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Re-engagement of US-China in commerce could be an 'ice-breaking' opportunity: experts

《环球时报·英文版》 2023-04-21

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks about the US-China economic relationship at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, on April 20, 2023. Photo: AFP

Before US' Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen laid out the US economic priorities on China on Thursday, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said China and US commerce officials met in Beijing last week during which the two sides exchanged views on bilateral economic ties. The re-engagement of US and Chinese officials in certain areas such as business and climate could serve as an opportunity for the strained bilateral relations to turn into a positive direction, but Washington needs to show more sincerity for improving the ties, experts said.

Yellen on Thursday said the US is seeking a constructive and fair economic relationship with China, saying that both countries need to be able to frankly discuss difficult issues, and the two countries should work together when possible, for the benefit of our countries and the world.

We also seek healthy economic relationship with China, which fosters growth and innovation in both countries,'' Yellen said. Citing close China-US trade relations, she said the US does not seek decoupling with China, noting that the US economy also benefited from that cooperation.

Yellen said she's planning to travel to China at an appropriate time to have a dialogue on economic issues with Chinese counterparts, and believes dialogue can help lay the ground work for responsibly managing our bilateral ties in cooperating on areas of shared challenges for the two nations and the world.

Yellen spoke at a time when the bilateral relations have been at a low point due to Washington's strategic containment against China. The Biden administration has also been mulling on unprecedented rules limiting US investments in China, which are expected to be announced later this month, some US media reported on Wednesday. Also, the US-China tensions have been escalating over the provocative transit of the regional leader of Taiwan through the US and Washington's hysterical reaction toward the Chinese balloon for civilian use.

Some Chinese observers believe discussions in trade and business could serve as an ice-breaking opportunity. But Washington needs to show more sincerity by respecting the interests of both sides, and it would also be a test for the flexibility of the Biden administration to allow more practical talks in other areas when the diplomatic engagement has been in a stalemate.

Re-engagement in commerce

Yellen made this speech to unleash some signals that could further guide the commerce teams of the two sides to re-engage with each other, Wu Xinbo, director at the Center for American Studies of Fudan University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

As the originally planned visit of the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China has been put on hold, the two sides may discuss the possible visits of other US officials including Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Wu noted. Also, given the busy diplomacy agenda of China and its growing international influence, Washington might have felt certain pressure, he said, noting that there are a number of pressing global and regional issues on which the US needs to cooperate with China such as the Ukraine crisis.

Under the new wave of diplomatic fervor as multiple foreign leaders have visited China in recent weeks, the US government has frequently hinted at its desire for various officials, particularly those in economic and trade roles, to visit China.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that the US is in talks with China about arranging potential visits by Yellen and Raimondo, AP reported in March.

The visit has not been confirmed by the Chinese side yet, but a spokesperson of the Chinese Commerce Ministry (MOFCOM) confirmed on Thursday that Commerce officials from the two nations met in Beijing last week - a visit considered to have paved the way for Raimondo's potential visit to China later this year.

Relevant officials from both sides have exchanged views on strengthening communication and cooperation between the two ministries of commerce in bilateral economic and trade ties, Shu Jueting, MOFCOM spokesperson, told a regular press conference held in Beijing on Thursday.

From the visit, the US may seek China's cooperation in the macroeconomic policies ranging from the bank crisis, debt problems, as well as maintaining the position of dollar supremacy, Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Gao said despite freezing ties, discussions and deals in the economic and trade area are still possible, and could serve as the ballast stone of China-US relations. But the US has to show its sincerity by 'not say one thing and do another thing first.'

The expert said that the problems and barriers for any further step in bilateral economic cooperation are some politicians in the US. These politicians do not pay attention to the essence of economic and trade issues, but only care about what kind of policies may be more helpful for their reelection.

More sincerity needed

In addition to the re-engagement in commerce, the US and Chinese officials had talks in sectors such as climate change recently, as the US climate envoy John Kerry told the AP that he had a very good conversation with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, and the two officials agreed that they need to get back together personally.

However, the hysterical anti-China sentiment still prevails in US Congress and some US departments. For example, the US recently arrested two Chinese Americans under a nonsense pretext of running a secret police outpost and charged some Chinese officials for allegedly operating a troll farm amd harassing dissidents on line. Pentagon also warned US lawmakers on Tuesday about the growing risks of Chinese military power and the need to accelerate US development of hypersonic weapons.

The commerce and trade area are the practical sectors compared to others. If the two sides could have some practical talks on it, it may provide an opportunity for the China-US relations to turn into a positive direction, Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.

However, although officials including Yellen and Raimondo have expressed willingness to visit China, but officials like Yellen have been somewhat marginalized in the Biden administration with the US National Security Council and US State Department having more final say, and it's time to test whether the Biden administration has flexibility in its engagement with China, Lü said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a recent press conference that China views and develops its relations with the US under the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.

The root cause of current tensions in China-US relations is the misconceived China policy of the US which is based on a misguided China perception, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the ministry, told the press conference on Tuesday.

The US should show more sincerity for improving the US-China relations, and the re-engagement should not aim to solve its own problems only. It should respect the interests of the both sides, Wu said.