succeed in their mission of replacing the American-led, rules-based international system with their vision of an authoritarian new world order.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

China’s embrace of Russia and other authoritarian regimes threatens democracy

“China is not alone in supporting autocrats. However, while other world powers are moving away from the practice, China is actively adopting it. Short of determined action by democratic countries, the future of global authoritarianism, and by implication the future of global democracy, will to a great extent be determined by Beijing.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

As China tackles plastic pollution at home, it feeds the scourge globally

“Plastic has been in widespread use for only about 75 years. But today’s high-consuming, throwaway culture means that it is one of the most prominent features of the Anthropocene, the current geological epoch in which humanity has shaped the Earth. … The global scourge of plastic looks set to continue for decades at least. Centuries in the future, archaeologists will dig through our plastic waste looking for clues to how and why we devastated our planet. Much of that waste will carry a prideful label: ‘Made in China.'” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

As China replants its own forests, it is destroying the world’s

“Without timber of its own, China has sought it abroad. Forests around the world are being razed to feed the ever-increasing appetite of China’s factories and consumers. China is effectively importing deforestation, both directly through the import of raw logs and wood products – much of them obtained illegally – and indirectly through the import of agricultural commodities and minerals that are produced after widespread forest destruction. Consequently, China’s global “deforestation footprint” has increased by an order of magnitude over the last two decades.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

COP26 climate pact: kicking the can down the road, with help from China

“The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow was supposed to be a breakthrough in climate diplomacy. In the event, it was a step in the right direction, but only a tiny one. The resulting agreement … does not avert the worsening climate crisis. Instead, it kicks the can down the road to the next climate summit, when we are supposed to expect a breakthrough, much as happened after dozens of previous climate summits over the last three decades.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Taiwan is on the frontline of confrontation with China, but will Beijing ever wage war?

“China’s dramatic rise over the last several decades has ramifications for the world in almost every conceivable area, from economic globalisation and climate change to human rights, democracy and national security. Few places are more susceptible to China’s newfound power and associated ambitions than Taiwan.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

COP26: Rather than criticise the developed world, China should shoulder its share of blame for the climate crisis

“For more than three decades, Chinese officials have pointed the finger of blame for greenhouse gas pollution at the developed world. They’ll do it again at COP26. But their arguments are wearing thin. Alongside the developed world, China deserves to be blamed for the climate crisis, too.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

The dragon in the room: Tackling China’s pollution will be crucial at the COP26 climate summit

“Whether and how Beijing reacts to the climatic consequences of its historic rise may determine the fate of life on earth as we know it. … When it comes to global warming and climate change, as China goes, so goes the world.” Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Hong Kong’s obsession with the national security law ignores the real danger China faces

Given the ever-expanding maw of the national security law and associated hysteria, and the way that it is spreading its tentacles into more aspects of life, can even the issue of climate change be immune? Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

US-China climate change cooperation sparks optimism, but addiction to fossil fuels remains strong

Will Joe Biden and Xi Jinping’s actions be enough to set their countries on a course towards rapid decarbonisation? If current and past practices are accurate guides, there is ample reason to worry. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

Why — and — how I ended my participation in an undemocratic electoral system

China’s National People’s Congress put its inevitable stamp of approval on changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system. Those changes will obliterate any remaining vestiges of democracy in the territory. Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

How Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam may have triggered the Sino-US Cold War

The spark for what some describe as a new Cold War between the United States and China may have been the day in 2019 when Hong Kong’s Chief Executive made the decision to introduce an extremely unpopular extradition bill. Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Why Donald Trump’s re-election would make Vladimir Putin very happy

Trump has weakened America and its institutions, looked away as Russia extended its influence in Crimea, Syria, the Middle East and Africa and, crucially, blocked global efforts to decarbonize, buying precious time for Russia’s oil and gas export-dependent economy. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

Climate Strike Hong Kong: Today’s demo is just step one – are students ready to walk the talk?

Students in Hong Kong are set to skip classes and join a global student strike to demand action on climate change. They are calling on adults in general, and governments in particular, to recognize the extreme urgency of climate change and to implement policies that will greatly reduce the pollution that causes it. Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Thank the oceans for softening the blow of climate change

Climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity. It’s an almighty catastrophe that will only become worse with time. We’ll be seeing more powerful storms, increasingly devastating wildfires, longer droughts and recurring floods, to name but a few of the impacts of climate change that are quickly becoming commonplace globally. Read more on the Cambridge Core blog.

Mangkhut brought another climate change warning, but Hong Kong officials are still promoting pollution

Super Typhoon Mangkhut was a harbinger of what climate change is likely to bring to Hong Kong. Can the city avoid a future in which such storms – and much worse – become the new normal? Read more in the Hong Kong Free Press.

Catastrophic climate change is more likely, Donald Trump has just made sure of that

The U.S. president has made what will be his most derided decision. It is based on economics, politics, ideology and psychology, feeding his pathological need to be the center of attention. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

The Big Idea: Why are climate change negotiations failing?

Climate politics, and the policies that result from it, should be designed to promote human wellbeing. This goes without saying, unless one is a misanthrope. Nevertheless, climate politics has instead been about something quite different. Read more in the Daily Beast.

Can a new broom really sweep clean in polluted HK?

The recent Rio+20 conference on sustainable development revealed how difficult it is to persuade politicians to take environmental protection seriously. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

Burden of wealth

China has overtaken the United States to become the largest source of greenhouse gases, the pollution that causes climate change. This has increased pressure on China to do more to combat the problem. But is this pressure justified? Read more in the South China Morning Post.

Nuclear push blinds us to safer options

The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility rekindled doubts in Hong Kong about atomic power, not least because of the city’s proximity to the Daya Bay plant in Guangdong and the government’s plan to double reliance on nuclear energy. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

The art of adding to our bottom line

Hong Kong’s universities are preparing to launch lengthened undergraduate degrees. For the most part, they are not adding more specialized training to existing programs. Instead, they are adding general education and liberal arts courses. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

Under a cloud

Last month, the Hong Kong government released its long-awaited climate change strategy and “action agenda.” As the government works hard to dress up Hong Kong’s reputation for climate action, it should acknowledge some hard truths about the scale of the city’s contribution to climate change. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

Putting a price on ‘yes’ votes for political reform

The Legislative Council vote on the government’s constitutional reform package is shaping up to be a no-win situation for Hong Kong’s pan-democrats. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

Heat is on America

As the Democrats and Republicans rally round their candidates for the US presidency, it’s a good time to ask what we can expect the winner and his administration to do about climate change. Will the next president continue a policy of trying to kill the international climate regime, or will he take this crucial problem more seriously? Read more in the South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong’s climate responsibility

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reaffirmed last week, global warming and climate change will devastate the lives of millions of people in the poorest parts of the world. Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from Hong Kong are contributing to this devastation. Read more in the South China Morning Post.


For a list of more essays, see Professor Harris’s ORCID page.