Friday, 1 Mar 2024

U.S. Does Not Want to ‘Decouple’ From China, Commerce Chief Says

High-ranking United States and Chinese officials held a series of economic policy meetings on Tuesday in Beijing, in the latest sign that both countries are trying to stop the long deterioration in their relationship and restore communications.

Gina Raimondo, the U.S. commerce secretary, and other top officials from her department on Tuesday afternoon met with Vice Premier He Lifeng at the Great Hall of the People, next to Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. Mr. He has broad oversight of economic policy, and has long been closely associated with Xi Jinping, China’s top leader.

Seated in a red-carpeted reception room on the second floor of the Great Hall, Mr. He said at the start of their meeting that he was ready to work with Ms. 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,” Ms. 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.”

Ms. Raimondo also met with Premier Li Qiang, China’s second-highest official. In remarks ahead of that meeting, Ms. Raimondo said that the United States hopes that the commercial ties between the two countries “can provide stability for the overall relationship.” She added that there were areas of global concern — such as climate change, artificial intelligence and the fentanyl crisis — where “the world is expecting us to step up together to solve these problems.”

The commerce secretary, more than halfway through a four-day trip, is the fourth senior Biden administration official to travel to China in three months. American officials are trying to promote economic ties with China while also clamping down, in the interest of national security, on exports of advanced technologies with military applications.

On Monday, Ms. Raimondo and China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao, 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 on Tuesday morning in Beijing, about how the United States enforces its export controls.

Ms. Raimondo met on Tuesday 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 almost completely closed its borders 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 that Ms. Raimondo has been organizing.

Travel from China to the United States remains at less than a third of prepandemic levels, the United States 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 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 American 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 sport utility vehicles carrying Ms. Raimondo and her aides pulled straight up to the train platform to unload them into one of China’s high-speed electric trains, which travel for long stretches at 217 miles per hour, or 350 kilometers an hour.

The trains travel from Beijing to Shanghai, a distance comparable to the journey from New York to Atlanta or Chicago, in as little as four and a half 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.

In the United States, Amtrak trains take 18 to 24 hours to reach Atlanta or Chicago from New York, but the government-owned rail company is investing now to improve schedules and reliability.

Ana Swanson is based in the Washington bureau and covers trade and international economics for The Times. She previously worked at The Washington Post, where she wrote about trade, the Federal Reserve and the economy. More about Ana Swanson

Keith Bradsher is the Beijing bureau chief for The Times. He previously served as bureau chief in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Detroit and as a Washington correspondent. He has lived and reported in mainland China through the pandemic. More about Keith Bradsher

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