US does not want to ‘decouple’ from China, commerce chief says
By Ana Swanson and Keith Bradsher
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo told Chinese officials Tuesday that the United States was not seeking to sever economic ties with China, but she expressed a litany of concerns that were prompting the business community to describe China as “uninvestable.”
Raimondo, who oversees both trade promotion and U.S. limits on China’s access to advanced technology, spoke with several of China’s top officials Tuesday. That included meeting with Premier Li Qiang, China’s second-highest official, and Vice Premier He Lifeng, who oversees many economic issues, at the Great Hall of the People, next to Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.
Raimondo said she had pressed Chinese officials on a variety of challenges facing U.S. businesses operating in China. Companies have expressed concerns about long-running issues like intellectual property theft as well as a raft of newer developments, like raids on businesses, a new counterespionage law and exorbitant fines that come without explanations, she said during an extended interview with reporters on a high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai on Tuesday evening.
“Increasingly, I hear from businesses China is uninvestable because it has become too risky,” she said.
Raimondo said after the meetings that she had raised the various concerns of U.S. companies like Intel, Micron and Boeing, but that she “didn’t receive any commitments.” Beijing scuttled Intel’s acquisition of another semiconductor company this month by not giving the deal antitrust approval. It has also severely restricted some of Micron’s semiconductor sales in China since May and has halted almost all purchases of Boeing jets over the last several years, mainly choosing Airbus aircraft from Europe instead.
“I was very firm in our expectations. I think I was heard,” she added. “We’ll have to see if they take any action.”
Raimondo also asked for China’s cooperation on broader threats like climate change, fentanyl and artificial intelligence. The Chinese in turn asked for the United States to reduce export controls on advanced technology and retract a recent executive order that bans new investments in certain advanced technologies, Raimondo said. The commerce secretary said she had refused those requests. “We don’t negotiate on matters of national security,” she said.
Still, Raimondo tried to assure the Chinese that export controls applied only to a small proportion of U.S.-China trade, and that other economic opportunities between the countries should be embraced.
“This isn’t about decoupling,” she said. “This is about maintaining our very consequential trade relationship, which is good for America, good for China and good for the world. An unstable economic relationship between China and the United States is bad for the world.”
The official Xinhua News Agency said late Tuesday that Li had told Raimondo that economic relations between China and the United States were “mutually beneficial.” But he also warned that “politicizing economic and trade issues and overstretching the concept of security will not only seriously affect bilateral relations and mutual trust, but also undermine the interests of enterprises and people of the two countries, and will have a disastrous impact on the global economy.”
Raimondo’s visit is part of an effort by the Biden administration to stop a long deterioration in the U.S. relationship with China and restore communications. She is the fourth senior Biden administration official to travel to China in three months.
Her conversations with Chinese officials — which ranged from issues of national security to commercial opportunities for tourism — attested to both the economic potential of the trading relationship and its immense challenges.
Chinese officials have welcomed her visit as an opportunity to reduce tensions and air their concerns. Seated in a red-carpeted reception room on the second floor of the Great Hall, He said at the start of their meeting that he was ready to work with Raimondo, and hoped the United States would adopt rational and practical policies. She responded by laying out what the Biden administration sees as its priorities.
“The U.S.-China commercial relationship is one of the most globally consequential, and managing that relationship responsibly is critical to both our nations and indeed to the whole world,” Raimondo said. “And while we will never of course compromise in protecting our national security, I want to be clear that we do not seek to decouple or to hold China’s economy back.”
On Monday, Raimondo and China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao, met and agreed to hold regular discussions between the two countries on commercial issues. Those talks are set to include business leaders as well as government officials. The two governments also agreed to exchange information, starting with a meeting by their senior aides Tuesday morning in Beijing, about how the United States enforces its export controls.
Earlier Tuesday, Raimondo met with China’s minister of culture and tourism, Hu Heping. That meeting came less than three weeks after Beijing lifted a ban on group tours to the United States that it had imposed during the pandemic, when China closed its borders almost completely for nearly three years.
The two ministers agreed at the meeting that the United States and China would host a gathering in China early next year to promote the travel industry, the latest in a series of business promotion activities Raimondo has been organizing.
Travel from China to the United States remains at less than a third of pre-pandemic levels, the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group, said on Saturday.
The number of nonstop flights between the two countries is still less than a tenth of its level before the pandemic. Chinese airlines carried most of the passengers between the two countries before the pandemic. But after Beijing frequently blocked American carriers’ flights to China during the pandemic because of COVID-19 cases aboard — while allowing Chinese carriers’ flights to continue — the Biden administration began insisting on strict reciprocity.
Following the retirement of many pilots and flight attendants during the pandemic, American carriers have struggled to meet travel demand within the United States. They have been slow to restore long-haul services to China, which require many crews to operate, although United Airlines announced recently that this autumn it would increase the frequency of flights from San Francisco to Shanghai, and would resume flights from San Francisco to Beijing.
Senior U.S. officials have previously tended to fly between Beijing and Shanghai during visits to China, but the Commerce Department decided to move its sizable delegation by train on this trip. Huge Chevrolet Suburban SUVs carrying Raimondo and her aides pulled straight up onto the train platform to unload them into one of China’s high-speed electric trains, which travel for long stretches at 217 mph, or 350 kph.
The trains travel from Beijing to Shanghai, a distance comparable to the journey from New York to Atlanta or Chicago, in as little as 4 1/2 hours, depending on how many stops they make. The trains, usually with 16 or more passenger cars, depart several times an hour in each direction.