U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo wrapped up a four-day visit to China on Wednesday in the latest move by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to stabilize commercial and trade links between the world’s two largest economies.
In public remarks Wednesday, Raimondo said that she is hopeful about holding regular and direct talks with Chinese officials, but that she is “very clear-eyed” and does not expect every issue with Beijing will be resolved “overnight.”
Earlier in her visit, she said American companies have told her that China’s unlevel playing field and unpredictable regulatory environment with steep penalties have made the country “uninvestible.”
Raimondo said the two sides planned to hold meetings with technical experts to talk about disputes over protecting trade secrets as well as sharing information about export controls.
“We are not returning to the days when we had dialogue for dialogue’s sake, but shutting down communication and de-coupling services is neither in our economic or national security goals,” Raimondo told reporters during a phone briefing.
While the United States and China maintain more than $700 billion in annual trade, escalating tensions in recent years have made it more challenging for U.S. firms to operate in China.
“I did mention that my own emails had been hacked,” she said, “and I mentioned that as an example of an action that erodes trust at a time that we are trying to stabilize the relationship and increase channels of communication.”
U.S. officials have said Washington is not seeking a “de-coupling” with the Beijing government, but focusing on “de-risking.” Biden signed an executive order earlier this month to restrict U.S. investments in some sensitive and high-tech industries in China, including in semiconductors, microelectronics, quantum computing and certain artificial intelligence capabilities.
In Beijing, Chinese officials said the United States was engaging in “de-coupling” under the guise of “de-risking.” China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Aug. 10 that the U.S. decision “seriously disrupts the security of global industrial and supply chains.”
The two countries have traded other restrictions in recent months.
In May, China’s Cyberspace Administration banned its corporations from buying memory chips from U.S.-based Micron Technology Inc., as the U.S. works with its allies to ensure that advanced semiconductor manufacturing stays out of the reach of the Chinese industry.
In March, Chinese officials closed the Beijing offices of the U.S. due diligence company Mintz Group and detained five of its employees, accusing the firm of doing “unapproved statistical work.” With 18 offices worldwide, Mintz Group specializes in background checking, fact gathering and internal investigations.
Raimondo visited Shanghai Disneyland and a Boeing facility, as well as New York University’s campus in Shanghai on Wednesday, after meetings with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng on Tuesday. She held meetings with Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao on Monday.
Although Raimondo agreed to launch an information exchange on export control enforcement and a new working group on commercial issues, Congressional critics are skeptical about Washington’s ability to work constructively with Beijing.
Congressman Michael McCaul, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, accused the Biden administration of being “at best naive” in starting a working group with China.
McCaul said it is a dangerous move because the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, “steals U.S. intellectual property and hacks the emails of senior government officials, including Secretary Raimondo. The administration must stop treating the CCP as anything other than an adversary who will stop at nothing to harm our national security and spread its malign authoritarianism around the globe.”
Raimondo’s visit follows recent trips by other senior U.S. officials, including CIA Director Bill Burns in May and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June, as well as separate trips by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and U.S. Special Envoy on Climate John Kerry in July.