Climate envoy John Kerry meets with Chinese officials amid U.S. push to stabilise rocky relations

Ties between the U.S. and China have hit a historic low amid disputes over tariffs, access to technology, human rights and China's threats against self-governing Taiwan

July 18, 2023 11:21 am | Updated 12:39 pm IST - Beijing

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, left, and Chinese Premier Li Qiang, right, attend a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 18, 2023.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, left, and Chinese Premier Li Qiang, right, attend a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 18, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told China's top diplomat on July 18 that President Joe Biden's administration is “very committed” to stabilising relations between the world's two biggest economies.

On his second day of talks in Beijing, Mr. Kerry met with the ruling Communist Party's head of foreign relations Wang Yi, telling him Mr. Biden hoped the two countries could “achieve efforts together that can make a significant difference to the world.”

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Ties between the countries have hit a historic low amid disputes over tariffs, access to technology, human rights and China's threats against self-governing Taiwan.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Wang said the sides had suffered from a lack of communication, but that China believes through renewed dialogue “we can find a proper solution to any problems.”

“Sometimes, small problems can become big problems,” Mr. Wang said, adding that dialogue must be conducted on an “equal basis.”

That was an apparent reference to U.S. criticism of China's aggressive foreign policy, rights abuses against Muslim and Buddhist minorities and travel sanctions against officials ranging from the Beijing-appointed leader of Hong Kong to the country's Defence Minister.

Mr. Kerry said he appreciated the opportunity to “change our relationship for the better” and that Mr. Biden is “very committed to stability within this relationship and also to achieve efforts together that can make a significant difference to the world."

Mr. Biden “values his relationship with President Xi [Jinping], and I think President Xi values his relationship with President Biden, and I know he looks forward to being able to move forward and change the dynamic,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry later paid a courtesy call on newly appointed Premier Li Qiang, the party's second-ranking official, who told him China and the U.S. should cooperate more closely on the “extremely large challenge” posed by global warming. No meeting has been set with Mr. Xi, and China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang has been absent from public sight for three weeks.

There was no immediate comment on Mr. Kerry's Monday meeting with his counterpart Xie Zhenhua in the first extensive face-to-face climate discussions between representatives of the world's two worst climate polluters after a nearly yearlong hiatus.

China leads the world in producing and consuming coal, and has proceeded with building new plants that add tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually, while also expanding the use of renewables such as solar and wind power.

China has pledged to level off carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060. The U.S. and the European Union have urged China to adopt more ambitious reduction targets.

As with the U.S. and Europe, China has seen record stretches of high temperatures that have threatened crops and prompted cities to open Cold War-era bomb shelters to help residents escape the heat. Along with the burning of fossil fuels, production of the gas methane is considered a major contributor to climate change that Mr. Kerry is focusing on.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, unseen, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, unseen, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. | Photo Credit: AP

U.S. lawmakers have faulted China for refusing to make bigger cuts in climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions, along with the country's insistence that it is still a developing economy that produces far less pollution per capita and should be exempted from the climate standards adopted by developed Western economies.

Mr. Kerry is the third senior Biden administration official in recent weeks to travel to China for meetings with their counterparts following Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

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China broke off some mid- and high-level contacts with the Biden administration last August, including over climate issues, to show its anger with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan. China claims the island as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary, threatening to draw the U.S. into a major conflict in a region crucial to the global economy.

Other problems have rocked relations since then, including the transit across the U.S. of what American officials say was a Chinese spy balloon.

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