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Climate Negotiations with Beijing Won’t Come without Significant Concessions

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry speaks while White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy listens during a press briefing at the White House, January 27, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Biden administration officials have pledged to seek cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party on questions of combating climate change, and they’ve promised that their negotiations would not force the United States to compromise in other areas, such as territorial disputes and human rights. The Chinese government says otherwise.

On Wednesday, newly confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken and John Kerry, the president’s special envoy on climate, both made remarks on the administration’s plans to negotiate with the Chinese.

At the White House, Kerry addressed some of the concerns that have been raised about the administration’s approach, stating that the U.S. position on issues such as the South China Sea dispute and intellectual-property theft “will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate.” “That’s not going to happen,” he continued, “But climate is a critical, standalone issue.”

Blinken later in the afternoon similarly defended the administration’s intention to negotiate with the Chinese on climate issues, which he said is a topic “where it’s in the interest of China and in the interest of the United States and the interest of countries around the world to make concrete progress in combating global warming.” “I think and hope that we’ll be able to pursue that,” he added.

But just how much of a standalone issue can climate actually be? And is it true, as Blinken argued, that it can be an area of cooperation?

The Chinese Foreign Ministry answered Blinken and Kerry today, according to the Global Times, a Party tabloid:

Neither side should expect to wantonly interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s interest, while at the same time demanding China’s support in bilateral and global affairs, said China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday.

“China-US cooperation in specific areas is not just ‘flower in a greenhouse.’ It is bound to be closely related to the overall China-US relations. China hopes the US can create favorable conditions for China-US coordination and cooperation in important areas,” Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the ministry noted at a daily press briefing on Thursday.

Kerry can’t simply wave away the concerns that climate negotiations with Beijing will require U.S. concessions in other, unrelated areas if the Chinese government publicly demands such concessions with regard to “interference in China’s internal affairs” (which is to say human rights).

This raises some important questions: Why bother to claim that climate negotiations can work without significant concessions if that’s most likely not true? And just what, and how much, is the Biden administration willing to sacrifice in order to strike a bargain with the CCP on climate?

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