US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and China’s Vice Premier Liu He had a “candid” first conversation as the two sides try to resolve some of their differences on trade.
The trade chiefs spoke Thursday morning in Beijing, China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement, and “conducted candid, pragmatic and constructive exchanges in an attitude of equality and mutual respect”.
In a separate statement, the USTR said “Ambassador Tai discussed the guiding principles of the Biden-Harris administration’s worker-centered trade policy and her ongoing review of the US-China trade relationship, while also raising issues of concern.”
The phone call is one of the few top-level meetings between the two sides since President Joe Biden took office in January and comes after top diplomats had an acrimonious meeting in Alaska in March. While both nations agreed on a partial trade deal in 2020, China and the US still have tariffs on billions of dollars in trade in place, and China has never met the purchase commitments it made in that deal.
The US administration is reviewing its stance toward China and hasn’t made any major changes to the policies it inherited from former President Donald Trump, although there are increasing signs of the direction it will take.
In contrast with much of the rest of the bilateral relationship, trade has been one of the less contentious issues recently.
Ties have deteriorated over the past year or more on almost every other topic, with clashes over human-rights concerns including allegations of forced labor in China’s western Xinjiang region; Taiwan; the crackdown in Hong Kong; Beijing’s purchases of oil from sanctioned Iran; and the long-running disputes over South China and East China Seas.
‘Era of engagement with China is over’
The US is entering a period of intense competition with China as the government running the world’s second-biggest economy becomes ever more tightly controlled by President Xi Jinping, the White House’s top official for Asia said.
“The period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end,” Kurt Campbell, the US coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council, said.
China slams US move to probe COVID origins
China hit out at what it called the US’ “dark history” after the Biden administration decided to conduct a probe into the origins of Covid-19 and whether it leaked from a lab in China. Biden had asked the US intelligence agencies to report to him within the next three months. The lab leak theory has been dismissed by the World Health Organization but has gained revival under the Biden administration.