Through more than two decades of multilateral climate change negotiations, China has steadfastly opposed emission limits for developing countries. Scholars have traditionally explained the rigidity of Chinese diplomacy with reference to economic interests and power, and in the process understated the importance of equity norms. In international negotiations, China has served as one of the key architects and promoters of the common but differentiated responsibility principle, which holds that global environmental justice requires that developed countries bear the primary obligation for combating climate change. China has used this principle strategically in order to legitimize its opposition to emission limits. However, China's negotiating stance cannot be defined simply as the instrumental use of norms, as Beijing is genuinely sensitive to issues of equity. These equity concerns have occasionally led China to act in a manner that, from a strict cost-benefit analysis, runs counter to its own economic interests. In sum, notions of environmental justice are simultaneously a tool China uses to pursue its interests and a force that structures China's interest.

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