Setting aside their differences, China and the United States have unveiled, on Wednesday, Nov. 12 in Beijing, a series of bilateral initiatives aiming to improve cooperation between the two countries. At the head of the two biggest polluters in the world, Barack Obama and his counterpart Xi Jinping have settled on new commitments to fight global warming. It was the landmark announcement of the bilateral visit of the American president, who was following on a summit of the countries of the Asia-Pacific.

Heralded as “historic” by Obama, this measure responds to the urgency of reaching a global agreement at the climate conference to be held at the end of 2015 in Paris. As the largest global polluter, China has set a peak for its greenhouse gas emissions – which are responsible for rising temperatures – by “around 2030,” with the intention of “trying to achieve it sooner” according to the White House.

It is the first time that Beijing has committed to a peak in its emissions; a peak, in other words, is the year from which its emissions will stop increasing before the trend starts to reverse. The struggle against atmospheric pollution and to limit greenhouse gas emissions is becoming a major factor in the interior politics of China, where discontent is rumbling in large urban areas that are being saturated by episodes of smog. Xi Jinping has promised to fight for an improvement in the quality of the environment as a priority of his mandate.

China and the United States Emit 40 Percent of the Total CO2 Emissions on the Planet

Individually, the United States has committed to a reduction of between 26 and 28 percent of its emissions by 2025, compared with 2005. The United States and China together make up 40 percent of the total CO2 emissions on the planet. The reports of scientists are irrefutable: Current efforts are insufficient in limiting the increase in global temperatures by 2°C, an objective that was set by the international community to avoid a catastrophic surge in climate imbalance.

Obama and Xi had a five-hour face-to-face dinner on Tuesday evening, lasting two hours longer than expected, in an effort to iron out their differences. Their discussion focused on economic integration in the Asia-Pacific, against the backdrop of geopolitical rivalry in the region at a time when Chinese economic and military power is asserting itself. Beijing is campaigning for a rebalancing of relations between the two major world powers. In recent months, Beijing and Washington have increasingly come to blows over territorial claims of the People’s Republic in the China Sea, human rights, liberties and also cyberspying.

During a joint press conference on Wednesday, the American president recognized “the important differences” between the two countries. However, he said he felt encouraged by the willingness of the Chinese leader to “engage constructively.”

“The two sides should respect the other's core interests and major concerns .... The U.S. welcomes a China that is peaceful, prosperous and stable,” said Obama.

Reducing the Risk of Military Incidents

The American president announced that Washington and Beijing were already in agreement on measures aiming to reduce the risk of military incidents at sea, as well as in the air. An alert system will be put in place between the two capitals to notify each other of major military activities, such as drills, so that risks of collision can be avoided.

Taking care to deny the statements of certain Chinese officials relayed by the official press, Obama equally stated that the United States played no part in the pro-democracy movements that have been taking place in Hong Kong over the past six weeks, where demonstrators are demanding the establishment of true universal suffrage.

The Chinese president considered it “natural” that the two countries would have differing outlooks considering that they share different histories. “But that which unites us is more important than that which divides us,” he added.