They are among 40 world leaders invited by US President Joe Biden to a virtual Earth Day climate summit on April 22-23. Meanwhile, Biden’s envoy Kerry arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday to discuss cooperation on climate change with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua ahead of the summit.
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The Friday meeting will be closely watched as climate emerges as an area where China and the US could seek to cooperate but also compete for influence on the global stage, with the European Union navigating in the middle.
Xi said in September that China aimed to be carbon neutral before 2060 in what was seen as a nod to the EU – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had proposed that as a benchmark for credible Chinese climate action at an EU-China summit in June.
While climate change is seen as an area for common ground for rivals China and the US, mistrust remains. Kerry has said Washington sees climate as an issue separate from the countries’ rivalry in other areas, but he has also said he was “not confident” that he could count on China’s cooperation.
The Biden administration, which plans to commit to emissions cuts of 50 per cent or more from 2005 levels by 2030, is reportedly nearing agreements with Japan, South Korea and Canada to increase carbon emission reduction targets.
China is also seeking to position itself as a responsible leader in combating climate change but is keen to avoid creating the impression that it is caving in to US pressure.
Li Shuo, a senior climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace East Asia, said he expected China to use the talks with the Europeans to discuss its plan in advance.
“The timing of the three-way summit is quite significant and symbolic as it comes right before Biden’s Earth Day summit next week. It shows both China and the US have been busy making preparations through shuttle diplomacy,” Li said.
“China, the US and the EU are the troika of the global climate campaign and it is of vital importance for them to not only move together, but also in the same direction,” he said. “After the past four years which saw the US back-pedalling, China largely at a standstill and the EU accelerating in terms of their efforts on climate, we will have to see if they are ready to make concerted efforts to move the climate agenda forward.”
Li said the EU was expected to raise its demands of China. “It’s also possible that China may give the EU leaders a heads-up about what commitments, if any, it plans to unveil ahead of next week’s summit.”
He said if China was to unveil any new commitments on climate, it would likely do so on home turf during the Boao Forum – known as the “Asian Davos” – to be held from Sunday to Wednesday.
Li added that there may not be an official announcement about Kerry’s visit to Shanghai. “It will probably be seen as a concession by Beijing if the outcome [of the talks] is immediately released,” he said.
According to Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University, while the EU would welcome China’s commitment, it would not necessarily see the need to work with Beijing on climate.
“From the perspective of Europe, the Europeans themselves are the best on climate change – Europe may not see room for close cooperation with China in that field,” Shi said.
He added that Biden’s summit showed that the US wanted to take the lead on climate change.
Shi also said that while China and the US had both made climate commitments, working together on climate change was still a way off – and it would not do much to ease tensions or change the confrontational relationship.
Additional reporting by Amber Wang
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