To Decouple or Not to Decouple

Engagement is the word of the day for U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who kicked off a three-day summit in China on Monday. She is the latest in a string of top Biden administration officials who have traveled to Beijing in recent months to try to reduce tensions between the world’s two largest economies. Raimondo and Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao spent more than four hours discussing tangible solutions to boost commercial communication and collaboration in what Raimondo called “one of the most significant” economic partnerships in the world.

“Both of our countries, in fact the entire world, need us to manage that relationship responsibly,” Raimondo told a small group of reporters, including Foreign Policy, ahead of her visit. “There’s a benefit to communicating to reduce tensions. That does not mean compromise; that means communicate.”

Raimondo’s visit marks the first time a U.S. commerce secretary has traveled to China in seven years. Her message presents a stark shift from other political leaders in the United States, including some U.S. lawmakers and 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls, who have urged a more hawkish and confrontational approach to China. U.S. conservatives have criticized the commerce chief specifically for discussing export controls on Chinese advanced semiconductor manufacturing, warning that Beijing should not be allowed to weigh in on U.S. export policy. Raimondo has countered that under no circumstances will discussions this week center on export controls intended to slow Chinese military advancement that could threaten U.S. national security.

Among Raimondo’s top priorities was to convince a skeptical Chinese government that the United States is focused on “de-risking” the two economies but not fully “decoupling” them after Washington imposed new economic and export control measures on China aimed at protecting industries and supply chains it deems critical to its national security. “Just because we’re investing in America does not mean at all that we want to decouple from China’s economy,” Raimondo said.

The United States and China share more than $700 billion in annual trade; however, escalating tensions in recent years have made it increasingly difficult for U.S. companies to operate in China. The latest threat to good-faith collaboration occurred in May, when Beijing’s Cyberspace Administration banned corporations from buying advanced semiconductor chips from U.S.-based Micron Technology, a major semiconductor manufacturer.

To improve ties, Raimondo and Wang announced the establishment of two working groups on Monday to enhance bilateral information exchanges. One of the working groups will focus solely on commercial issues. It will meet twice a year starting in 2024 and consist of business representatives alongside government officials. The other bloc will discuss export controls. Raimondo and Wang also agreed to meet annually going forward.

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