China-US Ping-Pong diplomacy returns in climate change field?
Uncertainty looms if US lacks sincerity, keeps strong policy against others: experts
Published: Apr 19, 2021 12:01 AM
China-US Photo: GT

China-US Photo: GT

China and the US are committed to working together on the issue of climate change, and will cooperate on multilateral fronts including the Paris Agreement, according to a joint statement issued on Sunday between the two sides following US climate envoy John Kerry's visit to Shanghai, which is welcomed as a long-expected China-US interaction amid strained ties. 

Despite speculation among some observers who pin hopes on climate cooperation to break the ice and drag bilateral ties back on track just as Ping-Pong diplomacy did half a century ago, many others remain cautious, warning the US may lack sincerity in actual cooperation and use the move as part of its strategy to return to power in the international community and push other countries to share more responsibility on the issue.

They believed that the analogy to Ping-Pong diplomacy is overstated as the cooperation is limited to climate change and the US is still unfriendly toward China on many other issues.  

"China and the United States are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands," said the joint statement released by the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment on Sunday.

The two sides pledged to strengthen their efforts and tackle the challenges to realize the principles outlined in the Paris Agreement to control the global average temperature rise below 2C, and strive to limit it to 1.5C. 

The joint statement sends positive signals that highlight the two countries' sense of responsibility to shoulder the interests of the international community, and suggests the Biden administration's attitude shift from a decoupling strategy under the Trump administration to a "competing yet open to cooperation" stance, Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Yuan Zheng, deputy director and senior fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, added that the joint statement following Kerry's visit "shows the US' willingness to engage in talks with China, as it can only advance its scheme on global governance if the two sides, as the largest two carbon emitters in the world, work together on this issue." 

Highlights of China-US Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis. Graphic:Jin Jianyu and Chen Xia

Highlights of China-US Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis. Graphic:Jin Jianyu and Chen Xia

As some speculate whether the long-expected China-US interaction may break the ice and drag bilateral relations back on track like Ping-Pong diplomacy did, Chinese observers said that although it indicates there may be room for collaboration in other fields, the US still lacks the sincerity and respect to treat China on equal terms. 

Some analysts warned of the US' aggressive diplomatic policy aimed to selfishly protect the US' interests in recent years no matter under Trump or Biden administrations. They questioned whether the US would use its power to push other countries to share more responsibility on the issue of climate change while protecting its own interests after returning to international cooperation.   

Chinese experts said that the US' agenda on climate change speaks to its ambition to reinvigorate its supremacy and leadership on international affairs and restore its prestige which has been left broken during Trump's term.

"While China welcomes such interactions and will spare no efforts in realizing its carbon emission commitments, China will never allow the US to politicize the issue, nor will it accept any unreasonable demands from the US," Yuan noted.

Some other problems regarding carbon emissions remain, including the refusal to share cutting-edge technologies in the field from developed countries and funding support.

During an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Friday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng welcomed the US' return to international climate affairs under the Biden administration but urged it "to redouble its efforts to make up for the time lost during its absence" when Trump withdrew from the Paris accord during his term.

Le reiterated China's goals to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. 

"But for a big developing country with 1.4 billion people, these are no easy tasks. Some countries are asking China to fast-forward the process. That, I am afraid, is not very realistic," added Le, comparing the stages of climate response in China and those in the US is like comparing students still in primary school with those already in middle school. "It is against the natural course of things if you ask these two groups of students to graduate at the same time."

Xie Zhenhua (right) and John Kerry Photo: A screenshot from the

Xie Zhenhua (right) and John Kerry Photo: A screenshot from the

The Sunday joint statement was issued right after talks between Xie Zhenhua, China's special envoy for climate change, and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry during his visit to Shanghai from Wednesday to Saturday. An interesting episode, as some Chinese netizens have observed, showed Xie and Kerry posing for a photo without wearing ties. 

Kerry is the first senior official of the Biden administration to visit China. 

The gesture is often seen in diplomatic occasions when the two sides are engaged in a relaxing and friendly environment, explained Yuan, which is "not surprising for Xie and Kerry's meeting, since they have been old friends for a long time, and wouldn't mind going a bit deeper and dressing a bit more casually." 

The meeting came ahead of US President Joe Biden's virtual Leaders Summit on Climate to be held on April 22 and 23, to which Biden has invited 40 world leaders including those from China and Russia, according to a press release from the White House in late March.

The US is expected to announce at the Summit an ambitious 2030 emissions target as its new Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement, of which a key goal will be to catalyze efforts to keep the 1.5C goal within reach.

China has received the invitation from Biden to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Le said during the interview.

"We are looking into it. The Chinese side will send a positive message at the meeting, a message for cooperation and a message for responsibility. Addressing climate change is not what others ask us to. We are doing so on our own initiative," Le said. 

But no detailed arrangements from China have yet been issued. 

Analysts said that the major cause for the uncertainty is the still-looming relations that have kept expectations low, when almost at the same time as Kerry's China visit, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited Washington and released a joint statement with the US in which it directly interfered in China's internal affairs including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and sent extremely negative tones toward China.