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Climate envoy John Kerry meets with Chinese officials in a new U.S. push to stabilize rocky relations

By Associated Press
Published: July 18, 2023, 8:13am

BEIJING (AP) — U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told China’s top diplomat on Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s administration is “very committed” to stabilizing relations between the world’s two biggest economies, as the countries seek to restart high-level contacts.

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

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, 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,” 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 defense minister.

Coinciding with Kerry’s visit, former U.S. national security adviser and secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, arrived in Beijing this week and met with Defense Minister Li Shangfu on Tuesday.

China’s Defense Ministry quoted Li as praising the role the 100-year-old Kissinger played in opening up China-U.S. relations in the early 1970s, but said bilateral ties had hit a low point because of “some people on the American side who are not willing to meet China halfway.”

“We are constantly striving to establish stable, predictable and constructive China-U.S. relations and hope that the U.S. side will join with the Chinese side in consolidating the consensus of the two countries’ leaders and jointly advance the healthy and stable development of relations between our countries and their militaries,” Li was quoted as saying.

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.

Contacts have only slowly been restored and China continues to refuse to restart dialogue between the People’s Liberation Army, the party’s military branch, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

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.

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

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,” Kerry said.

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.

Kerry responded that “working and showing the rest of the world how we can cooperate and begin to address this with the urgency it requires is incredible.”

He pointed to previous agreements on reducing the output of methane, a major contributor to global warming, as well as transitioning away from coal as a power source and addressing deforestation.

“Now, I can’t tell you for sure, but you know and I know that things are changing and predictions are much more serious than they’ve ever been,” Kerry, a former U.S. senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate, told Li.

No meeting has been announced with Xi, and China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang has been absent from public sight for three weeks.

There was no immediate comment on 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.

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.

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Biden and Xi spent days together when both were their countries’ vice presidents and met in November at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia. However, no state visits have been held following the COVID-19 outbreak and no plans have been announced for their next face-to-face meeting.

Asked about U.S. restrictions on technology transfer and the overall state of bilateral relations, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, said China “has always opposed the U.S. politicizing and weaponizing economic, trade and technological issues.”

“We hope the U.S. will implement President Biden’s promise that he has no intention of decoupling from China, obstructing China’s economic development, or encircling China, so as to create a favorable environment for China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation,” Mao told reporters at a daily briefing.

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