In 2015, US President Barack Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to hammer out an arrangement for dealing with climate change. The whole world was impatiently waiting on the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters to step up, and the diplomacy paid off — China and the US agreed to sweeping measures to rein in carbon emissions and switch to sustainable economies.

Now, with the US election just a week away, Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator, said Tuesday that any potential leader of the US should heed the collaborative nature of the Paris agreement. If the whole world is committing to a goal, and counting on the US to carry through on its promises, then the US can’t spurn that trust. 

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"If they resist this trend,” Zhenhua said,. “I don't think they'll win the support of their people, and their country's economic and social progress will also be affected. 

“I believe a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends," he said. 

While Zhenhua did not say presidential candidate Donald Trump’s name, these statements from Chinese officials emphasizing the importance of climate action are unprecedented.

Generally, leaders from other countries do not make their preferences for the US presidential election known, because they do not want to sour relationships. After all, if their choice doesn’t win, they still have to constructively work with the incoming government. 

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Trump has called climate change a hoax perpetuated, of all things, by the Chinese government and has declared that he will withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, effectively collapsing a global structure that involves nearly 200 governments.  

In contrast, Hillary Clinton has a 10-point plan on her campaign website on how she plans to address climate change if elected.

Zhenhua’s statements can in no way be construed as an attack on Trump. His words are a mild nudge, rather than a violent reprimand. 

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In any case, the statements reflect how much the rest of the world, just like US voters, is anxiously awaiting the outcome of the 2016 election. 


Defend the Planet

China's Message for US Candidates: It's Time to Take Climate Change Seriously

By Joe McCarthy