The rapprochement is fragile as the United States and China put aside the irritants

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao, on Thursday in the first Cabinet-level engagement in months between the world’s two largest economies.

The couple raised export policies, trade and investment issues that have strained bilateral relations, in an exchange that Raimondo’s office described as “frank and substantial”.

Wang also met with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum trade ministers meeting on Friday in Detroit, Michigan.

The meetings came days after President Joe Biden signaled a thaw in relations that have soured since a US fighter jet fired on a suspected Chinese spy balloon over US territory in February. . The incident caused a bipartisan outcry in the United States and led to the cancellation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Beijing.

However, in a May 10-11 meeting between White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Communist Party diplomat Wang Yi, the two sides appeared to put the matter behind them.

FILE – Sailors prepare material recovered off Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, from the downing of a high-altitude Chinese balloon, for transport to the FBI, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Va., Feb. 10, 2023.

Shooting the balloon down was “a clear message that we will not tolerate violations of American airspace,” Sullivan told VOA during a May 17 press briefing. “We made our point.”

Why now?

Beyond a desire to show it can handle great power competition with China and to seek cooperation on various issues ranging from tackling climate change to stopping fentanyl trafficking, Washington wants Beijing to be a constructive force in the war against Ukraine, Yun Sun said. , director of the China program at the Stimson Center.

Meanwhile, China is looking to leverage a transactional relationship on issues it cares about. In the high-tech industry, for example, she told VOA that while it’s inevitable that the United States will reduce or end its dependence on China, Beijing sees room for negotiation. on specific industries, companies or products.

A common driving factor is the APEC leaders’ meeting the United States is to host in San Francisco in November, said Dennis Wilder, former director of the National Security Council for China, who is now a senior researcher for the Initiative for US-China Dialogue on Globalization. Problems at Georgetown University.

President Xi Jinping believes that China is one of the founding members of APEC, Wilder told VOA, so “it’s important for him from a national prestige point of view to be there.” Meanwhile, Biden wants “as many world leaders as possible, except for [Russian President Vladimir] Cheese fries.

If Xi attends the APEC summit, there is an opportunity for a separate summit with Biden, their second face-to-face engagement as presidents since the pair met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting in Bali last November. However, with less than six months left, observers say time is running out to lay the groundwork for a meeting.

The irritants remain

“With this more conciliatory language, the Biden administration is making a sensible attempt to achieve detente in what is, essentially, a Cold War relationship,” said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United. States.

However, since neither Washington nor Beijing have reconsidered their goals or assessments of itself or its rival, warming ties will not change the fundamental direction of US-China relations, Daly told VOA.

Many irritants that could threaten the fragile rapprochement remain, including a planned executive order establishing an outbound investment screening mechanism that would restrict U.S. companies seeking to invest in Chinese semiconductors and other critical technology sectors.

There is speculation in Washington that the executive order has been temporarily suspended to smooth relations, but the Chinese expect that to happen at some point, Yun said.

“It doesn’t necessarily help build their willingness to cooperate,” she said.

Beijing is also worried about the results of the FBI’s investigation into the remains of the Chinese balloon. The FBI, State Department and White House did not provide answers to VOA’s questions about when the administration would release the findings.

If the administration doesn’t act on the executive order, Congress will likely push for legislation to do so, Wilder said.

“I can’t explain why there isn’t more pressure on the balloon report from Congress,” he told VOA. “This one confuses me a bit.”

Beijing has also hit back at the action plan to counter “economic coercion” targeting China, which the leading democracies of the Group of Seven released following their recent summit. The day after the G-7 announcement, Beijing banned products from US memory chip maker Micron Technology Inc. in computer systems that handle sensitive information, saying they posed security risks without providing details. .

FILE - A sign marks the entrance to a Micron Technology chip manufacturing plant February 11, 2022 in Manassas, Virginia.

FILE – A sign marks the entrance to a Micron Technology chip manufacturing plant February 11, 2022 in Manassas, Virginia.

“How do they respond to criticism of economic coercion? With economic coercion,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said during a Wednesday briefing to reporters.

However, Kirby stressed that the Micron deal would not torpedo the broader goals of reopening lines of communication, noting that the relationship is complicated and turbulence is expected.

“That doesn’t mean the work shouldn’t continue to try to put things back in a better position,” he said.

To monitor

A key indicator of further warming ties is whether Beijing will agree to Washington’s request for a meeting between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La dialogue on the defense in Singapore next week.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Washington should first lift sanctions against Li, to “create [a] atmosphere and conditions conducive to dialogue and communication.

Li, who became defense minister in March, was placed under sanctions in 2018 by the Trump administration for his role in China’s purchase of Russian planes and combat equipment.

Biden said last week the deal was “under negotiation.” However, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller later told VOA that the administration was not considering lifting those sanctions.

Other indicators to watch are higher-level visits to Beijing by US officials, including climate envoy John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Raimondo.

Jeff Seldin and Nike Ching contributed to this report.

USA voanews

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