U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi says China's leaders know that the United States is serious about moving forward with steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions, in advance of the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen later this year.
Pelosi says the recent approval of major energy and climate change legislation by a key House committee changed the nature of conversations she and five other lawmakers on a congressional delegation had with China's President Hu Jintao and other leaders in Beijing.
The legislation cleared its first major hurdle with approval by the Energy and Commerce Committee, on the way to possible consideration by the full House as early as July, although Senate approval will be much harder to achieve.
Appearing at the Brookings Institution, Pelosi said Chinese officials may have been skeptical about how serious the U.S. Congress is about passing a complex cap and trade proposal
"I think they were mostly interested that we took the giant step and some would say "when it is law", and we would say, no we have a two year session and we will get this to be law. I think it could be this year. But I wasn't placing any requirement of that for us to go to further conversations with the Chinese or to Copenhagen and I think they knew that."
In discussions on climate change, Pelosi said the U.S. and China "need to come to terms in a realistic way, respecting what China has done and understanding challenges" to achieve an agreement that can be implemented and enforced.
She also reiterated her view that China's government will find it increasingly important to be responsive to the concerns of its citizens where environmental issues are concerned:
"From an economic standpoint, China is on the move, and developing the technologies for the future. From a political standpoint, the issue of clean air and clean water is a very personal issue and if the Chinese people see it as a corruption issue [for example if] they don't have clean air and clean water, that that is a political issue for the Chinese."
On other issues, Pelosi also gave an assessment of how seriously she believes China's leadership views North Korea's claimed nuclear test and missile launches.
While China clearly understands it is in no one's interest for the Korean peninsula to become nuclearized, and appreciates what this could mean for proliferation, Pelosi suggests China's leadership is frustrated that it may have less influence than previously thought:
"I have always thought over time that the Chinese had a great deal of influence over the North Koreans. They give them a lot of money, they are close neighbors and the rest. In the past the Chinese have said, China and North Korea are as close as lips and teeth. And so they had this close relationship. The impression I got from the Chinese was that they have influence but [that] it is not total."
At the same time, Pelosi says, Chinese leaders "at every level" view North Korea's return to the Six-Party talks, without losing face, as a "very big deal."
Pelosi also reiterated her insistence that the congressional delegation forcefully addressed human rights issues in meetings with President Hu, China's premier Wen Jiabao, and the chairman of China's National People's Congress.
Saying "I don't know that I really saw much of an improvement in human rights" during the visit, Pelosi nonetheless said if the U.S. fails to speak out on human rights in China and Tibet, it would lose moral authority to speak about human rights anywhere.