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Washington Watch: ‘Big mistake’ for China to skip COP26 in-person climate summit, Biden says

President Joe Biden on Tuesday questioned how China can lead as one of the world’s economic powers without fully immersing itself in the climate-change talks currently underway in Glasgow.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to address the U.N.’s COP26 summit by written statement, limiting other interactions, is a “big mistake,” Biden said during a press conference as he wraps up his two days at the Glasgow conference that lasts until Nov. 12. “What value-added has [China] provided? They lost an ability to influence people around the world.”

“The same way, I would argue, with regard to Russia,” Biden added. Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose state-run natural gas operation is seen as a key supplier to help remedy the lingering energy crisis in Europe and Asia, will play no part in the Glasgow conference.

The U.S. “showed up and by showing up we’ve had a profound impact on the way I think the rest of the world was looking at the United States…,” Biden said. Earlier Tuesday he released details of U.S. participation in a nearly 100-country effort to curb methane emissions.

China is at a “special development stage” that gives it some leeway as the world’s largest fossil-fuel
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polluter, Xie Zhenhua, a special climate envoy for China, told reporters in Glasgow, the AP reported.

Xie, who played a pivotal role in negotiations that achieved the 2015 Paris climate accord, underscored China’s longstanding position that the U.S. and other developed nations should be the ones acting faster to cut climate-damaging emissions, not China. And he was critical of the U.S. pulling out of the Paris pact under the Trump administration.

Biden earlier had apologized to world leaders for the Paris withdrawal.

Biden was pressed further Tuesday on China, and asked whether concerns that cooperation on climate change might put security or broader trade relations at risk. The two economic giants will be fighting for market share for solar and wind
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which the U.S. has relinquished to China in recent years, but which Biden wants to earn back to support his promises for U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Read: Clean-energy jobs split nearly equally between Republican, Democratic districts — this shows where the most jobs are

“No, I’m not [worried about a security risk],” Biden said. “I’ve made it clear. This is competition. This does not have to be conflict. But I expect China to play by the rules of the road [when it comes to open air space and open seas].”

The president was asked what he tells his Republican opposition when they argue that economic rivals aren’t holding up their end of the bargain when it comes to economy-changing, emissions caps.

“I say we want to be able to breathe and we want to be able to lead the world,” Biden replied.”

“China wants a role leading the world and they didn’t show up,” he said. “Climate is leading issue from Iceland to Australia. And they walked away.”

One of the countries Republicans push back on is India, which offered to COP26 a pledge for net-zero emissions by 2070, two decades later than the U.S. pledge.

Asked if efforts to shore up Republican support for domestic initiatives and multilateral climate pacts were diminished by questions around China, Russia and India stepping up to the plate with their own robust and timely emissions reduction, Biden said what mattered most was that the U.S. was at the table.

Biden said leaders at the conference thanked him for U.S. leadership there and in returning the nation to the Paris climate accord that serves as a backbone to ongoing policy-setting.

The president said no official at COP26 had expressed concern to him that a diminished U.S. climate-change effort through legislation — as both political parties continue to iron out infrastructure and spending measures in a tightly divided Congress — would undermine the broader U.S. effort to slow globally warming.

Democrats have offered a reduced spending plan, still setting aside $555 billion for clean-energy tax incentives and other features, after they needed to convince Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of fossil-fuel-state West Virginia, to stay on side.

Read: Manchin wavers on Biden’s social spending plan, says ‘time to vote’ on infrastructure

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