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US, China Seen as Making Progress on Climate Change


Pedestrian crosses footbridge over early afternoon traffic on smoggy day in Beijing, 19 Sep 2009

Pedestrian crosses footbridge over early afternoon traffic on smoggy day in Beijing, 19 Sep 2009

Although President Barack Obama's visit to China did not draw huge crowds and has been criticized in the United States, experts on China say Washington and Beijing made progress in several areas, especially climate change.

Although President Barack Obama's visit to China did not draw huge crowds and has been criticized in the United States, experts on China say Washington and Beijing made progress in several areas, especially climate change.

Critics of President Obama's trip to China focused on what they called Beijing's effort to stage-manage his appearances and limit his ability to talk directly to the Chinese people.

China refused a U.S. request to allow a nationwide live television broadcast of President Obama's town hall meeting with university students in Shanghai. Also, Mr. Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao read statements after their meeting to reporters, but did not answer any questions.

China's Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei says both governments agreed to the agenda for President Obama's visit. He says China is "not in any position" to compare President Obama's visit to trips to China by Presidents Clinton and Bush, or to say which one was, in his words, "closer to the public."

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, says the White House considers the trip a success. He points out that although the Shanghai town hall meeting was not broadcast live on Chinese TV, it was streamed, live on the White House's Web site. Axelrod says Mr. Obama also did speak publicly about sensitive issues, such as human rights, where the United States and China acknowledged differences.

"These things don't change overnight. But certainly he made strong statements to a Chinese audience on a number of issues that are central to our values, and I think that will permeate over time," said Axelrod.

The lengthy joint statement that resulted from the meeting with Mr. Hu was wide-ranging and touched on economic cooperation, regional issues such as North Korea and South Asia, and global issues such as Iran and nuclear proliferation.

Some environmentalist say the statement held especially encouraging news on the issue of climate change.

Yang Fuqiang is the director in Beijing for the environmental group WWF's program on global climate change.

Yang says the statement left him very optimistic, with many developments, in his words, "going beyond his imagination."

One item he pointed to is China's agreement to work with the United States on a technology called carbon capture and sequestration, which aims to capture gases released from burning fossil fuels and store it, instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere.

Many scientists think such greenhouse gases contribute to global warming and there are efforts to cut such emissions and contain the rise in temperatures.

Yang also applauded plans for joint efforts to find low-pollution energy and to develop electric cars.

Richard P. Suttmeier, a political science professor and China expert at the University of Oregon in the United States, says the statement includes significant points.

"If you go back and look at the joint declaration, and you see that against the big issues going on, in terms of climate change and energy transition, then I think you would come away saying, 'man, there's something very, very important going on here," he said.

Suttmeier says the statement shows that the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are seriously engaged in trying to combat climate change.

The U.S.-China position on climate change is being closely watched around the world. The WWF's Yang says he is now hopeful that this latest bilateral declaration will help spur on greater progress at next month's global climate change summit in Copenhagen.

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