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Le Yucheng in 2015. Photo: Money Sharma/AFP via Getty Images

China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng told AP on Friday that China is unlikely to pursue climate proposals beyond its current arsenal, calling it "not very realistic" for a country of 1.4 billion people.

Why it matters: Despite heightened geopolitical tensions, the Biden administration has emphasized the need to partner with China on climate change. Le's comments come as Biden's climate envoy John Kerry is discussing the issue in meetings with Chinese officials in Shanghai.

What they're saying: "Some countries are asking China to do more on climate change. I am afraid this is not very realistic," Le told AP.

  • But China plans to send a "positive message" at President Biden's virtual climate change summit on April 22–23, Le added. He did not say whether Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to attend, but said, “the Chinese side is actively studying the matter.”
  • Le said that U.S. policy on China is "too negative" and needs to prioritize collaboration over competition. It can't be one "side drawing up a laundry list or demands to the other side," he said.

The big picture: China is currently the world’s biggest emitter of planet-warming carbon dioxide, with the U.S. in the No. 2 spot — though the U.S. leads in historical emissions.

  • China aims to peak its emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060, but the U.S. and other nations are pushing for them to set more stringent near-term targets.
  • These latest comments illustrate how much U.S. credibility on this issue was eroded when former President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, which the U.S. negotiated with the help of China.

What to watch: At next week's summit, the U.S. is expected to announce more ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions and pledge aid for less wealthy nations' climate efforts, AP reports.

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Apr 15, 2021 - World

Globetrotting climate envoy Kerry makes Biden team’s first visit to China

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

John Kerry became the first senior Biden administration official to touch down in China this week. He's also been the first to sit down with a string of world leaders.

Why it matters: Kerry may no longer be secretary of state, but you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise after a glance at his calendar. The unusual role could make Kerry a foreign policy force multiplier for President Biden, or potentially a source of mixed messages.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Apr 15, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Senate Democrats float climate diplomacy plan ahead of White House summit

Sen. Bob Menendez. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Senior Senate Democrats will introduce legislation on Thursday designed to make climate change a pillar of U.S. diplomacy, boosting initiatives to help other nations cut emissions and adapt to a warming world, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The bill, led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), aims to put momentum on Capitol Hill behind President Biden's efforts.

Apr 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.