BEIJING — The world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases are sparring on Twitter over climate policy, with China questioning whether the US can comply with the groundbreaking climate legislation signed by President Joe Biden this week.
“You can rest assured that America will fulfill our obligations,” US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns tweeted in response on Wednesday, using a national flag emoticon for “America”. .”
The spirited exchange, part of a longer back-and-forth on Twitter, symbolizes a wider concern: US-China cooperation is widely seen as vital to the success of global efforts to curb rising temperatures. With the rift in relations over Taiwan and other issues, some are wondering if the two sides can work together.
After Congress passed the climate bill last Friday, Burns took to Twitter over the weekend to say the US was trading its biggest investment ever against climate change — and that China should follow suit.
On Tuesday evening, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with its own tweet: “Good to hear. But the point is, can the US deliver?”
The verbal skirmish stemmed from China’s suspension of talks with the US on climate and several other issues earlier this month as part of its protest at a visit to Taiwan by a senior US lawmaker, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Climate has been one of the few areas of cooperation between the warring countries. US officials criticized China’s move, with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken saying it “isn’t punishing the United States — it’s punishing the world”.
Asked to comment, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian last week called on the US to “live up to their historic responsibilities and commitments on climate change and stop looking for excuses for their inaction. “
The ministry later tweeted part of its response, and Burns responded four days later with his tweet about the US climate law. Using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China, he ended with: “The PRC should follow + reconsider the suspension of climate cooperation with the US”
China responded to its message “Can the US deliver?” with a second tweet suggesting that the US honor rich countries’ promises to help poorer countries financially cope with climate change and lift sanctions imposed last year on solar energy industry exports from China’s Xinjiang region over charges of forced labour.
The Twitter battle highlights a perception gap between the long-standing superpower that wants to lead and the emerging power that no longer wants to feel bound to follow someone else’s direction.
Former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord – reversed by Biden after he took office last year – dented US credibility in this area.
A Chinese expert praised parts of the US law but said it was too late and not enough.
“While there are some groundbreaking results in the bill, I fear it cannot restore US leadership on climate change,” said Teng Fei, a professor at Tsinghua University’s Institute of Energy Environment and Economy.
US climate envoy John Kerry has urged China to set more ambitious climate targets. China has responded that its goals are realistic given its development needs as a middle-income country, while the US sets ambitious targets that it fails to meet.
China’s ruling Communist Party generally sets conservative targets at the national level because it doesn’t want its performance to fall short. However, those goals are sometimes exceeded in the eager pursuit of those goals by local officials.
“China should be able to outperform national targets,” said Cory Combs, senior analyst at the Trivium China consultancy. “But of course those local plans are all subject to failures and delays, so it’s impossible to say exactly what they will deliver.”
Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.
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