China Reels Under a Barrage of Criticism

Posted on 16 December 2009 by editor


Civil society demonstration in Copenhagen. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Civil society demonstration in Copenhagen. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

By Antoaneta Bezlova


BEIJING (IPS/TerraViva) – China is not happy. This is how one of the Chinese state-sanctioned newspapers summed up Beijing’s feelings about the week spent negotiating on climate change in the Danish capital.

After a very public showdown with the United States in the early days of the global climate talks, China found itself attacked by smaller developing countries for benefiting more than anyone else from carbon credit funding. And as the countdown to the end of negotiations began, Beijing was seen deflecting criticism that it was the stumbling block to reaching a deal.

Describing the fighting camps in Copenhagen in terms borrowed from the famous “Art of War of Suntzu,” the ‘China Times’ newspaper said Beijing’s gloom about the talks was growing and there was no sign of any “ceasefire” in sight.

The ongoing United Nations climate change conference in the Danish capital, which began on Dec. 7, is now in its final phase.

Within government circles and environmental lobbies alike, there is clear awareness of the importance of China’s role in reaching an agreement.

“This is the first time for China to work on green cooperation internationally,” says Hu Angang, prominent economist and campaigner for low-carbon future. “Beijing knows that if we succeed, then the world succeeds; if China fails, then the world fails.”

The talks have reached an impasse due to long-standing rifts between rich and poor countries, and a fresh division that has emerged among developing countries. China has featured prominently in both standoffs and Beijing appears worried that it is becoming a target of criticism over the deadlock.

“People will say ‘if there is no deal, China is to blame’,” deputy foreign minister He Yafei said in an interview with the ‘Financial Times’ published this week. “This is a trick played by developed countries. They have to look at their own position and can’t use China as an excuse. China will not be an obstacle [to a deal].”

On Tuesday China accused developed countries of backsliding on what it said were their obligations to fight climate change and warned that climate negotiations had entered a critical stage.

In sharp comments made at a press briefing in Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said there had been “some regression” on the part of developed countries on their position regarding financial support. The change in their position “will hamper the Copenhagen conference,” she said.

China and the United States – the world’s two largest carbon polluters – have waged a war of words at Copenhagen. They have clashed on key issues such as how to share out the burden of slashing greenhouse gases (GHGs) and whether the United States owes developing countries a “climate debt”.

Beijing says western nations have built their prosperity on fossil fuels and need to shoulder the responsibility for reducing the growth of global GHG emissions. The International Atomic Agency – an intergovernmental forum on nuclear energy – however, projects that nearly all the growth in those gases over the next two decades will come from emerging economies and half of it from China.

The United States has rejected the idea of “climate reparations” and questioned the need for China – now the fastest-growing economy in the world – to receive a portion of the rich nations’ funding to help developing countries mitigate climate change.

“I don’t envision public funds – certainly not from the United States – going to China,” Todd Stern, the chief U.S. climate negotiator, told a press briefing in Copenhagen last week. While poorer developing countries still needed western help to nurture clean-energy technologies, this was no longer the case with China, he argued.

China has vowed to reduce carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, but experts say, given economic growth projections, its emissions could still double compared to 2005 levels.

The country has appeared in Copenhagen championing the interests of the developing nations but it has faced rows among its own lobby. Dozens of the poorest countries led by the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu have called for mandatory caps on greenhouse gases for major emerging economies such as China starting in 2013.

China has been consistently refusing binding emissions caps for fears it would hurt its spectacular economic rise. It reiterated this position in Copenhagen. But in a gesture aimed at mending relations with its underdeveloped allies, Beijing hinted it was willing to give up its share of funding provided by rich nations to help poorer countries tackle climate change.

“Financial resources for the efforts of developing countries (to combat climate change are) a legal obligation… That does not mean China will take a share – probably not … We do not expect money will flow from the U.S., Britain and others to China,” He Yafei told the ‘Financial Times’.

Analysts believe the statement was a sign of Beijing’s unease over the fragile unity of developing countries and the implications of the row for the progress of the talks.

“The climate talks will display China’s new world view,” insists Qing Hong, researcher with the Centre for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank.

“Contrary to some arguments, China is not always adhering only to its own national interests. Quite the opposite, China will show the international community that in the case of climate change its considerations transcend its national boundaries,” he says.

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