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As tension between China and many western countries mounts, the United Nations biodiversity conference has set a clear example of how co-operation can help find solutions to global crises.

“Canada made a decision to host a COP knowing we would have to work closely with China. It was a bit of a, I wouldn't call it a gamble, but a bit of a risk, for sure,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer in a sit-down interview near the end of the conference. “But I think we've managed to create something together, like the largest (biodiversity) COP ever, and we have started building bridges.

“I can't speak for China, but I think they've also decided that they value the relationship and the collaboration on this,” he said. “Maybe it's good for both of us, and maybe it's good for the world as well, that countries where we have very different views on certain things, that on these issues we can still work together and find common ground.”

The conference, called COP15, was led by China and hosted by Canada in Montreal. Guilbeault wanted to play the role of international broker at the summit, which ended this week. Tasked by China to lead consultations, Guilbeault worked alongside Egypt to find consensus with other countries on some of the most challenging points of disagreement.

Those consultations proved crucial to landing the agreement, formally called the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, observers told Canada’s National Observer.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Chinese Minister of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu said Canada “has been very helpful” in landing the agreement and called the relationship “a great example globally.”

“You can see being good to each other … will bring welfare for both countries, and China has been open and willing to accelerate our co-operation between the two countries,” Huang said. “So I hope that in the future … Canada can be more involved in terms of co-operation.”

Despite the success of the Kunming-Montreal agreement, it remains to be seen how long that co-operation can hold. After all, the diplomatic backpatting comes as Canada ramps up efforts to compete economically with China and NATO increasingly puts Beijing in its crosshairs. A NATO strategic document approved by member states this summer says China’s “ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.”

“The (People’s Republic of China) seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains,” the document reads. “It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence.”

In an emerging era of competition with China, #COP15 was defined by close collaboration between Canada and China. But will that co-operation hold?

That security concern is the reason western countries are building new economic alliances aimed at cutting China off from markets. During COP15, Canada even launched a critical minerals alliance, alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia and Japan, to challenge China’s dominant position in the global critical mineral market.

That alliance is far from the only example of increased competition between China and the West. Just days before the biodiversity conference in Montreal got underway, Canada unveiled its new Indo-Pacific strategy designed to counter China. The latter’s rise is “reshaping the strategic outlook of every state in the region, including Canada” according to the strategy, which notes Canada plans to increase its military presence in the region. Given the economic opportunities that exist in the Indo-Pacific, the strategy also says Canada will try to deepen its ties with friendly countries while trying to bring others into its orbit.

“But the collective challenges we face, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and nuclear proliferation, are too important to tackle in isolation,” the strategy concedes. “We must remain in dialogue with those with whom we do not see eye-to-eye.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland put it bluntly in October at the Washington-based Brookings Institution think tank. During a foreign policy speech, dubbed the Freeland Doctrine, she compared China to Russia as part of her call for western countries to “friendshore” their supply chains.

“As fall turns to winter, Europe is bracing for a cold and bitter lesson in the strategic folly of economic reliance on countries whose political and moral values are inimical to our own,” she said. “China's increasingly aggressive wolf diplomacy has already given many smaller democracies a foretaste of that experience.”

Climate Action Network Canada’s climate diplomacy manager Eddy Pérez says like it or not, the Kunming-Montreal declaration binds the two countries together and shows co-operation is possible.

Pérez said one reason Canada was able to play a constructive role with China at the conference was that the United States is not actually a member of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity — the international body that organizes the conference.

“The United States is not here, which I think was a good thing for Canada because it allowed them to just speak on their own terms and build that kind of diplomatic relationship on their own terms,” he said. “And that's what we saw. Canada has a unique approach to diplomacy, and we don't have this behind-the-scenes tension that you always see when there is a U.S.-China G2 relationship.

“It was an opportunity for Canada to build its own approach on how to deal with the world's largest economy.”

Pérez hopes the big lesson from COP15 is that international co-operation can overcome political differences to deliver meaningful action to protect climate and nature because these existential threats know no borders, and solutions must be built to last over the long haul.

“So, from that perspective, I really look forward to this COP15 teaching us a lesson of how countries with different stories can actually come up and work together for the benefit of the planet and for the benefit of populations.”

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Who wrote this amazing headline? "Canada and China dropped their gloves to reach a biodiversity agreement, but will the co-operation last?" Is there anybody in Canada who doesn't know what "dropped their gloves" means? Must be someone . . .

Fair enough Russ, but I at least understood the gist of the title without getting hung up on the literal definition. Kind of like dropping their boxing gloves to shake hands.
I could picture it.
Works for me.

OK, but I've never heard of boxers "dropping" their gloves (or even, really, removing them: it's a big deal. And even outside of hockey, dropping your gloves hasn't ever in my experience meant ceasing hostilities. Oh, and it's not a literal definition: it's a metaphor unless you're actually on the ice . . . anyway, I see they've fixed the headline.