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Biden’s commerce secretary is the latest Cabinet member to visit China in a bid for improved ties

Raimondo plans meetings with Chinese officials and U.S. business leaders in Beijing and Shanghai

US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo (2-L) shakes hands with China's Ministry of Commerce Director General Lin Feng (2-R), next to U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns (R), as she arrives at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, 27 August 2023.
US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo (2-L) shakes hands with China's Ministry of Commerce Director General Lin Feng (2-R), next to U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns (R), as she arrives at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, 27 August 2023.ANDY WONG / POOL (EFE)

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is the latest member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to visit China as his administration tries to mend the deteriorating ties between the world’s two largest economies. She promises to be “practical” without compromising the U.S. push to “responsibly” manage that economic relationship.

Raimondo plans meetings with Chinese officials and U.S. business leaders in Beijing and Shanghai in an effort to “promote a healthy competition, a competition on a level playing field, playing by the rules.”

“I’m also very realistic and clear-eyed about the challenges. And the challenges are significant,” she told reporters before leaving Washington on Saturday on a trip that ends Wednesday.

The secretary said she wants to find “actionable, concrete steps where we can move forward on the commercial relationship,” but she offered few details. One matter to be discussed is promoting Chinese travel and tourism to the United States, with Raimondo noting the recent easing of restrictions on large Chinese groups visiting the U.S.

Raimondo’s visit, like the July trip by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, is meant to show the administration’s willingness to partner with China on economic development at a time of escalating tensions on foreign policy and national security and as Washington bolsters alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and the European Union.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a two-day stop in Beijing in June, the highest-level meetings in China in the past five years. Blinken met with President Xi Jinping and the two agreed to stabilize U.S.-China ties, but better communications between their militaries could not be agreed upon.

There are divisions around the economy, too, particularly after the imposition of U.S. foreign investment controls that have stung numerous Chinese companies. China has accused the U.S. of “using the cover of ‘risk reduction’ to carry out ‘decoupling and chain-breaking,’” and has increased its own trade in Asia.

The controls pertain to advanced computer chips, microelectronics, quantum information technologies and artificial intelligence. The U.S. says the effort stemmed from national security goals rather than economic interests, and that the categories covered were intentionally narrow.

The U.S. moves are meant to blunt China’s ability to use American investments in its technology companies to upgrade its military, while preserving broader levels of trade that are vital to both nations. But China’s Ministry of Commerce said it has “serious concern” about Biden’s executive order.

Raimondo said the U.S. was not interested in “containing China’s economic development.”

“We want the Chinese economy to prosper. We do not want to contain or hold back China,” she said. “We do need to protect our national security, and we’re going to use our export controls to the fullest extent possible to do that.”

She said attempts to boost the U.S. economy by promoting manufacturing, a centerpiece of Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign, “does not mean, at all, that we want to decouple from China’s economy. And I plan to make that very clear in my meetings.”

“The U.S. and China share a large, dynamic, growing economic relationship,” Raimondo said. “And both of our countries — in fact, the entire world — need us to manage that relationship responsibly.”

Raimondo added that she is seeking “to have a stable commercial relationship, and the core to that is regular communication.”

“It’s hard to solve problems in any relationship if you don’t communicate. And lack of communication results in rising tensions and a spiral to a bad place,” Raimondo said.

China’s Ministry of Commerce has said Raimondo’s visit came at the invitation of Minister Wang Wentao. China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at Friday news conference, when asked about Raimondo’s travels, that “China and the US are in touch about bilateral engagement and exchange.”

Biden said at a recent fundraiser in Utah for his reelection campaign that China was a “ticking time bomb.”

“They have got some problems. That’s not good because when bad folks have problems, they do bad things,” the president said, pointing to China’s recent declines in growth rates.

Raimondo said she spoke with Biden before leaving for China and that he asked her to convey the message that there’s “benefit to communicating to reduce tensions.”

“That does not mean compromise,” said Raimondo, who added: “I’m not going to pull my punches, but I intend to be practical.”

The commerce secretary said she spoke before her trip with top U.S. labor leaders and more than 100 industry executives who are anxious to do business with China but were “increasingly concerned” by the country’s nonmarket practices, which makes competing for global business difficult.

“We all know that China has not followed through on the economic reforms that it has promised,” Raimondo said. “And it’s clearly continuously committed to using non-market trade and investment practices, and that forces us to defend our businesses and workers.”

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