U.S. and China Agree to Broaden Talks in Bid to Ease Tensions

on Aug28
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The United States and China on Monday agreed to hold regular conversations about commercial issues and restrictions on access to advanced technology, the latest step this summer toward reducing tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

The announcement came during a visit to Beijing by Gina Raimondo, the U.S. commerce secretary, who is meeting with senior Chinese officials in Beijing and Shanghai this week.

The agreement to hold regular discussions is the latest move toward rebuilding frayed links between the two countries, a process that had already begun during three trips in the past 10 weeks by senior American officials: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and John Kerry, the president’s climate envoy.

“I think it’s a very good sign that we agreed to concrete dialogue, and I would say, more than just kind of nebulous commitments to continue to talk, this is an official channel,” Ms. Raimondo said in an interview after four hours of negotiations with China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao.

Even before Ms. Raimondo traveled to China, Republican lawmakers criticized her for planning a “working group” of U.S. and Chinese officials to discuss American export controls. Four senior Republicans contended in a letter last week that it was “deeply inappropriate for our foremost adversary to have any influence over controls on sensitive U.S. national security technologies that the American people charged her to protect.”

Ms. Raimondo announced the new dialogue not as a working group, but an “information exchange.” She said that it had been set up to share more information about U.S. export restrictions on advanced technology, but that the group’s creation did not mean that the United States would be compromising on issues of national security. The first meeting of the export control group will take place in Beijing on Tuesday.

Ms. Raimondo also said she and the Chinese commerce minister had agreed to meet with each other at least annually.

He Weiwen, a former Chinese commerce ministry official who is now a trade specialist at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing research group, said that the bilateral agreement to have more discussions showed a mutual commitment to pragmatism. “It means that both sides share the approach to solve practical issues,” he said.

But in a sign of how politically fraught relations with China remain, plans for a formal dialogue structure between the two countries drew criticism from some China hawks in the United States.

“A growing Chinese economy that plays by the rules is in all of our interests,” she said.

As the Chinese economy has faltered this summer, Chinese officials have begun softening their stance on some issues. The latest measure came on Monday when the foreign ministry announced that starting on Wednesday, travelers to China would no longer need to test themselves first for Covid.

Michael Hart, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said that there had been a change in direction from Chinese officials this summer, with an increased willingness to hold discussions.

“It used to be at every meeting I went to, the first five minutes were, ‘Everything is America’s fault’,” Mr. Hart said. “It’s definitely toned down now, government officials understand the importance of U.S.-China trade.”

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