Watch CBSN Live

Pelosi Presses China On Climate Change

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a frequent, fierce critic of China, called for U.S.-Chinese cooperation to fight climate change in a speech Tuesday that skirted human rights and other contentious issues.

Pelosi's comments to an audience of Chinese and American officials and businesspeople stressed common environmental interests - an approach that fits with President Barack Obama's emphasis on engagement with Beijing, rather than confrontation.

"We believe China and the United States can and must confront the challenge of climate change together," Pelosi said. Noting that the two countries are the world's biggest emitters of gases blamed for climate change, she said, "we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our country, to our people and to the world to work together on this."

The leading Democratic lawmaker's visit is part of a flurry of contacts between Washington and Beijing that highlight their wide-ranging cooperation on issues including North Korea's nuclear program and combating the global economic slump. Next week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner travels to Beijing in part to ease Chinese concerns about the health of the dollar and thus the value of China's holdings of U.S. government debt.

Underscoring the shift in emphasis was Pelosi's change in tone. For nearly 20 years, the California Democrat has frequently criticized Beijing over human rights and opposed giving the authoritarian government normal trading rights and the Olympics.

Pelosi, who leaves Beijing on Thursday for Hong Kong, mentioned human rights glancingly, though she said in a speech in Shanghai on Monday that she would "continue to speak out for human rights in China and around the world."

Climate change is an issue the Obama administration has chosen as a new area for cooperation with China.

Pelosi told the business forum that working together on climate change could transform U.S.-Chinese relations.

"It is an opportunity that we cannot miss," Pelosi told the audience, which included a former Chinese foreign minister and China's ambassador to Washington. The event was organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in China and the U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum, an industry group.

Pelosi brought with her five members of a House committee on energy policy and global warming. She has promised to press for passage of climate legislation this year, and Obama has said that he wants a bill. A bill that would impose the first U.S. litmus test on greenhouse gas emissions was approved by a House committee last week, a step being considered by the full House later this year.

While welcoming calls for cooperation, the Chinese government has publicly said that global warming is largely the responsibility of rich nations, who should provide funds and technologies for developing countries to cut carbon emissions.

Pelosi's delegation included Rep. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and committee chairman; Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin and ranking committee member; Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon; Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington; and Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California.