China treated a US governor to a red carpet reception this week, while President Donald Trump’s energy chief received a low-key greeting, a signal that Beijing is ready to go around the White House in the battle against climate change.
Since Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal, China has repeatedly vowed to uphold the accord and work with American states that share its determination.
Giving a warm welcome to California Governor Jerry Brown, an opposition Democrat and self-described “envoy for humanity”, while cold shouldering US Energy Secretary Rick Perry signalled Beijing was happy to bypass Washington to make that happen.
“I think the message is that irrespective of the decision of Donald Trump, China is willing to work with individual states and cities in the United States,” said Willy Lam, an expert on politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Brown and Perry arrived in Beijing for a ministerial-level clean energy meeting just days after Trump’s shock announcement.
While Perry maintained a relatively low profile during his visit, Brown, who had described Trump’s move as “insane”, went on a public relations offensive as he sought to fill the vacuum left by the US leader in the climate change fight.
“We are losing ground. We are not moving at the pace needed to prevent catastrophe,” Brown warned Thursday on the sidelines of the gathering.
Brown used several public appearances in Beijing to drum up Chinese support for California’s aggressive efforts to curb climate-warming carbon emissions — including face-to-face talks with Xi in the Great Hall of the People, a venue normally reserved for meetings with visiting heads of state.
His efforts yielded results.
By the end of a week-long tour Brown said he had secured several preliminary agreements relating to clean energy and the establishment of a China-California climate institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
China is a “major economic engine that is investing in the low-carbon economy and California is doing things that are similar, on a smaller level of course,” Brown told AFP.
Chinese officials have made it clear they want to work with the American state — and beyond.