Joe Biden’s TikTok crusade ignores the real China threat (2024)

  • Environment
  • Climate change


Juan Carlos Monterrey Gómez

The Biden administration’s preoccupation with TikTok is distracting us from a far more ominous danger. While China is frequently branded as the “greatest long-term threat” to US security, its most formidable weapon is not a viral dance app. The true peril lies in China’s swift technological advance, particularly in the clean energy sector.

China currently manufactures 86 per cent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, 80 per cent of solar panel components, 67 per cent of wind turbine nacelles, and almost two-thirds of electric vehicles. Its staggering investments in clean energy and low-carbon manufacturing account for almost half of global spending, leaving the United States woefully trailing.

Joe Biden’s TikTok crusade ignores the real China threat (1)

Last year’s COP28 climate change conference witnessed the signing of the historic UAE Consensus by almost 200 countries. Among their commitments were agreements to transition away from fossil fuels and to triple the capacity of renewable energy sources. As the world embarks on this “unstoppable” shift towards a new era of clean technology, China stands uniquely poised to meet the burgeoning demand and claim the rewards for itself.

In stark contrast, the Biden administration’s ambitious trillion-dollar investment package is grappling against a web of bureaucratic red tape. Recent analysis tells us that less than 17 per cent of these funds have been awarded, with just six months left before a potential change in power that could see Trump overturn the entire initiative. Unless his administration can rapidly pivot, Biden’s legacy risks being marked by well-intentioned failures.

The Inflation Reduction Act, for instance, aimed to allocate roughly $US369 billion ($559 billion) in subsidies and incentives to bolster domestic production of clean technology. While the act’s sheer ambition garnered global attention, its impact is yet to materialise.

Funding for domestic clean-tech manufacturing is slowly trickling out in a frustrating dribble down through the processes of individual states, and manufacturers are struggling to navigate their way through the maze of applications. In total, regulatory burdens cost the manufacturing sector about $US350 billion a year.

Joe Biden’s TikTok crusade ignores the real China threat (2)

And although the Inflation Reduction Act has made renewable electricity cost-comparable with fossil fuels, actual deployment is consistently thwarted by paperwork. Research from the Niskanen Centre shows that renewable energy projects face obstacles at every development stage, from site selection and land leasing to permit acquisition – all within a convoluted web of local, state and federal regulations.

Even when these hurdles are overcome, projects face an average 3.7-year delay between requesting grid connection and beginning their commercial operation.


After two years of negotiation, lawmakers have proposed a rule to expedite the permitting process, but Republican opposition threatens to unravel their progress.


Biden has inadvertently fuelled this backlash by allowing the energy transition to become yet another battle in the culture war between right and left. His defensive stance has only enraged Republican leaders, resulting in their dismissal of clean technologies as a “woke” distraction rather than the cornerstone of a prosperous future.

This dynamic is mirrored across the world. In Australia, for example, the Albanese government has adopted a patchwork approach to trying to please everyone, and ended up pleasing no one. Its inconsistent policy direction hinders the adoption and scaling of clean-tech projects. Meanwhile, its dependence on China is only increasing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In March, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber urged fossil-fuel producers at Texas’ CERAWeek event to leverage their “engineering know-how, capability, talent, technology, and resources” to execute the transition. Al Jaber’s statements underscore what Biden and other leaders are missing: this is not a war against political opposition. It is not a race to the bottom, but a sprint towards new opportunities. And while US politicians continue to bicker, China is pulling ahead.


We can’t expect Democrats and Republicans to suddenly join hands in harmony, but it is crucial that they recognise their common interests. Values such as freedom, innovation, growth and prosperity are not left or right. They are human.

With November’s vote drawing closer, Biden must ensure that the US is on the right track, regardless of the election outcome. Instead of heightening external tensions, world leaders must focus on building internal consensus and dismantling the bureaucratic barriers shackling their national potential.

Juan Carlos Monterrey Gómez is executive president at Climate Resilient, a climate policy think tank. He previously served as vice chair for the implementation of the UN Climate Convention and advised the World Bank on decarbonisation programs in Panama. At COP26 in Glasgow (2021), he led the youngest climate delegation to represent a country in history at the UN Climate Negotiations. He was also a 2023 finalist for the Pritzker Environmental Genius Award.

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Joe Biden’s TikTok crusade ignores the real China threat (2024)


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