WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. has no desire to break economic ties with China as she began two days of talks with her Chinese counterpart on Thursday. The finance leaders are aiming to make progress on a slew of economic issues at a time when competition has markedly intensified between their countries.
Yellen’s talks with Vice Premier He Lifeng are designed to help lay the groundwork for an expected meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping next week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, which would be their first engagement in nearly a year.
The White House is not expecting Biden’s meeting with Xi to result in major changes to the relationship between the two nations, according to a person familiar with the planning, although it hopes to see some signs of progress.
“We seek a healthy economic relationship with China that benefits both countries over time,” Yellen said according to prepared remarks. “When we have concerns about specific economic practices, such as those that prevent American firms and workers from competing on a level playing field, we will communicate them directly.”
Analysts say expectations should be kept low, given the competitive nature of the countries’ relationship.
Nicholas Szechenyi, deputy director for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said at a preview event for the APEC summit that “it seems difficult for the United States to credibly emphasize themes such as inclusiveness, interconnectedness — the themes of this year’s APEC summit — when the primary driver for U.S. economic strategy in the Indo-Pacific is not economic cooperation, necessarily, but rather economic competition.”
“U.S. strategy is very much focused on economic competition with China,” he said.
China’s state media laid out Beijing’s major concerns: the Biden administration’s China policy, supply chain curtailments, restrictions on high-tech products such as advanced chips, and tariffs on Chinese products.
“The U.S. is restricting Chinese companies all around, including their abilities to raise funds and operate in the U.S.,” the state broadcaster China Central Television said on one of its social media accounts. “More than 1,300 Chinese companies are being sanctioned by the U.S. If the U.S. wants to cooperate with China, it needs to ‘slim down’ this list.”
“The U.S. must take concrete steps. Only with that, China and the U.S. can join hands to cope with challenges together,” it said. “Only with this, China and the U.S. can stabilize market expectations, create good conditions for investment activities and send positive signals to the outside.”
In August, Biden signed an executive order designed to regulate and block high-tech U.S.-based investments going toward China, a move his Democratic administration said is based on protecting national security. And last year, the U.S. moved to block exports of advanced computer chips to China.
Earlier this year, U.S. lawmakers held hearings over data security and harmful content with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, contemplating whether to ban the hugely popular app because of its Chinese connections.
And tensions between the countries heightened earlier this year when a Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted traveling over sensitive U.S. airspace. The U.S. military shot down the balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and threatened repercussions.
With all of the tensions, the two nations have worked to smooth economic ties.
Biden spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the White House for about an hour late last month, when Beijing’s top diplomat traveled to Washington for talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Xi similarly met with Blinken in June when the secretary of state traveled to Beijing for talks with Wang.
Yellen has met with a host of Chinese officials throughout this year. In January, she had her first face-to-face meeting with former Vice Premier Liu He in Zurich. She traveled to China in July to discuss economic policies between the nations and urged Chinese government officials to cooperate on climate change and other global challenges and not let sharp disagreements about trade and other irritants derail relations.
On Thursday, Yellen said “beyond our bilateral economic relationship, I look forward to discussing our collaboration on global challenges, from climate change to debt distress in low-income countries and emerging markets.”
“As the world’s two largest economies, we have an obligation to lead on these and other issues, for the people in our countries and around the world.”
In September, the Treasury Department and China’s Ministry of Finance created a pair of economic working groups in an effort to ease tensions and deepen ties between the nations.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.