"This national voluntary pledge is autonomous; it is not negotiable; (it is) not imposed by the outside," said Liu Zhenmin, an official with the Chinese delegation, China Daily reported Wednesday.
Liu's remarks came in response to media requests for clarification on a report by Reuters on Monday in which the Chinese Foreign Ministry's envoy for climate talks, Huang Huikang, said that the Chinese government could bring its "voluntary" goals to slow emissions growth and fight global warming under a binding overall framework.
The accuracy of the Reuters article wasn't the issue; instead it is the interpretation of Huang's comments to Reuters. Those comments were widely viewed as a signal that China would be willing to accept legally binding targets, which many observers considered to be a breakthrough in the Cancun climate talks.
Liu dismissed the Reuters article, saying there could be "some misinterpretation," China Daily quoted him as saying.
Liu stressed that China is a developing country and so isn't subjected to an internationally binding frame under the current negotiations. "That's the distinction between the developed and developing countries," he said, as it follows the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."
Despite the voluntary nature of China's independent mitigation actions, "We shall honor our pledges," Liu said.
"The pledges are incorporated in our national plan for social development and approved by the National People's Congress. They will be implemented as part of our contribution to the global efforts in addressing climate change," Liu said.
China, the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, has maintained that the United States and other rich countries should make bigger cuts in their emissions, because of their larger historical contribution to greenhouse gases. But the United States wants China and other developing countries to make a commitment to mandatory curbs and submit to international verification.
Huang told ClimateWire news service that it is too early to require China to agree to internationally binding commitments.
"In principle we will make our commitment under the convention but this time it is probably premature to discuss whether China's commitment is legally binding or not," ClimateWire quoted Huang as saying on Wednesday.
Yet some officials in Cancun expressed optimism that some kind of compromise could still be struck between the United States and China.
"What I can tell you is, I think the Chinese delegation has shown flexibility since they arrived in Mexico, and we hope this would be reflected in the outcome," Luis Alfonso de Alba, Mexico's climate change ambassador told ClimateWire.