Obama and Xi Jinping Commit U.S. and China to Paris Climate Agreement


President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China formally committed the world’s two largest economies to the Paris climate agreement here on Saturday, cementing their partnership on climate change and offering a rare display of harmony in a relationship that has become increasingly discordant.

On multiple fronts, like computer hacking and maritime security, ties between China and the United States have frayed during the seven and a half years of Mr. Obama’s presidency. The friction has worsened since the ascension of Mr. Xi as a powerful nationalist leader in 2013.

Yet the fact that he and Mr. Obama could set aside those tensions to work together yet again on a joint plan to reduce greenhouse gases attests to the pragmatic personal rapport they have built, as well as to the complexity of the broader United States-China relationship, a tangle of competing and congruent interests.

At a ceremony in this picturesque lakefront city, the two leaders hailed the adoption of the Paris agreement as a critical step toward bringing it into force worldwide. Together, China and the United States generate nearly 40 percent of the world’s emissions, not far from the threshold of 55 percent required for the global pact to take effect.

“Despite our differences on other issues, we hope our willingness to work together on this issue will inspire further ambition and further action around the world,” Mr. Obama declared.

Mr. Xi praised the Paris agreement as a milestone, adding, “It was under Chinese leadership that much of this progress was made.”

From the moment he stepped off Air Force One on his final visit to Asia as president, Mr. Obama confronted a resurgent China, undaunted by his efforts to restore America’s presence in the region and poised to capitalize on his troubles in winning congressional passage of his ambitious regional trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Mr. Obama’s chaotic welcome on the tarmac captured the mood. There were arguments at the airport between White House aides and Chinese security officials who tried to keep back reporters. Shouting matches also broke out between Mr. Obama’s staff and guards over how many people were allowed into the state guesthouse where he and Mr. Xi later met.

Even China’s climate commitments were less a concession to American pressure than a restatement of its own goals. They included a promise for China’s carbon emissions to reach a plateau or decline “around 2030,” but without any specific target for reductions like those Mr. Obama pledged. That means China has plenty of room to continue burning fossil fuels to power its economy.

“The story of the past eight years is not mainly the pivot or the rebalance; it is the very substantial increases in Chinese capacities since 2008,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, who helped formulate Mr. Obama’s Asia strategy as his chief China adviser in the first term.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Mark Landler and Jane Perlez