BEIJING China on Monday distanced itself from proposals to delay a binding climate pact to 2010, but might be willing to sign up to a "political deal" at climate talks next month if it includes strong commitments from rich nations.
Beijing's domestic quest to boost energy efficiency and curb emissions growth will also continue unabated even if a set-back in global negotiations slows the flow of foreign investment into carbon-cutting projects in China, experts said.
December's Copenhagen summit was slated to settle a new framework to tackle global warming, but talks have been hobbled by a rift between developed and developing nations over who should cut emissions, by how much, and who should pay for it.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen flew to Singapore at the weekend to present a gathering of Asia Pacific leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, with his last-ditch bid to dispel a growing sense of gloom about the talks.
Rasmussen said a deal should cover emissions targets for rich countries and funds to help poorer ones, and a deadline for a legal text, but would put off detailed legal haggling.
Obama threw his weight behind the plan before flying off for his first presidential visit to China, where he has highlighted climate change as a key part of his agenda. But his hosts are more circumspect about downgrading their aspirations.
"China has noted the idea raised by the parties concerned of a 'political agreement' and is now studying this," China's foreign ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters in response to a question about Beijing's stance on the proposal.
Chinese experts accept that a delay is almost inevitable.
"It is becoming more and more difficult to reach a full agreement within the given time," said Zou Ji, environmental policy expert at Renmin University in Beijing.
"In technical terms its impossible to reach a full, detailed agreement, because after (the last round of talks in) Barcelona, there was no substantial progress at working level," he added.
But Beijing has invested large amounts of diplomatic capital in reaching a new deal. President Hu Jintao earlier this year unveiled the country's first pledge to curb carbon emissions -- by cutting so-called carbon intensity -- at a UN summit.
RISKS FOR CHINA
Leaders are also aware of the heavy risks that a warmer world carries for China, from rising sea levels along its densely populated eastern seaboard to floods and droughts.
"Copenhagen did play an important role in pushing China to come up with a carbon intensity figure. Why would it be in China's interests to delay a deal now?" said Ailun Yang, climate campaigner at Greenpeace in China.
Some in China, and other developing nations, are suspicious that the push for a delay is a rich nation ploy to defer facing up to their costly responsibilities for decades of emissions.
So if Beijing does sign up for a "political deal," its diplomats say it must enshrine agreements already made on questions like financing the fight against climate change.
"China believes that no matter what form of document is agreed in Copenhagen ... (it should) consolidate and expand the consensus and progress already made in negotiations concerning mitigation, adaptation, funding, technology transfers and other aspects," the foreign ministry said.
China also wants any deal to respect the Kyoto Protocol, the current international agreement on climate change, especially the principle that all nations have common but differentiated responsibilities to tackle climate change, the statement added.
This principle is a cornerstone for Beijing's argument that rich nations must cut emissions more than developing nations, and provide them with funding and technology.
The United States has emitted more carbon overall into the atmosphere than any other country but China has recently taken over the mantle of the top annual producer of the gas.
Together they account for 40 percent of global emissions, so their support is vital to forging any functioning agreement, but each wants the other to move more.