China Warns Kerry Climate Cooperation Depends on Overall Ties

China Warns Kerry Climate Cooperation Depends on Overall Ties

12:14 - U.S. climate envoy says talks in China were constructive, detailed

Senior Chinese officials told U.S. climate envoy John Kerry that continued U.S. hostility on a range of issues could jeopardize cooperation on fighting climate change, though Mr. Kerry said that working-level talks were productive in the run-up to a November climate summit.

Mr. Kerry, wrapping up a two-day visit to the northern port city of Tianjin, was warned repeatedly by his hosts that climate cooperation couldn’t not be kept separate from worsening geopolitical ties between the two countries.

On Thursday, Yang Jiechi, leader Xi Jinping’s top foreign-policy aide, told Mr. Kerry in a video call that the U.S. had interfered in China’s internal affairs and harmed its interests, causing difficulties in the bilateral relationship.

A day earlier, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, while describing climate-change cooperation as an oasis in the desert, said that “cooperation on climate change cannot be divorced from the overall situation of China-U.S. relations.”

Mr. Kerry said that he would pass along their message to Washington, but told reporters that he had been primarily focused during his visit on discussing nuts-and-bolts issues with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua. He described the talks during his two and a half days of meetings with Mr. Xie as “very constructive and detailed.”

Mr. Kerry also suggested the U.S. would like to see further high-level talks. “What I understand President Biden is interested in is a genuine and legitimate and appropriate dialogue at the appropriate time.” He said U.S. decisions on timing and format for such talks were up to Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The Biden administration has said it wants to carve out space for cooperation with Beijing on climate change notwithstanding bilateral frictions in issues including trade, technology and human rights.

Mr. Kerry’s visit, the third trip to China by a senior Biden administration and Mr. Kerry’s second this year, comes ahead of a United Nations summit set to take place in Glasgow in November, where world leaders will discuss efforts to cut emissions and support developing nations in pursuing low-emission economic growth.

Mr. Xi said last year that China would reach peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions before 2060. Mr. Kerry is pushing for China to move even faster, suggesting in bilateral talks that China should reach net-zero emissions as early as 2050, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Kerry’s visit began with a tone that was tense but also open to collaboration, according to a person briefed on the talks from the Chinese side.

But Vice Premier Han Zheng balked at Mr. Kerry’s call for China to announce more ambitious targets. During a video call between Messrs. Kerry and Han on Thursday, Mr. Han emphasized the importance of delivering on actions instead.

“On the issue of climate change, China has always been true to its words and resolute in deeds,” Mr. Han told Mr. Kerry, according to China’s description of the conversation.

China says it already is moving faster than any developed country from carbon peak to carbon neutrality, projecting that while it will take Europe 60 years and the U.S. 45 years, China will accomplish that feat in 30 years.

China’s economic-planning body has led the drafting of a road map for how the country will achieve Mr. Xi’s climate pledges. Mr. Xie has said that China would publish the road map soon, without elaborating.

Mr. Kerry told reporters Thursday that it was important to bring up U.S. demands before China’s plan is completed.

China has its own doubts about the U.S.’s ability to deliver on its promises. Researchers at a think tank affiliated with China’s Environment Ministry said China should seek to collaborate with the U.S., but also prepare for the U.S. to withdraw again from the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to a July presentation reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

One of Mr. Biden’s first acts in office this year was to re-enter the accord, from which then-President Donald Trump had withdrawn.

Mr. Kerry also said the U.S. continues to press Chinese leaders to declare a public moratorium on financing international coal-fired projects.

Beijing has long been the biggest public financier of overseas coal projects, investing more than $50 billion in such ventures over the past two decades, according to data from Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. In recent months, however, China has quietly stopped approving or financing new overseas coal projects.

Both delegations have also been looking into a joint initiative to support developing countries with their climate goals, said the person briefed on the talks, pointing to options such as the China-U.S. Green Fund, a private-equity investment fund initiated by the Paulson Institute and China’s top party leadership in 2015.