China and India Deepen Ties; Beijing City Considers Vehicle Controls

Deeper Cooperation with India

In the wake of China and India’s successful cooperation in the Cancun climate negotiations, it was not surprising that the two countries agreed to continue to cooperate on climate change issues during Premier Wen Jiabao’s just-concluded visit to India.

Climate cooperation was highlighted in the overall visit communiqué, as well as, according to press reports, a separate joint statement and a Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation in Green Technologies. While there is little detail on the MOU thus far, at least one press report suggests the Chinese and Indians have been discussing collaborating on ambitious plans for power plants, and a number of major Chinese companies, including Dongfang and Shanghai Electric are looking at potential Indian operations.

India and China’s environmental cooperation has been growing rapidly over the past year and a half, but to date it had focused on both climate change and on more traditional environmental issues, such as water and forests. There was little on green technology and connected business opportunities, a point the Indian Environment Minister acknowledged in a press conference in Beijing in May, but the new MOU as well as the overall focus in the joint statement on economic cooperation suggests that China and India may start to encourage some win-win approaches to green development. India’s 9% annual economic growth rate has elicited new interest from China in business opportunities, and the press coverage in China of Premier Wen’s visit was highly positive.

Beijing Considers Vehicle Controls

Beijing is in the midst of a car buying craze at the moment, with November 2010 sales up a reported 27% over the same month last year. But unlike past car sales growth, this may be short-lived. The current rush to buy cars before the end of the year appears to be related to discussion of new car ownership controls for the city of Beijing and potentially other cities as well, as part of overall plans to reduce traffic congestion. The Beijing city transport bureau put out a suite of policies, including controlling government vehicle purchases and expanding subway service, bicycle lanes and park-and-rides (article in Chinese).

The proposal includes both a heavy dose of command-and-control – a return to the odd-even car driving days imposed during the Olympics – and a number of economic measures intended to increase the cost of automobile use. Beijing city is contemplating a congestion charge, i.e. charging people for driving in the center city, an approach used in cities like London and Singapore, as well as raising parking and other fees associated with driving in town. The city also proposes requiring residents to prove they have a parking permit before they are allowed to register a vehicle.

The range of approaches seems designed to make car ownership more restrictive, to reduce the amount of use made of cars, to make public transport more accessible, in particular to those already driving (park and rides are a wholly new concept), and to try to bring some discipline back to bicycle lanes, which have become clogged with parked cars over the years.

The current proposal is out for public comment. It may well be modified significantly before it comes into effect. Shanghai already controls the number of license plates issued, and Beijing is expected to be just one of a growing number of localities controlling private vehicles on the roads in 2011.

Image provided by Wikimedia Commons