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Friday, November 05, 2021
Biden's Team Divided on China Policy
Chan Kung

Since assuming his presidency, U.S. President Joe Biden has followed Trump's tariff policy and sanctions against China, agreeing with the Trump administration's determination that the Chinese government's treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang constitutes genocide and crimes against humanity. But unlike Trump, the Biden administration also considers climate change as an "existential threat" while seeing China as the greatest geopolitical test of the 21st century.

Given that China is already the world's largest carbon emitter and owns half of the world's coal-fired power plants, the Biden administration must work more closely with China if it wants to reach its goal of keeping global temperature rise at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Washington Post revealed that discussions between Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, had previously stalled because Beijing insisted that cooperation on climate would not begin amid tensions over human rights, Hong Kong, Taiwan, trade and a host of other issues.

The report said that Kerry has repeatedly pushed for direct diplomacy between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, arguing that improved bilateral ties could produce better results in Scotland. White House aides, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, are skeptical that the United States can persuade China to reduce emissions.

Sullivan said at a security conference this spring that he would not trade cooperation with China on climate change as a favor from Beijing to the United States. He also repeated this position during a meeting in Zurich earlier this month with Yang Jiechi, the Communist Party's highest-ranking diplomatic official.

The Washington Post reports that liberal lawmakers and climate activists are concerned about tensions between the U.S. and China and fear that the upcoming Scottish climate conference will ultimately be inconclusive.

The report said Kerry has advocated a phone call between Biden and Xi since early summer to avoid such an outcome, but Sullivan disagreed and argued that such a call would be premature.

Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman and Kerry's disappointing trip to China "finally united the Biden team in support of the two presidents or the President to make the necessary contacts".

The newspaper quoted a U.S. official as saying, "With the concentration of power in Xi's hands, we assessed that there needed to be high-level contacts to move things forward". As a result, Biden had a 90-minute call with Xi on Sept. 9.

After Sullivan's six-hour meeting with Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi in Zurich last month, the U.S. and China agreed on a virtual summit between Biden and Xi Jinping before the end of the year.

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