Kerry: China can be Climate Partner Despite Human Rights ‘Differences’

Kerry: China Can Be Climate Partner Despite Human Rights 'Differences' Kerry: China Can Be Climate Partner Despite Human Rights 'Differences' Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and former Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty)

By Brian Freeman | Tuesday, 27 April 2021 12:51 PM

John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," appeared to dismiss China's myriad human rights abuses as "differences" that shouldn't get in the way of the communist nation being America's "partner in climate."

Stressing that “climate is enough of an imperative for all of our countries,” Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, told Foreign Policy that China, “doesn’t benefit by not having America as a partner in dealing with climate. And the United States doesn’t benefit from not having China as a partner in climate.”

The Biden administration has committed to cutting emissions — President Joe Biden, on his first day in office, rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change that former President Trump had untangled the U.S. from. Last week, the White House announced the U.S. would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent within the next eight years.

Kerry acknowledged general differences with Beijing on economic, cyber, human rights, and geostrategic interests, but said “those differences do not have to get in the way of something that is as critical as dealing with climate.”

He didn't mention China's repression of its citizens' civil rights, the ongoing campaign against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the tightening of China's grip on Hong Kong in the face of pro-democracy demonstrations, the country's military buildup and increasingly brazen incursions near Taiwan, its public misinformation that aided the initial spread of COVID-19 and China's reluctance to permit a true investigation into the coronavirus pandemic's origins in Wuhan.

“When I was in China the other day, we negotiated back and forth in good faith," he told FP. "We didn’t have to insult each other or shout at each other. We had a serious, tough conversation, but we managed to find a place and a way to be able to agree and move forward. And I think that opens the door or window to other possibilities in those other arenas. My sense is the Chinese know that there is a benefit to both of us being able to resolve the climate crisis because our citizens are deeply affected by our failure to do so.”

Kerry also said that, historically, powerful nations with differences between them have usually been able to cooperate when there is a mutual benefit. He gave as an example former President Ronald Reagan, who called the Soviet Union the evil empire and criticized them harshly, but still met with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik.

"They came to an agreement that it really didn’t make a lot of sense to have 50,000 warheads pointing at each other on a hair trigger and to be living with that day-to-day danger,” Kerry said.

The FP interview came out amid growing calls for Kerry to be investigated and resign over accusations he told Iran about Israeli military operations.

According to leaked audio revealed Sunday by The New York Times, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Kerry told him that Israel attacked Iranian assets in Syria “at least 200 times.”

Former Trump administration secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the audio tape proves "what I’ve said for years: That [Zarif] continued to engage with former secretary of state Kerry on policy matters after Kerry’s public service and, according to Zarif, Kerry informed the Iranians of Israeli operations."

Pompeo insisted that "Before we cut a deal with Iran that reduces Americans’ security, it would be good to know what the arrangement, if any, may have been between these two leaders."

Kerry wrote on Twitter that the allegations being made about him are “unequivocally false.”

"This never happened, either when I was Secretary of State or since," he said.

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