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TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - China hit back on Saturday at U.S. claims it was shirking in the fight against climate change, likening criticisms from the Obama administration's top climate envoy to a pig preening itself in a mirror.
Su Wei, a senior Chinese climate change negotiator, rejected comments from U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern as a week of U.N. talks on fighting climate change drew to a close in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin.
Stern, in remarks at a U.S. university, said Beijing could not insist rich nations take on fixed targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions while China and other big emerging nations adopt only voluntary domestic goals.
Su countered that Stern's claims were a diversion from the United States' failure to make big cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases causing global warming. China is the world's top greenhouse gas polluter after the United States.
"In fact, it amounts to doing nothing themselves and then shirking responsibility. They want to place the blame on China and other developing countries," Su told reporters in Tianjin.
The United Nations says there is little time to agree on the outlines of a broader climate pact that binds all big carbon emitting nations and to prevent dangerous climate change, such as greater extremes of droughts, floods and storms.
The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.'s main weapon against climate change, ends in 2012 and what follows from 2013 is under contention.
Greens say the Tianjin talks made progress on a future climate fund to help poorer nations adapt to global warming and to green their economies. But anger over rich nations' carbon pledges, particularly the United States, soured the mood.
The U.S. Senate is struggling to approve a pledge to cut emissions by about 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, a long way from the size of cuts other Western governments have pledged.
Su likened the U.S. criticism to Zhubajie, a pig featured in a traditional Chinese novel, which in a traditional saying preens itself in a mirror.
"It has no measures or actions to show for itself, and instead it criticises China, which is actively taking measures and actions," Su said of the United States.
The jabs between Beijing and Washington expose a rift that has unsettled the talks: to what extent China -- the world's top greenhouse gas emitter -- should still be viewed in treaties as an emerging economy free of fixed greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Negotiators in Tianjin began the talks a week ago to firm up trust-building steps to pave the way for high-level talks in Cancun, Mexico, in less than two months and meetings next year to create a broader, legally binding climate deal.
Nearly 200 governments failed to agree last year on a new legally binding deal. That meeting in Copenhagen last December ended in sniping between rich and developing countries and created a loose accord with many gaps.
Stern accused Beijing of sliding away from the Copenhagen Accord and said that agreement established that China should be treated much like other big polluters.
The top U.S. negotiator in Tianjin, Jonathan Pershing, demanded China open its domestic emissions goals to tighter international scrutiny and put them in a new pact.
China has said advanced economies, responsible for most of the industrial emissions fuelling global warming, must commit to deep 2020 cuts in emissions, giving poorer societies more room to grow their economies and greenhouse gas output.
It has said it will not shift away from the Kyoto Protocol, while many rich nations want a new treaty.
Editing by Ron Popeski and David Fogarty