A SENIOR member of the Chinese negotiating team at Copenhagen has been shifted from his post, prompting speculation that he has been punished for the debacle of the climate talks.

He Yafei, who was at the forefront of China's blocking actions on the final fraught day of the summit, has been removed as a vice-foreign minister, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The agency gave no explanation, but the Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao suggested he had been punished with a shift to a post at the United Nations for failing to smooth relations between China, the US and Europe, particularly as tempers flared in the last hours of the talks.

During the negotiations, he described his US counterpart, Todd Stern, as ''lacking common sense'', he frustrated the US President, Barack Obama, with his inability to make decisions, and astonished the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, by refusing to allow even rich countries to set a target to cut emissions by 2050.

In public, China has hailed the ''significant and positive'' Copenhagen accord, which commits the world to keeping global warming below two degrees. Privately, however, officials are furious at the public relations disaster of the summit, which ended with Europe blaming China for sinking long-term goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Part of the problem was the vast difference in the expectations of the delegations.

Britain and other European nations intended to bang heads together to achieve progress and to set ambitious targets.

China, however, was desperate to avoid any goals that might limit its economic expansion. Having announced its first carbon target shortly before the conference, China's negotiators hoped the event would be a chance for the world to applaud the progress the country has made to improve efficiency and boost renewable energy.

The vastly different approaches led to several messy and fractious encounters, at which Mr He was usually the fall guy.

Although the Premier, Wen Jiabao, was the most senior figure in the Chinese delegation, he refused to attend most of the negotiating sessions with other leaders. This was a defensive move rather than a snub. The Premier did not want to be strong-armed into a deal he could not guarantee at home.

In his place, he sent Mr He, an experienced multilateral negotiator who had served in senior posts at the UN and in arms control talks.

But he lacked the authority to make decisions. In huddles with world leaders, who far outranked him, all he could do was block. Mr Obama is said to have declared in exasperation: ''It would be nice to negotiate with somebody who can make political decisions.''

When he rejected a European proposal that developed nations reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, Dr Merkel described the situation as ridiculous.

Guardian News & Media