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US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo has arrived in China, where she is aiming to boost business ties and tourism between the world’s two largest economies despite Washington’s move to ban American investment in sensitive Chinese technologies.
Raimondo, the fourth senior Biden administration official to visit Beijing this summer, said she would stress that the US did not want to “decouple” from China’s economy. But she insisted protecting national security was “the top priority, period”.
“The US and China share a large, dynamic, growing economic relationship, one of the largest trade relationships in the world,” Raimondo told reporters ahead of her trip. “Both of our countries, in fact the entire world, need us to manage that relationship responsibly.”
US president Joe Biden this month announced a ban on American investment in some of China’s critical tech industries, including quantum computing, advanced chips and artificial intelligence.
The flurry of senior visits to China are part of a concerted effort by the Biden administration to smooth relations. High-level engagement stalled this year when China flew an alleged spy balloon over US soil.
Raimondo, whose visit comes as China’s economy is struggling to recover after pandemic-related lockdowns last year and amid a deep property slowdown, said she would “lean into” promoting travel and tourism between the two sides. She estimated that a return to pre-pandemic levels of Chinese visitors would generate tens of thousands of jobs for US workers.
But she cautioned that there were “many challenges” to “doing business in China and exporting to China”, alluding to what she called Beijing’s “unfair trade practices”.
“If you wanted to put a tagline to the trip and the mission, it is: protect what we must and promote where we can,” Raimondo said.
The commerce secretary will face deep scepticism from Chinese officials, who question Washington’s sincerity in wanting to improve trade ties while the Biden administration tightens controls on tech investments.
The restrictions announced this month, which come into force next year, are an effort to stop the Chinese military from accessing US funding, knowledge and capital. They are expected to affect private equity and venture capital firms as well as US investors in joint ventures with Chinese groups.
The order was the latest in a series of actions designed to limit Chinese access to advanced technology in what US national security adviser Jake Sullivan has called a “small yard, high fence” strategy.
Raimondo’s visit follows recent trips to Beijing by other US cabinet officials, including secretary of state Antony Blinken, Treasury secretary Janet Yellen and climate envoy John Kerry.
During her trip in July, Yellen told an audience in Beijing there was “ample room” for US and Chinese companies to boost trade and investment, despite security tensions.
Chinese media cited some positive signs for US-China relations ahead of Raimondo’s visit, including a move by Washington to seek an extension to a decades-old science and technology agreement with China and its lifting of export control restrictions on 27 Chinese entities last week.
“China will continue to raise relevant economic and trade concerns with the US, and strive to create a fair and stable business environment for enterprises to carry out trade and investment co-operation,” the Communist party-run Global Times tabloid quoted China’s commerce ministry as saying.
Bryan Mercurio, a law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said there were signs Beijing was open to a thaw in relations and more dialogue, which could help pave the way for potential meetings between Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 summit next month in India or the Apec forum in San Francisco in November.
But the outlook for relations in the long run is not positive, Mercurio said, with a fractious US election due next year in which ties with China will be a contentious issue.
“They can smooth things over in the short run leading up to the Biden-Xi meeting, but in the long term, are there any signs the two will come close together? I would say if anything, it’s the reverse,” Mercurio said.