Xi Jinping has not committed to Biden climate summit, says John Kerry

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands at the Great Hall of the People

Amid escalating tensions between the United States and China, Chinese president Xi Jinping has not committed to joining a virtual climate change summit hosted by the United States later this month.

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that Jinping hasn’t said he would participate in next week’s virtual summit but called on the country to be proactive to combat climate change.

“We cannot resolve the climate crisis without China being at the table and without China’s cooperation,” Kerry said. “It is absolutely critical.”

“China is the largest [carbon] emitter at about 28 to 30 percent. We’re the second-largest at about 15 percent, so just between two of us we have 45 percent of the world’s emissions.”

In addition to Jinping, Biden extended an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin as tensions also escalate between the US and Russia. Kerry noted that “over 40 heads of state” are set for the two-day virtual summit on April 22 and April 23.

The Washington Post reported last week that Kerry is set to travel to China in an effort to create unity in combating the climate crisis. The meetings in China would mark the first major visit by a Biden administration official to China.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands at the Great Hall of the People
Getty Images

The Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Uighurs and Hong Kongers, as well as trade sanctions and response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in strained relations.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was dismissive of China’s non-committal stance, insisting the United States is still finalizing details for the summit during her daily press briefing Tuesday.

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“We are engaged at a range of levels, we are approaching our relationship as not one of conflict, but of competition,” Psaki said Tuesday at the White House. “We believe that the most important steps we can take is to rebuild and support our own economy here at home and to also be candid about areas where we have concerns.

“Whether it’s human rights abuses or technological abuses, that is certainly how we approach our relationship.”

China’s Communist government has previously smacked-down Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s appeals to work together on climate change after he said he agreed that the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims amounted to “genocide.” 

In a statement released on Twitter in January, China’s foreign ministry accused Blinken of “interfering in its domestic affairs and undermining its interests” after he backed predecessor Mike Pompeo’s declaration that it had launched “a systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs.”

John Kerry said it is "absolutely critical" to have China at the climate talks.
John Kerry said it is “absolutely critical” to have China at the climate talks.
CNN Screengrab

“China is willing to work with the US on climate change. But such cooperation cannot stand unaffected by the overall China-US relations,” the statement read.

“It is impossible to ask for China’s support in global affairs while interfering in its domestic affairs and undermining its interests,” it added.

At a March summit in Alaska — where Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan held the first extended high level talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi — Chinese representatives launched into an anti-American tirade, which was met with a tepid American response.

Yang Jiechi lectured Blinken and Sullivan on what he said was US hypocrisy.

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“The United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength,” Yang said through a translator at the summit in Anchorage.

“Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States,” added Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world.”

Blinken responded to an initial round of attacks from the Chinese officials by saying, “given your extended remarks, permit me, please, to add just a few of my own before we get down to work.”

In his rebuttal, Blinken said “a hallmark of our leadership” is “our alliances and our partnerships that have been built on a totally voluntary basis. And it is something that President Biden is committed to reinvigorating.”

Blinken added, in a concession to Chinese criticism, that the US is “not perfect.”

President Joe Biden prepares to sign executive orders after speaking about climate change issues in the State Dining Room of the White House on Jan. 27, 2021.
President Joe Biden prepares to sign executive orders after speaking about climate change issues in the State Dining Room of the White House on Jan. 27, 2021.
Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

“There’s one more hallmark of our leadership here at home, and that’s a constant quest to, as we say, form a more perfect union.  And that quest, by definition, acknowledges our imperfections, acknowledges that we’re not perfect, we make mistakes, we have reversals, we take steps back,” Blinken said.

“But what we’ve done throughout our history is to confront those challenges openly, publicly, transparently, not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don’t exist, not trying to sweep them under a rug. And sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s ugly, but each and every time, we have come out stronger, better, more united as a country.”

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