Republicans on Thursday accused John Kerry, President Biden’s special climate envoy, of being soft on China as he prepared to travel to Beijing to restart talks between the world’s two biggest polluters.

In a contentious hearing before a panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republicans attacked Mr. Kerry for not doing enough to persuade China to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, several also sought to portray Mr. Kerry as putting Chinese interests above those of the United States by negotiating with America’s top economic rival.

Mr Kerry is expected to arrive in China on Sunday for three days of climate talks. He told lawmakers he believes the Chinese government must reverse its growing use of coal-fired power plants, which has helped make it the world’s biggest polluter. But he also aimed to praise China for deploying more wind, solar and other renewable energy than the rest of the world combined.

Mr. Kerry said it was important to try to find a way that would allow China and the United States to work together to reduce global emissions, despite tensions between the countries over trade, human rights and other issues.

“China is the world’s largest economy, and the world’s largest issuer,” Mr Kerry said, insisting it would be “an impracticality of the highest order, diplomatically and politically”, for the US not to talk to China. .

The hearing underscored Mr. Kerry’s stringency in seeking cooperation with Beijing as Republicans and some Democrats try to outdo each other with tough rhetoric on China. It also exposed how little leverage the United States has to pressure the Chinese government to act more quickly to cut its carbon emissions.

“What is the US doing to force China to reduce its emissions?” asked Representative Nathaniel Moran, Republican of Texas.

Against the use of the word “force,” Mr. Kerry did not directly address what, if anything, the United States could do to force China to change course, but he said that dialogue is what is really needed between the two countries.

He also noted that lawmakers are considering a plan similar to one in Europe that would tax iron, steel and other imports that are made by countries without strong climate laws, such as China. “That’s picking up some steam legally because I think people are frustrated with what’s going on,” he said.

Republicans have said they are skeptical that Mr. Kerry will succeed because China is investing in new coal-fired power plants, despite his acknowledgment that global emissions must fall.

“We haven’t seen any real deliberate effort on their part to match the efforts of the United States,” said Mr. Moran.

Scientists say that if China’s emissions continue to rise, by mid-century it would surpass the United States as the country that has pumped the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Age. All that pollution from industrialization has helped warm the planet by an average of 1.2 degrees Celsius.

Scientists say 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, is the threshold beyond which the effects of climate change — drought, heat, wildfires, floods — will exceed humanity’s ability to adapt.

Another issue raised at the hearing was China’s classification within the United Nations climate body as a developing country. As such, it has decided to cut its emissions more slowly than the United States and the European nations. China has also argued that it should not face the same financial obligations to help poor nations deal with climate impacts.

China has said its emissions will continue to rise until 2030, when it will begin reductions. It has said it will stop adding carbon pollution to the atmosphere by 2060. President Biden has pledged that the United States will cut its emissions in half from 2005 levels by the end of this decade and stop adding carbon by 2050.

“How in the world can the second largest economy support you and the rest of the world, honestly, that they are a developing nation, giving them preferential treatment?” asked Representative Michael McCaul of Texas.

Mr Kerry said he agreed with Republicans who said China should be treated as a developed nation and that the issue would be revisited next year.

The hearing also featured a series of chilling personal attacks.

Representative Brian Mast, Republican of Florida, told Mr. Kerry that he “does not represent the United States of America” ​​but rather a “left-wing radical agenda.”

Representative Cory Mills, also a Florida Republican, sarcastically thanked Mr. Kerry for taking the time to fly on his “private jet.”

Mr Kerry called Mr Mills’ comment “pretty stupid” and said he does not own a private jet but flies commercial.

Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, showed charts that he claimed proved the world is not warming. That prompted Mr. Kerry to call the lawmaker’s views, which contradict the conclusion of scientists around the world, “shocking.”

Mr. Perry retorted, “They’re cheaters, like you, sir,” eliciting gasps from both sides of the aisle.

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