A lot of eyes were on Shanghai on Thursday and Friday when visiting United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry met his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua.
To many, the talks were both a trial balloon and wind vane of the willingness of Beijing and Washington to collaborate on select issues with or without a thaw in overall ties.
The meeting turned out to be constructive and productive. The joint statement issued by the two special envoys assured everyone that the two governments "are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis …"
This will be music to the ears of most, as at this difficult time for China-US relations what better outcome could one expect when talk of "decoupling" and a "new Cold War" is all the rage?
In addition to the general affirmation of the two sides being "firmly committed to working together" on implementing the Paris Agreement, the statement was more specific about the actions to be taken in that regard.
And there was an answer to the questioning of Beijing’s attitude toward the upcoming climate summit Washington is convening, as the statement said, "Both countries look forward to the US-hosted Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22/23."
Despite its apparent alignment with the Donald Trump administration on China policies, it seems that the Joe Biden administration has not ruled out cooperation with China in some areas.
Beijing, on the other hand, has consistently called for Washington to see the sunny side of ties, and the win-win nature of cooperation. The reason and pragmatism of the joint statement demonstrates a precious no-nonsense approach when it comes to serious business, which is exactly how the world’s two largest economies should deal with each other.
The talks between Xie and Kerry seem to have re-invigorated China-US climate cooperation, which was instrumental to the birth of the Paris Agreement, and will be equally so to its fulfillment. The hope here is that climate cooperation will facilitate a new round of profound retrospection about the overall relationship, so that the two countries can re-engage and find a better way to co-exist going forward. The previous US administration’s irrational, populist approach to China policies not only disrupted bilateral ties, but put them on a collision course.
As many have anticipated, climate cooperation is an ideal starting point for rebooting the relationship. But compared with where global governance cries out for China-US partnership, from pandemic containment to post-pandemic peace and development, climate change is really only a part of the picture, albeit an important part.