Wrapping up visit, US treasury secretary says ties with China on ‘surer footing’

Trip doesn’t produce specific breakthroughs, but Chinese news agency says Yellen’s meeting with Vice Premier Lifeng yielded agreement to ‘strengthen communication and cooperation’

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (4th L) attends a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng (3rd R) at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 8, 2023. (Photo by Pedro PARDO and Pedro Pardo / POOL / AFP)
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (4th L) attends a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng (3rd R) at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 8, 2023. (Photo by Pedro PARDO and Pedro Pardo / POOL / AFP)

BEIJING, China (AFP) — US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Sunday that her talks with top Chinese officials have put ties on “surer footing,” as she wrapped up a trip aimed at stabilizing fraught relations between the world’s two biggest economies.

During her four-day trip — which came on the heels of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit — Yellen stressed the need for greater exchanges and collaboration, even as deep divides persist between the countries.

“We believe that the world is big enough for both of our countries to thrive,” she told journalists at the US embassy in Beijing on Sunday.

“Both nations have an obligation to responsibly manage this relationship: to find a way to live together and share in global prosperity,” she added.

Her trip furthers a push by US President Joe Biden’s administration to steady ties with China while still asserting US policies.

While the trip did not produce specific breakthroughs, China’s official Xinhua news agency said late Saturday that Yellen’s meeting with Vice Premier He Lifeng yielded an agreement to “strengthen communication and cooperation on addressing global challenges.”

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (L) shakes hands with Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 8, 2023. (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)

Both sides also agreed to continue exchanges, the readout added.

And Yellen said Sunday that while there are “significant disagreements” between the two countries, she and Chinese officials had held talks that were “direct, substantive, and productive.”

“My bilateral meetings –- which totaled about 10 hours over two days –- served as a step forward in our effort to put the US-China relationship on surer footing,” she said.

Sources of tension

Topping the laundry list of disagreements are Washington’s trade curbs, which it says are intended to reduce the second-largest economy’s access to advanced technology deemed crucial to national security.

On Sunday, Yellen said she had stressed that Washington’s measures “are not used by us to gain economic advantage.”

“These actions are motivated by straightforward national security considerations,” she said.

She also said she had raised her “serious concerns” over what she called “unfair trade practices” by Beijing.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (C) speaks during a lunch meeting with women economists in Beijing on July 8, 2023. (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)

She cited barriers to foreign firms entering the Chinese market as well as issues around the protection of intellectual property.

“I also expressed my worries about a recent uptick in coercive actions against American firms,” she said, referring to a recent national security crackdown against US consulting firms in China.

‘Messaging’ a key goal

Looking ahead, “any concrete key breakthroughs and major deliverables presumably will be reserved for the two top leaders to announce,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Washington-based Stimson Center.

“The two sides have not had this level of communications and consultations for a number of years,” she told AFP, adding that success will lie in the starting or restarting of this process.

Last month, Biden voiced confidence in meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping soon.

Lindsay Gorman, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, added: “I think one underappreciated audience is really US allies and partners, both in the region and globally.”

“The main goal for this trip is really a messaging goal,” she told AFP.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during a press conference at the Beijing American Center of the US Embassy in Beijing on July 9, 2023. (Photo by Pedro PARDO / AFP)

Among the aims are communicating how Washington considers its economic relationship with China, and dispelling the notion that it might embrace “pure zero-sum competition” — while signaling it targets a fairer playing field.

Overall, China’s attitude towards Yellen’s visit appears “more enthusiastic” than Blinken’s trip, as he is considered more hawkish, said Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University.

“Yellen is seen as a professional in the eyes of the Chinese, and her attitude towards China-US economic and trade relations is relatively rational,” said Wu, noting that she opposes decoupling the two economies.

Taylor Fravel, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told AFP: “I don’t think a single visit or interaction alone can achieve the goal of stabilizing relations.”

But Yellen’s visit and remarks convey support for continued US-China economic cooperation, “despite the political frictions in the relationship and competitive actions around limiting China’s access to certain technologies such as semi-conductors.”

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