Yellen says visit helps put US-China ties on ‘surer footing’
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Sunday that her talks with top Chinese officials have helped put ties on “surer footing”, as she wrapped up a trip aimed at stabilizing fraught relations between the 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 healthy economic competition and improved communication, and urged cooperation on the “existential threat” posed by climate change.
“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.
While it did not produce specific breakthroughs, Yellen’s trip furthers a push by President Joe Biden’s administration to steady ties with China.
Beijing’s official Xinhua news agency said Saturday that Yellen’s meeting with Vice Premier He Lifeng yielded an agreement to “strengthen communication and cooperation on addressing global challenges”.
Both sides also agreed to continue exchanges, the readout added.
Yellen said Sunday that while there are “significant disagreements” between the countries, her talks had been “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.
“I feel confident that we will have more frequent and regular communication.”
- Sources of tension –
Topping the laundry list of disagreements are Washington’s trade curbs, which it says are crucial to safeguard 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.
And with the US mulling fresh curbs that could more strictly regulate American outbound investment to China, Yellen said any new moves would be implemented in “a transparent way”.
“I emphasized that it would be highly targeted and clearly directed narrowly at a few sectors where we have specific national security concerns,” she said.
“I want to allay their fears that we would do something that would have broad-based impacts on the Chinese economy.
“That’s not the case, that’s not the intention.”
She also said she had raised “serious concerns” over “unfair economic practices” by Beijing.
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 firms in China.
During a roundtable of experts on Saturday, Yellen also stressed the “critical” need for the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to collaborate on climate financing.
“The United States and China must work together to address this existential threat,” she said.
- ‘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.
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.
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 response 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.
Taylor Fravel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told AFP: “I don’t think a single visit or interaction alone can achieve the goal of stabilising 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 semiconductors.”
©️ Agence France-Presse