China’s pledge to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 is an ambitious goal and could provide the world with much-needed leadership on how to limit warming to +1.5°C warming above preindustrial levels by the end of the century. But the pathways that would achieve net zero by 2060 are still unclear, including the role of negative emissions technologies. We use the Global Change Analysis Model to simulate how negative emissions technologies, in general, and direct air capture (DAC) in particular, could contribute to China’s meeting this target. Our results show that negative emissions could play a large role, offsetting on the order of 3 GtCO2 per year from difficult-to-mitigate sectors, such as freight transportation and heavy industry. This includes up to a 1.6 GtCO2 per year contribution from DAC, constituting up to 60% of total projected negative emissions in China. But DAC, like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage and afforestation, has not yet been demonstrated anywhere approaching the scales required to meaningfully contribute to climate mitigation. Deploying NETs at these scales will have widespread impacts on financial systems and natural resources, such as water, land and energy in China.