China’s commerce minister and his US counterpart have raised concerns about their countries’ trade and investment policies at a meeting in Washington but pledged to keep channels of communication open in the first visit by a senior Chinese official to the US capital since 2020.
The talks between Chinese commerce minister Wang Wentao and US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo on Thursday came with Washington and Beijing showing tentative signs of efforts to stabilise relations, which have hit their lowest point in 50 years.
Wang raised concerns about US export controls in areas such as semiconductors, as well as a proposal to review outbound investments for security purposes, according to a statement from Beijing’s ministry of commerce.
The US commerce department said the officials had “candid and substantive” discussions, including on the “overall environment in both countries for trade and investment and areas for potential co-operation”.
“Secretary Raimondo also raised concerns about the recent spate of PRC actions taken against US companies operating in the PRC,” the department said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Tensions flared over the weekend when the G7 group of industrialised countries, meeting in Hiroshima, issued a statement criticising China over security issues, such as its militarisation of the South China Sea and its use of “economic coercion” in trade.
Beijing issued an angry response, accusing G7 countries of seeking to contain other nations. It also announced a ban on Chinese information infrastructure companies buying chips made by US memory chipmaker Micron Technology, in what was seen as retaliation against Washington’s curbs on the sale of advanced semiconductors to China.
Chinese authorities in major cities have raided foreign consultancies in recent weeks, including shutting down the Beijing office of US-based due diligence group Mintz and detaining five of its local employees.
But analysts said there were indications the countries might be trying to put a floor under tensions, with US president Joe Biden also forecasting a “thaw” in relations at the end of the G7 summit in Hiroshima. Chinese state media last week said Wang’s meetings in Washington indicated that both sides “recognised the importance of economic and trade relations”.
The US commerce department on Friday said the meeting was part of efforts to “maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage the relationship”. It added that Raimondo had expressed her commitment to building on the “engagement” between Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping, who last met at a G20 summit in Bali in November.
“The two sides agreed to establish channels of communication and maintain and strengthen exchanges on economic and trade concerns and other co-operation matters,” China’s commerce ministry said on Friday.
Analysts said the countries could be trying to create the conditions for Xi to visit the US in November for a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Wang is also expected to meet US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of an APEC meeting in Detroit, which ends on Friday.
“Nobody is expecting structural change in the relationship, of course, the ‘cold war’ will still be there,” said Da Wei, director of the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
But there would be a “lower temperature, at least from now to the end of the year”, he said, adding: “I hope the two sides can reach agreement that no matter how bad the relationship, the dialogue should continue.”
Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding in Beijing