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US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen will visit China this week, becoming the second Biden cabinet official to travel to Beijing as the two countries boost efforts to stabilise their turbulent relationship.
Yellen will spend four days in Beijing for meetings with top Chinese officials and US business leaders, according to a senior Treasury official, who cautioned that the trip was unlikely to produce “significant breakthroughs”. Yellen is not expected to meet President Xi Jinping.
Her visit comes just weeks after secretary of state Antony Blinken flew to China to resurrect efforts to set a “floor” under the relationship, which remains in its worst state since the countries established diplomatic ties in 1979.
Yellen and Blinken are following on from an agreement reached between Joe Biden and Xi in Bali in November that was derailed after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over the US early this year.
“Through this trip, we seek to deepen and increase the frequency of communication between our countries moving forward and to stabilise the relationship to avoid miscommunication and expand collaboration where we can,” said the official.
The official added that Yellen planned to discuss the three pillars of the US-China economic relationship she outlined in a speech in April.
Yellen said at the time that the US would secure its national security interests, including human rights, but was not using security tools to gain competitive economic advantage.
She added that the US wanted a healthy economic relationship with China but would respond to its “unfair economic practices”, stressing that the US sought co-operation on global challenges such as debt relief and climate.
Evan Medeiros, a former White House official and a China expert at Georgetown University, said Yellen’s trip was “simply the next step in an uncertain process”.
“It’s good to do but hard to see how it moves the ball in the complex game of great power competition,” said Medeiros. “Given the militarised nature of the competition and the competing world views, it is hard to see how the visit moves the ball forward more than a few metres.”
The US and China remain at odds over many issues. Washington is concerned about everything from Chinese military activity around Taiwan to anti-espionage and counter-sanctions laws that complicate US business operations in China. Beijing accuses the US of interfering in Taiwan, over which it claims sovereignty, and imposing sweeping export controls designed to make it harder to secure advanced chips.
Asked about the anti-espionage law and a foreign relations law passed last week that gives Beijing more power to push back against western security-related actions, the official said Yellen would raise the issue.
“We’re concerned about what kind of implications that would have potentially for all foreign firms or . . . US firms in particular,” the official said.
The US official said he would not be surprised if Yellen raised the situation surrounding Micron, the Idaho-based memory-chip maker which Beijing banned in May from supplying critical Chinese infrastructure operators. US experts viewed the move as retaliation for the export controls that Washington has used to target Chinese companies.
In her April speech, Yellen also stressed that the US was not pursuing a policy of “decoupling” from China. Speaking one week later, national security adviser Jake Sullivan repeated that line and explained that the US was engaging in “de-risking,” employing a phrase coined by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
At a World Economic Forum event in Tianjin this week, Chinese premier Li Qiang criticised the rhetoric from the US and its allies about de-risking, saying they were engaging in the “politicisation of economic issues”.