Beijing's unwillingness to make any significant contribution to attempts at the COP26 conference to reduce global emissions has raised legitimate concerns that China is seeking to gain an economic advantage over its Western rivals as they struggle with the challenge of meeting net zero targets. Pictured: National finance leaders pose for a group photograph at the COP26 meeting on November 3, 2021 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Photo by Steve Reigate-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Nothing better summarises Chinese President Xi Jinping's attitude to the West's obsession with tackling climate change than the old Chinese saying, "Hide a knife behind a smile."
As world leaders gathered for the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Western leaders were desperately trying to reach a deal on cutting carbon emissions, which United Nations climate experts claim is a major cause of climate change.
There was no shortage of dire predictions in the run-up to the summit, with John Kerry, President Biden's climate envoy, warning that this is the world's "last best chance" to stop a climate catastrophe and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talking in apocalyptic terms about the world's failure to tackle the issue placing modern civilisation at risk.
But while Western leaders haggled over how quickly they can reach the "net zero" target the UN claims is essential to prevent climate warming reaching catastrophic levels by the end of the century, Mr Xi has been demonstrating a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for the cuts demanded by climate campaigners.
This has prompted concerns among economists that Beijing's reluctance to join the scramble to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030 -- one of the main objectives at COP26 -- will ultimately provide China with a significant economic advantage over its Western rivals.
With the UN issuing countless warnings that the world faces "chaos and conflict" if action is not taken, Mr Xi, whose country is one of the world's highest emitters of carbon dioxide, demonstrated his unwillingness to cooperate with the dash to net zero by declining to attend the Glasgow conference. Instead he agreed to participate in discussions with other world leaders by video conference.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was another prominent non-attendee, although he has cited concerns over Covid restrictions for not travelling to Glasgow, even though his absence will be seen as a yet another serious blow to the summit's prospects of agreeing to, and actually implementing, a carbon reduction programme.
Of far greater concern than the non-attendance of the Chinese and Russian presidents, though, was Mr Xi's disappointing response to calls from the UN for it to reduce its emissions.
António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has called for China to ensure emissions peak before 2030, thereby helping efforts of keeping global temperature increases to 1.5 percent, a target that was set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
"Humanity's future depends on keeping global temperature increase to 1.5C by 2030," said Mr Guterres, adding that world leaders were "utterly failing to keep this target within reach".
Instead China, which was recently found to emit more greenhouse gases than all countries in the entire developed world combined, has provided a deeply lukewarm response to calls for Beijing to take more drastic action. A report published earlier this year by Rhodium Group found that China's emissions more than tripled over the previous three decades, and had risen to the point where it emitted 27% of the world's greenhouse gases in 2019.
Yet, in its formal submission to the UN prior to the COP26 summit, China made only a small improvement to its emission-cutting plan, prompting one European climate expert to criticise the Chinese plan as "disappointing and a missed opportunity."
Crucially, while the Chinese economy relies heavily for its energy needs on coal-fired power stations, which are widely regarded as a major contributor to global warming, Beijing shows little inclination to develop alternative energy supplies. On the contrary, Beijing remains committed to opening hundreds more coal-fired power plants in the coming years, with the result that China's new coal plants will more than offset all the closures of other coal-fired stations that have taken place in the rest of the world during the past year.
Beijing's National Energy Commission, has defended the need to build more coal-fired power stations, and stressed the importance of regular energy supply, after swathes of the country were recently plunged into darkness by power cuts.
Nevertheless, Beijing's unwillingness to make any significant contribution to attempts at the COP26 conference to reduce global emissions has raised legitimate concerns that China is seeking to gain an economic advantage over its Western rivals as they struggle with the challenge of meeting net zero targets.
There is a growing body opinion on both sides of the Atlantic that dramatic reductions in carbon omission could wreak economic havoc for Western economies if the pursuit of "green" economies is pursued at the expense of maintaining energy supplies. In Europe, for example, the race to abandon traditional fossil fuels as a major source of energy has led to increased reliance on energy supplies from Russia through its controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Mr Xi's refusal to engage seriously with the COP26 climate change agenda also makes a mockery of the Biden administration's contention that the best way to improve Beijing's conduct is through deeper diplomatic cooperation. That certainly seems to be the view of US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan following his recent meetings with senior members of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
As Mr Xi's contemptuous attitude towards COP26 demonstrates only too well, Beijing's main motivation is to undermine Western capitalism, not support it, which is why he has no intention of supporting the West's ill-considered dash for net zero carbon emissions.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.