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China has warned the US that its “strategic miscalculation” had stoked bilateral tensions that risked derailing high-level talks aimed at combating the global threat of climate change.
John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, the climate envoys for the world’s two largest economies, are meeting in Tianjin, north-eastern China, with the Biden administration calling for Xi Jinping’s government to boost its efforts towards cutting carbon emissions.
The meetings between the biggest polluters take place against a backdrop of increasing strains between the US and China over Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and the South China Sea, as well as technology and the origins of the coronavirus.
Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, spoke to Kerry via video link on Wednesday and warned that co-operation would not be sustainable without better relations.
Wang added that a “major strategic miscalculation by the United States has resulted in the sudden deterioration of bilateral relations in recent years” and that “the ball now is in the US court”, according to Chinese state media.
Kerry, however, said the US “remains committed to co-operating with the world to tackle the climate crisis” and “encouraged the [People’s Republic of China] to take additional steps to reduce emissions”, a state department spokesperson said.
Since Joe Biden became president, relations between the countries have remained difficult with few top-level meetings. At talks in late July, between Xie Feng, China’s vice-foreign minister, and Wendy Sherman, US deputy secretary of state, China said relations were in a dangerous “deadlock”.
But there has been hope that climate change might provide an opportunity for ties to improve.
The Kerry-Xie meetings comes after discussions in April in Shanghai that resulted in a joint statement highlighting commitments to “concrete actions in the 2020s” to reduce emissions in line with the aims of the 2015 Paris accord. Under the deal, countries vowed to limit global warming to “well below” 2C, preferably about 1.5C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
Li Shuo, an energy policy officer at Greenpeace, the campaign group, noted the Shanghai meeting covered much of the “low hanging fruit” ahead of more substantive negotiations aimed at reaching agreement on near-term emissions cuts.
“Tianjin is more difficult in a lot of ways, not just the bilateral relationship, but moving any further on climate will require courage from both sides,” Li said.
Glasgow will host the COP26 UN climate conference next month, where countries are expected to adopt more ambitious climate goals.
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Beijing is trying to position itself as a global leader on climate change with Xi pledging last year to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2060.
But China has been under pressure to bring forward its peak emissions target from 2030 to the middle of this decade. Critics say the Chinese economy’s continued reliance on coal-powered industry threatens to undermine its pledges.
“I am sure Kerry will push China on ambition, including [emissions] peaking before 2025 and reducing coal, both domestic and along the BRI,” Li said, referring to Xi’s ambitious transnational infrastructure investment project. “But I doubt there will be an immediate Chinese response while Kerry is here.”
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