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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Brian Snyder/AFP via Getty Images

Yes, special climate envoy John Kerry's really in China and no, don't look for a huge breakthrough between the world's two largest carbon-emitting nations.

Driving the news: The State Department yesterday announced Kerry's visit this week, confirming plans that began emerging Saturday.

The intrigue: State's announcement went far beyond logistics.

Their comments and an interview Kerry did in the Wall Street Journal were notable for tough talk and seemingly setting expectations low.

  • "We must insist Beijing do more to reduce emissions and help tackle the worldwide climate crisis," a State Department spokesperson said.
  • The spokesperson, citing Kerry's prior talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, said the trip is " intended only to continue these important discussions."
  • "We are talking to China about talking," Kerry told the WSJ. "We need...to have China at the table in order to be able to resolve this challenge.”

Why it matters: Kerry's the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit China, and the trip comes amid deep divisions on trade, security, human rights and more.

  • The multiday meetings come just ahead of a major White House climate summit April 22-23 (China is invited) aimed at jump-starting more aggressive global efforts to stem emissions.
  • China's greenhouse gas output is by far the world's largest, so efforts to press for stronger steps are key to keeping the Paris climate agreement goals at all viable.

The big picture: The New York Times sums it up...

"Mr. Kerry’s visit to China underscores the Biden administration’s intent to cooperate with China on shared challenges, including climate, the coronavirus and nuclear proliferation even as the countries are locked in an increasingly fraught political, technological and military competition."

What we're watching: That's whether the two nations will offer any new bilateral commitments.

A separate WSJ story, citing a source familiar with the talks, said Kerry and Xie will discuss "creating a new formal mechanism for bilateral engagement" and helping developing nations curb emissions.

Catch up fast: China last year committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 and having its emissions peak before 2030.

But how that might actually happen remains quite vague.

Go deeper

John Kerry travels to China for climate change talks

John Kerry, U.S special presidential envoy for climate, gestures as he arrives at the Ministry of Finance in New Delhi, India, on April 6. (T. Narayan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

John Kerry, President Biden's special envoy on climate change, is traveling to Shanghai, China and then on to South Korea for meetings on reducing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases, the State Department said.

Why it matters: Kerry is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since Biden took office, and these talks come less than two weeks in advance of a virtual White House climate summit on April 22-23.

Biden under pressure to set tough emissions target

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In the run-up to the White House's virtual climate summit on April 22-23, environmental groups and now major corporations are presenting a united front in calling for at least a 50% cut in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, when compared to 2005 levels.

Why it matters: The 2030 targets are needed since the world is on course to sail above the warming targets set in place by the Paris Climate Agreement, resulting in potentially catastrophic climate impacts. These include the loss of much of the world's coral reefs and melting of some of the planet's largest ice sheets.

Apr 13, 2021 - World

Senate committee prepares to vote on sweeping bill to counter China

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is preparing to vote on a 280-page bipartisan bill that aims to counter the Chinese Communist Party's global influence.

Why it matters: The bill marks a culmination of years of growing concerns over the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China. It would allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to a raft of new initiatives aimed at helping the U.S. succeed in long-term ideological, military, economic and technological competition.