US envoy John Kerry’s diplomatic quest to stave off the worst scenarios of global warming is meeting resistance from China, the world’s biggest climate polluter, which is adamant that the US ease confrontation over other matters if it wants Beijing to speed up its climate efforts.
Rights advocates and Republican lawmakers say they see signs, including softer language and talk of heated internal debate among Biden administration officials, that China’s pressure is leading the US to back off on criticism of China’s mass detentions, forced sterilization and other abuses of its predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region.
But the White House took a step this past week that could further deepen the US-China divide, forming a security alliance with Britain and Australia that will mean a greater sharing of defense capabilities, including helping equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
President Joe Biden came out strong from the start of his presidency with sanctions over China’s abuse of the Uyghurs, and his administration this spring called it genocide. But the US desire for fast climate progress versus China’s desire that the US back off on issues such as human rights and religious freedom is creating conflict between two top Biden goals: steering the world away from the climate abyss and tempering China’s rising influence.
It would be “disastrous in the long term for the United States government to backtrack, tone down, let the Chinese manipulate the issue,” said Nury Turkel, a Uyghur advocate and the vice chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an advisory panel that makes policy recommendations to the White House and Congress.
Chinese leaders repeatedly linked the issue of climate change and their complaints over perceived US confrontation on human rights and other issues during Kerry’s most recent China trip this month, Kerry told reporters in a call.
The Chinese complained specifically about sanctions the administration has put on China’s globally dominant solar panel industry, which the US and rights groups say runs partly on the forced labor of imprisoned Uyghurs.