US climate envoy John Kerry is set to arrive in China on Wednesday for what Beijing said would be a four-day trip, as the two countries seek cooperation over the environment despite acrimony on other fronts.
In the first trip to China by a Biden administration official, the former secretary of state will visit Shanghai before travelling onto the South Korean capital, Seoul.
Kerry is in Shanghai at the invitation of the Chinese ministry of ecology and environment, said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman at the foreign ministry, when asked at a regular media briefing who proposed the face-to-face meeting.
The two will exchange views on COP26, said Zhao.
COP26, as the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference is also known, will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
His trip comes in preparation for Biden’s virtual climate summit next week, to which the US leader has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Beijing, which has so far not committed to Xi’s presence at the summit, said Kerry would arrive on Wednesday and stay until Saturday “at the invitation of China”.
Zhao said during the trip Kerry will meet China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and “exchange views on Sino-US cooperation on climate change”.
Kerry’s trip comes despite a testy initial meeting last month in Alaska between top Biden officials and their Chinese counterparts.
The two sides clashed over accusations that China is violating promises of freedoms to Hong Kong and carrying out genocide against Uighur and other mostly Muslim minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
‘Work with China’
Washington is hoping to find areas of common ground despite the high political tensions.
Kerry had told CNN that although Washington and Beijing had “big disagreements … climate has to stand alone”.
Biden has made climate a top priority, turning the page from his predecessor Donald Trump, who was closely aligned with the fossil fuel industry.
The US president has rejoined the 2015 Paris accord, which Kerry negotiated as secretary of state and committed nations to take action to keep temperature rises at no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
With the world badly off the track to meet the goal, Biden hopes that next week’s virtual summit will result in stronger pledges in advance of UN-led climate talks in Glasgow.
Kerry – who has already travelled on his climate push to European allies, India, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates – noted that he worked closely with China on the Paris accord.
“We hope that China will come to the table and lead. President Xi has talked about leadership, about China’s role in this. We want to work with China in doing this,” Kerry said in an earlier interview with the India Today.
No global solution is likely without both the US and China, the world’s top two economies which together account for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.
China alone produces almost 30 percent of carbon emissions, far more than any country, after decades of rapid industrialisation.
But President Xi has promised that China’s emissions will peak by 2030, as part of a big push to clean up the environment.
Biden is also hoping to carry out far-reaching efforts to transform the US economy towards green energy, and has identified climate as among the narrow areas in which the US will seek to work with China.