Up to one-quarter of China's carbon emissions come from exports
China has proposed that importers of Chinese-made goods should be responsible for the carbon dioxide emitted during their manufacture.
China's top climate change negotiator, Li Gao, said his country should not pay for cutting emissions caused by the high demands of other countries.
In recent years China has overtaken the US as the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases.
Mr Li was in Washington for talks ahead of a major conference in Copenhagen.
Envoys from Japan and the EU were also in the US capital for preliminary talks aimed at paving the way for the Denmark talks.
That meeting, scheduled for December, will see the start of negotiations on a new international treaty on climate change.
Participants hope to reach an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
China's latest suggestion would see its own huge export sector be exempted from any new treaty.
Beijing argues that rich nations buying Chinese goods bear responsibility for the estimated 15-25% of China's carbon emissions that are created by its production of exports.
"It is a very important item to make a fair agreement," Mr Li said in Washington.
He argued that it was unfair to put the highest burden on China.
"We are at the low end of the production line for the global economy," he said.
"We produce products and these products are consumed by other countries, especially the developed countries. This share of emissions should be taken by the consumers but not the producers," he said.
Mr Li also criticised proposals by the US to place carbon tariffs on goods imported from countries that do not limit those gases blamed for a rises in global temperatures.
"If developed countries set a barrier in the name of climate change for trade, I think it is a disaster," Mr Li said.
Working out quite how to put Mr Li's suggestion into practice would be a logistical nightmare, other delegates in Washington said, even if the idea was ever agreed in principle.
Asking importers to handle emissions "would mean that we would also like them to have jurisdiction and legislative powers in order to control and limit those," top EU climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger said.
Low-lying nations such as the Maldives are at risk from rising seas
"I'm not sure whether my Chinese colleague would agree on that particular point," he said.
"I think the issue here is we take full responsibility and we... regulate all the emissions that come from our territory," said Mr Runge-Metzger.
The delegates were attending a forum hosted by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
World economic woes are expected to dampen progress toward climate change initiatives, but organisers said progress could still be made in Copenhagen.
Japan's chief negotiator Shinsuke Sugiyama pointed out that whatever deal emerged from Copenhagen, it was vital that it involved the US and China this time around.
"Japan will not repeat Kyoto," Mr Sugiyama said.
"At Kyoto we were not able to involve the biggest emitters in the world by now - and that means the United States of America and China," he said.