China warns U.S. climate cooperation at risk over political tension

SHANGHAI – A senior Chinese diplomat has warned the United States that political tensions between Beijing and Washington could undermine efforts by the world’s two largest greenhouse gas sources to work together to tackle climate change.

The United States, which has resumed its role in global climate diplomacy after a four-year hiatus under President Donald Trump, has long hoped to clear climate issues out of its disputes with China over issues such as trade, human rights and the origins of the Covid19 pandemic.

Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, told John Kerry, the US special envoy on climate change, that the United States sees the joint efforts of both sides against global warming as an “oasis,” the Chinese State Department said in a statement.

“But the oasis is surrounded by a desert, and the oasis could very soon be deserted,” Wang said on Wednesday via video link. “The Sino-US climate cooperation cannot be separated from the wider context of Sino-US relations.”

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will meet with Special Envoy for Climate Change, John Kerry, in Tokyo on August 31, 2021.Behrouz Mehri / Pool via REUTERS

Kerry told Wang Washington wants China to do more on climate issues, a State Department spokesman said.

“Secretary Kerry reiterated that the United States remains determined to work with the world to address the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency it requires, and encouraged the PRC to take additional steps to reduce emissions company, “said the spokesman, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

Kerry is in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin for personal talks with Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for the climate, about the countries’ joint response to the climate crisis.

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In a separate video meeting with Kerry, Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Han Zheng urged the United States to “create a good atmosphere of cooperation,” the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua said on Thursday.

Kerry replied that the United States was ready to improve communications between the two, she added.

Climate watchers hope the talks will bring more ambitious commitments by both countries to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

China and the United States “need to recognize that beyond their bilateral oases and deserts, the whole planet is at stake,” said Li Shuo, a senior climate adviser for the Greenpeace environmental group.

“If they don’t make climate progress together quickly enough, everything will soon become a desert.”

The meeting in Tianjin is the second between Kerry and Xie, after one in April in Shanghai. Kerry’s remit is limited to climate change issues.

Although Wang warned that climate change may now be linked to other diplomatic issues, China has stated that its efforts to reduce emissions and adopt cleaner forms of energy are vital to its ambitious domestic agenda.

“Chinese heads of state and government have long said that they are not committed to climate protection because of outside pressure, but because it benefits China and the world as a whole,” said Alex Wang, climate expert and professor at UCLA.

“If so, the tensions between the US and China shouldn’t put a brake on Chinese climate action.”

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