COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - China flexed its growing political muscle to seal a compromise climate deal that protected its national sovereignty, but did little for global warming or Beijing's international image.
An eagerly-awaited climate summit in Copenhagen nearly collapsed on Friday, with most of the major developed-world players blaming China for its intransigence on the question of how its emissions-cutting commitments would be monitored.
Beijing's refusal to budge on rich nation demands for greater transparency and checks -- in a country not famous for its reliable statistics -- was cited by negotiator after negotiator as a key block to reaching a deal.
Rich nations say efforts like improving car standards, building wind turbines and closing dirty power plants, should be subject to international verification to ensure the world's top greenhouse gas emitter is really cutting its output.
China said this infringes its sovereignty and breaks with UN rules that treat rich and poor countries differently.
Premier Wen Jiabao was ultimately crucial to salvaging something from the wreckage of the summit, convening a breakthrough meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and key emerging economies India, Brazil and South Africa.
Yet in doing so China angered allies, abandoned principles it stuck to over two weeks of talks, and put at risk a country which may be the world's third-largest economy but has pockets of severe poverty and is very vulnerable to a changing climate.
China walked away "happy," chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua told journalists near midnight on Friday, before striding out of the building surrounded by many of his visibly cheerful team.
"After negotiations both sides have managed to preserve their bottom line; for the Chinese this was our sovereignty and our national interest," he said.
Not everyone agreed. The compromise deal that resulted, the Copenhagen Accord, leaves out most of China's goals going into the conference, delays tough decisions until 2010 and sets the planet on track to overshoot goals for limiting warming.
China has been widely blamed for watering down the deal, and it may put Chinese territory at risk -- even if its statistics are now protected from foreign probing -- because scientists say swaths of the country are very vulnerable to changing weather.
And after a week of insisting that any agreement must be reached by consensus, rejecting previous texts and holding up meetings because they were not inclusive enough, Beijing put aside niceties to push a text agreed in small group meetings.
"Despite all the efforts China has made at home to tackle climate change, Copenhagen is an opportunity missed for China, to demonstrate that they can be proactive and responsible player on this crucial issue," said Ailun Yang of Greenpeace China.
Left behind after the evening meeting that produced the breakthrough were the African and small island states that felt abandoned by their ally to devastating levels of climate change.
"This represents the worst development in climate change negotiations in history," said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-aping, spokesman for the developing world's 'Group of 77 and China'.
"Gross violations have been committed today," he added.
Europeans also fell in line only reluctantly after being left on the sidelines of the crucial meeting despite years of leading developed climate efforts.
Politically the deal was a reminder of Chinese muscle and the rising importance of the unofficial "G2" relationship between the United States and China, but is also likely to stoke anti-China sentiment in Western nations.
Officially Beijing was backed by allies like India and Brazil, but they admitted in private that this was mainly a battle for China, now the world's top emitter.
Even Brazil, which claimed a role in brokering the final agreement, described it as "disappointing."
China's secretive diplomats ignored the onslaught of damaging publicity and briefings about a country already widely mistrusted in the West, and declined all comment during the day.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)