Chinese Premier Li tells Yellen China-US ties can see ‘more rainbows’ after ‘wind and rain’
Frequent talks encouraging, but US must stay true to its words: experts
Published: Jul 08, 2023 12:15 AM Updated: Jul 08, 2023 05:06 PM
Chinese Premier Li Qiang meets with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in Beijing on July 7. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese Premier Li Qiang meets with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in Beijing on July 7. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese Premier Li Qiang met with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in Beijing on Friday, urging the US to maintain a "rational and pragmatic" attitude and work with China to bring bilateral ties back to the right track as soon as possible, while also noting that China-US ties can see "rainbows" after a round of "wind and rain."

Yellen is in Beijing for a four-day trip, her first as the US Treasury Secretary, part of what US officials are calling an effort to increase communication with their Chinese counterparts amid tensions in bilateral relations. During the meeting on Friday, Yellen said that the US seeks "healthy economic competition" and "more communication and exchange."  

Increased interactions between Chinese and US officials are a positive signal for the world, which is in dire need of talks and cooperation between the world's two biggest economies amid mounting challenges. However, despite recent talks, China-US ties will likely remain at their lowest point in decades and Washington must stay true to its words in order to stabilize relations, Chinese experts noted. 

'Rainbow after winds, rains' 

Li met Yellen at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. During the meeting, the Chinese premier said that Chinese culture values peace above everything else, as opposed to hegemony and bullying. It is hoped that the US will uphold a rational and pragmatic attitude, and work with China in the same direction to push bilateral relations back onto the right track at an early date, the Xinhua News Agency reported.  

"China's development is an opportunity rather than a challenge for the US, and a gain rather than a risk," Li said. He added that politicizing economic cooperation or overstretching the concept of security on such cooperation does no good for the economic development of the two countries and the whole world.

Li further noted that the two sides should strengthen communication and seek consensus on important issues in the bilateral economic field through candid, in-depth and pragmatic exchanges, so as to inject stability and positive energy into China-US economic relations.

Referring to a rainbow Yellen saw when she arrived in Beijing on Thursday, Li said China-US relations can also see "more rainbows" after a round of "wind and rain," according to footage of the meeting published by Phoenix Satellite Television.

As the Chinese premier spoke, Yellen listened, constantly smiling and nodding. Reading what appeared to be a prepared statement, Yellen said that the leaders of the two countries, during their meeting in Bali, Indonesia in November 2022, emphasized that senior officials from our countries should deepen constructive efforts on macroeconomic stability and address shared global challenges.

"I am in Beijing to build on that direction," Yellen said, according to a transcript from the US Treasury Department. "It is my hope that this visit can spur more regular channels of communication between our two countries." In line with her focus on economic ties, Yellen reiterated that "we seek healthy economic competition that is not winner-take-all but that, with a fair set of rules, can benefit both countries over time."

The focus on economic ties, which have long served as a stabilizer in bilateral relations, is of great significance for the two countries as well as for the world, which is facing a severe downturn, according to Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

"The scene of the two sides sitting down to talk is a very positive signal that could give confidence and encouragement to market participants in both countries," Gao told the Global Times on Friday, adding that while the atmosphere is difficult, it is still likely that the two sides will be able to make some "progress" in the area of macroeconomic policies. 

That also appears to be a focus for Yellen. During a speech at a roundtable with US businesses in China on Friday, she said that "in the economic realm, regular exchanges with our Chinese counterparts can help us monitor economic and financial risks, and it can help create the conditions for a healthy economic relationship between our two countries."

However, in the economic realm, there are many differences between the two countries. Even as the US constantly cracks down on Chinese firms and restricts high-tech exports to China, Yellen said during her meetings with Chinese officials that she would be communicating "concerns" from US businesses about China's "use of non-market tools."

Gao said that such claims are hyped by US politicians in their attempt to crack down on China's development, noting that China has repeatedly provided evidence that there is no such practice. 

Still, despite major differences, there are greater expectations that the two countries can work together in economic and trade areas where there are shared interests.

"While the US continues to nitpick and create many problems, the bilateral economic and trade relationship is still the ballast stone of China-US relations, and this has not changed," Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Friday.

Greater challenges

However, there are growing hurdles for even win-win economic and trade cooperation, as Washington continues to put up barriers, including reportedly mulling new restrictions on investments in China and on artificial intelligence chips to the country, as part of its overall approach to contain China, experts said.  

"The atmosphere is just not very appropriate" for the two sides to reach any meaningful deal in the economic area, given the growing tensions in overall bilateral relations, Gao said.

In addition to economic and trade crackdowns, Washington has also been constantly provoking tensions with China on multiple fronts, including the Taiwan question and the South China Sea. 

In the latest example, on the same day as Yellen's arrival in Beijing on Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin accused China of engaging in "coercive and risky operational behavior" in the South China Sea. Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, on Friday slammed the accusations as smearing China's lawful law enforcement activities in an attempt to drive a wedge among regional countries. At a press briefing, Wang also rejected US accusations of China refusing to engage in anti-drug cooperation, and urged the US to correct its mistakes and create the necessary conditions for such collaboration.

"The US' strategy has already been established - it will decouple from, crack down on and compete with China. It has become a fundamental US policy," Liu Weidong, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday. 

That is why it is so hard for the two countries to reach any meaningful outcome during meetings such as those during Yellen's trip, Liu said. "The restoration of this kind of communication is an achievement in itself," he said.  

As part of her talks with Chinese officials on Friday, Yellen also met with former Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and Yi Gang, governor of the People's Bank of China (PBC), the central bank. She is also scheduled to meet former head of the PBC Zhou Xiaochuan, according to media reports.