Kerry Sees Climate Cooperation as Path to Redefine US–China Ties

China’s motivation for tackling climate change remains a concern
By Dorothy Li
Dorothy Li
Dorothy Li
Dorothy Li is a reporter for The Epoch Times based in Europe.
and Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
July 18, 2023Updated: July 18, 2023

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said he hopes that climate negotiations could pave the way for improved ties with China. Still, critics claim that China’s ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses climate issues as a “bargaining chip.”

On July 18, Mr. Kerry held talks with the CCP’s top foreign affairs official, Wang Yi. The discussion marks the second day of bilateral climate meetings after Mr. Kerry spoke to his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, on Monday.

“Our hope is that this can be the beginning of a new definition of cooperation and of capacity to resolve the differences between us,” Mr. Kerry told Mr. Wang.

Mr. Kerry is the third senior American official to travel to China in the span of a month. The Biden administration seeks to resume high-level communications between Beijing and Washington as ties get worse over issues, from the CCP’s unfair trade practices to its aggression against Taiwan.

Mr. Wang, who addressed the former secretary of state as an “old friend,” said the Chinese regime is willing to strengthen dialogues. But such communications, he said, must be conducted on what he described as an “equal basis,” a term often used by Beijing to deflect international criticism from its poor human rights records and other issues while projecting an image that it “upholds” rules and regulations.

“Climate change cooperation proceeds under the greater atmosphere in China and the United States,” Mr. Wang said through an interpreter at a meeting room in the Great Hall of the People. “Sometimes, small problems can become big problems.”

According to the summary of the talks released by China’s foreign ministry, Mr. Wang warned the United States should “properly handle issues related to Taiwan,” a self-ruled island that the CCP views as its own territory to be taken by force if necessary.

China cut down climate and military communication with the United States last August as then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan angered the CCP. Mr. Kerry’s trip to Beijing marked the first major climate talks between Beijing and Washington in nearly a year.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry meets with Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Beijing on July 18, 2023. (Florence Lo/POOL/Getty Images)

Mr. Kerry later met Premier Li Qiang, telling him that as the “two largest emitters of greenhouse gases” in the world, it’s “imperative” for the two nations to show the rest of the world “how we can cooperate and begin to address this with the urgency it requires.”

“President Biden is really hopeful that we can advance the climate agenda,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Li said it’s necessary for China and the United States to strengthen coordination.

During Monday’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Mr. Kerry called on the two nations to partner with each other to reduce methane emissions and other greenhouse gases. He also tried to push China to reduce its reliance on coal—which supplied over half of the country’s electricity supply last year—while the CCP is trying to revive its faltering economy.

Criticism

Mr. Kerry’s comments on Monday while meeting Mr. Xie have drawn criticism from Republicans.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, took to Twitter to question why Mr. Kerry would praise China for building up its renewable energy capacity.

“U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry says the Chinese Communist Party is doing an ‘incredible’ job with increasing its green energy sources,” Ms. Blackburn wrote on July 17. “Does Kerry forget that the CCP uses child labor and allegedly Uyghur slave labor to produce green energy technologies?”

The Chinese regime has detained over 1 million Uyghurs in its far-western region of Xinjiang and subjected them to forced labor, torture, and other inhuman treatments. The U.S. government has formally declared the CCP’s treatment of Uyghurs as “genocide.”

In April, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, a Washington-based advocacy group, sent a written statement to lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee, urging for their support on a bill that would rescind Biden’s 2022 emergency declaration, a moratorium on tariffs for solar imports from Southeast Asia.

“The reality is that the Chinese polysilicon and solar-component industries are highly dependent on mining and manufacturing in the Uyghur homeland,” wrote Louisa Greve, director of global advocacy for the group. “It is clear that an increase in solar imports from Chinese solar manufacturers—regardless of whether these imports are from China or Chinese controlled factories in Southeast Asia—directly supports the Chinese solar industry’s use of Uyghur forced labor.”

Biden eventually vetoed the bill in May, and the House lawmakers failed short of the two-thirds majority to override the veto following a 214-205 vote.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry meets with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi (not pictured) in the Great Hall of the People on July 18, 2023 in Beijing, China. Kerry is in Beijing to restart climate negotiations between the world's two biggest polluters, which together account for nearly 40 percent of global emissions. Last year, China cut off climate talks in protest of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's vist to Taiwan. (Photo by Florence Lo-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry meets with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi (not pictured) in Beijing on July 18, 2023. (Florence Lo/POOL/Getty Images)

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned why Mr. Kerry would tell the Chinese side that climate change is “not a political issue.”

“Kerry is mistaken about China,” Mr. Hagerty wrote on Twitter on July 17. “For the CCP, everything is a political issue. They will use these meetings to advance political goals & exploit tensions.

“The only thing Kerry will likely walk away with is more aggressive CCP demands & actions toward the US.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is seeking GOP nomination for the White House in 2024, criticized Kerry for potentially being the “worst member” of the Biden administration on July 17.

“@JohnKerry wants America to ignore the fact that China is preparing for war, spying on us, hacking our govt, & infiltrating our institutions so he can make nice with Xi Jinping on climate change,” Ms. Haley wrote on Twitter.

‘Bargaining Chip’

Bryan Dean Wright, former CIA operations officer, said in a podcast on July 17 that China sees climate change as a “bargaining chip” and is not concerned about the climate crisis.

He drew his conclusions after analyzing recent articles from China’s hawkish state-run media Global Times and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s recent comments. He also highlighted how China has built new coal power plants “at a record clip.”

“It’s pretty darn clear that China does not view climate change as important. It’s only a bargaining chip to get, what do they say, ‘improved ties,’” Mr. Wright said. “In fact, a cynic might say that they are actually increasing their carbon dioxide emissions so that the rest of the world, well, freaks out.”

He continued, “And here’s the key, we remained forever stuck with China’s iron grip on the things that they supply to the world, like solar panels, and batteries, and electric vehicles.”

According to an analysis published by Visual Capitalist in January, six out of the top 10 battery manufacturing companies are Chinese, with China accounting for nearly 900 gigawatt-hours of manufacturing capacity or 77 percent of the global total. It predicted that China’s market dominance will continue through 2027, the year it is projected to own 69 percent of the world’s battering manufacturing capacity.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry and Chinese Premier Li Qiang (R) shake hands before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 18, 2023. (Florence Lo/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite Xi’s promises to reduce carbon emissions, Mr. Wright argued that China “is and will remain the world’s leading contributor of carbon dioxide gases, that is not going to change.”

In China, coal power construction starts, new project announcements, and plant permissions “accelerated dramatically” in 2022, with two new coal power plants being permitted per week, according to a February report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and the Global Energy Monitor.

“50 GW of coal power capacity started construction in China in 2022, a more than 50% increase from 2021,” the report says. “A total of 106 GW of new coal power projects were permitted, the equivalent of two large coal power plants per week.”

“If Beijing felt that climate change was real, and that it was manmade, and an existential threat to China, they would work dramatically and quickly on reducing their carbon dioxide emissions, and they would join the rest of the world and doing it,” Mr. Wright said. “No one would have to tell them to do so.

“But they don’t want to do that. Instead, they want to build coal plants at a record clip.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.