Beijing, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Coaxing China into a global grand bargain to fight climate change that also satisfies the United States and other rich nations threatens to be even more daunting and elusive than fixing the economic rifts dividing them.
China is the world's biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases from human activity stoking global warming, having outstripped the United States. Those two powers will play a big part in determining whether climate pact talks in Cancun, Mexico, from Nov. 29 can make progress towards a comprehensive deal.
Their often rival stances have long strained climate negotiations. Beijing and Washington have also recently sparred over China's exchange rate controls and huge trade surplus.
"We talk about looking for big points of agreement and keeping small disputes in check, but Cancun will be about looking for small agreements to keep the big disputes in check," said Zhang Haibin, an expert on international climate change politics at Peking University.
Cancun is meant to take modest yet reassuring steps on the way to a binding agreement. But with Beijing at odds with Washington and other Western powers over the scale and transparency of emissions aims, and the principles underpinning any new deal, even limited success is not a sure thing.
"Ultimately what is at stake for each side is its strategic interests, and that's why even small issues can be so troublesome," said Zhang, the Beijing professor.
"A climate change agreement is about allocating emissions rights, and that involves basic interests in economic growth and the costs of mitigation (of greenhouse gases)," said Zhang.
"With the remaining emissions space so limited, China has a basic interest in preserving its space and expecting more from the developed countries so it can ensure its right to develop."
Intense negotiations last year failed to agree on a binding treaty and culminated in a rancorous meeting in Copenhagen.