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Climate change: EU goes soft on China in hopes of a climate ‘partnership’ as Western alliance disintegrates


The EU and the US take different approaches to linking human rights and climate with China.

The EU is proclaiming a “good partnership” with China on climate issues, made smoother by avoiding mention of the country’s human rights record.

It’s not so easy for the U.S., which was slapped down by China last week as it tried to pursue a climate agenda while also denouncing China’s “genocide” against its Uighur Muslim minority.

EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans held a videoconference with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng Monday — the first in a planned series of high-level meetings between the world’s first and third-largest greenhouse gas polluters. Timmermans did not use the chance to raise concerns about human rights with one of the seven members in the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s paramount political body, his spokesperson said.

Instead, the chat was heavy on atmospherics.

Timmermans caught Han up on this year’s plans to roll out the European Green Deal, aiming at the bloc becoming climate neutral by 2050. Hanfilled in Timmermans on China’s upcoming 14th Five-Year Plan, the first steps of China’s effort to reach net zero emissions by 2060.

After the meeting, Timmermans said the pair had “laid the foundations for a good partnership” that will continue ahead of the COP26 U.N. climate talks in November. Before then, the EU wants China to commit to cutting its emissions faster over the next decade and stop building new coal plants at home and abroad.

Chinese state outlet Xinhua reported that Han wanted to make “climate pragmatic cooperation” central to Beijing’s relationship with the EU.

The EU is treading carefully. In addition to human rights, Timmermans avoided the potentially fraught subject of the EU’s plan to raise a carbon border tariff on imports — something meant to penalize companies producing in regions with laxer climate rules. Privately, some European officials say they hope these climate dialogues can be sealed off from broader trade and foreign policy disputes with Beijing.

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