Biden says China, Russia failed to lead at COP26 climate summit

United States President Joe Biden has accused China and Russia of failing to show leadership on addressing climate change, saying he believes it was a “big mistake” for his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to not attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit on Tuesday, Biden said his own presence at the event in Glasgow, Scotland, showed that “America is back” after the “America First” foreign policy approach of former President Donald Trump.

“The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader – not showing up, come on!” Biden told reporters before flying out of Glasgow.

“It just is a gigantic issue and they walked away. How do you do that and claim to be able to have any leadership?” Biden said. “It’s been a big mistake, quite frankly, for China not showing up. The rest of the world looked at China and said ‘What value are they providing?’”

Xi, who leads the world’s largest emitter of carbon emissions, has not travelled outside of China since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden’s comments come as the US and China are seeking to improve diplomatic relations amid several points of tension, including concerns in Washington over Beijing’s recent military actions in Taiwan’s air defence zone and China’s human rights record.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up cross-strait activities this year, with the number of recorded incidents on track to be double the level of 2020.

A senior US official said last month that Biden and Xi planned to hold a virtual bilateral meeting before the end of the year amid the tensions.

Xi and Biden spoke by phone on September 9 in what the White House said was part of an “ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition” between the countries.

That call ended a nearly seven-month gap in direct communication between the leaders.

Biden said on Tuesday that he hoped their talks would bring more predictability in relations. “I’m going to be clear. This is competition; it does not have to be conflict,” he said.

“I have also indicated to him – and I’m not reluctant to say it publicly – that we expect him to play by the rules of the road.”

Rafe Pomerance, a distinguished senior Arctic policy fellow at the US-based Woodwell Climate Research Center, said on Tuesday that he was disappointed the Chinese president did not attend the COP26 conference.

“I think their [climate change] commitment hasn’t grown significantly,” Pomerance told Al Jazeera about China’s policies.

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