With initial financing of $15 million and headquarters in both countries, the center will focus on coal and clean buildings and vehicles, said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. It highlights potential U.S.-Chinese cooperation in an industry that Washington says could create thousands of jobs.
"I know we can accomplish more by working together than by working alone," Chu said after meeting with Chinese Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang in the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.
Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke were in Beijing to lobby China to promote private-sector development of solar, wind, biofuels and other clean energy.
Locke appealed to China to avoid trade barriers to clean technology. Some companies say Beijing is trying to build up its industry by shielding companies from competition, shutting foreign competitors out of wind power and other projects.
"We need to empower U.S. and Chinese entrepreneurs and innovators to create and collaborate free from artificial trade barriers," Locke said in a speech to an audience of American businesspeople.
President Barack Obama sees the development of cleaner energy as a source of growth and jobs for the struggling U.S. economy. His stimulus package includes billions of dollars for alternative energy research.
China is promoting solar, wind and hydroelectric power to reduce reliance on imported oil and gas, which its communist leaders see as a strategic weakness. But Beijing has rejected binding emissions commitments, saying it is the responsibility of rich countries to cut their own output.
Locke acknowledged such sentiments but said the environment does not care where the gases came from.
"Fifty years from now, we do not want the international community to lay the blame at the feet of China," he said.
Locke and Chu, both descendants of Chinese immigrants, were meeting with Chinese ministers in charge of trade, technology, health and other areas.
Most scientists agree that even a slight increase in global temperatures will wreak havoc as seasons shift, crops fail and storms and droughts ravage fields.
Earlier Wednesday, Chu called for developing countries to adopt emissions-reduction targets.
If China fails to use more renewable sources, the "amount of carbon China emits in the next 30 years will equal all the carbon the U.S. has emitted in the life of the country," Chu said in a speech to students at Beijing's Tsinghua University.
"We are all in this together so we have to fix it together," he said.
Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, said that while the United States and other developed nations were the first to emit greenhouse gases, developing economies are fast catching up.
"Unless they also say, 'We need to decrease our carbon emissions by mid-century,' then the world will be in big trouble," Chu said. "What the U.S. and China do in the coming decades will in a large part determine the fate of the world."
Beijing opposes proposed U.S. legislation that would impose tariffs on countries that do nothing to cut emissions.
"Our main concern is that the implementation of this policy will harm the interests of developing countries," a Commerce Ministry spokesman, Yao Jian, said Wednesday.
Yao said Beijing sees protectionist motives behind the bill and warned that it might trigger retaliation by developing countries.
"This will not be good for tackling the current financial crisis together," he said.
Also Wednesday, Locke urged China to help revive world growth by opening its markets further and easing currency controls.
"If China allowed for greater flexibility in its exchange rate and further opened up its domestic markets for imports and foreign direct investment, it would accelerate the world's return to growth," Locke said.
Trade ties between the United States, the world's biggest economy, and No. 3 China are regarded as a key element of a recovery from the deepest global economic slump since the 1930s.
Beijing's currency controls and complaints about import and investment barriers are a chronic irritant in U.S.-Chinese trade relations. China unsettled its trading partners when it announced in May that projects financed by its economic stimulus package are required to use domestically made goods whenever possible.
Protectionism or barring foreign companies from Chinese contracts could be a "serious threat to trade cooperation," Locke warned.
Associated Press Writers Henry Sanderson and Tini Tran and researcher Bonnie Cao contributed to this report.