Janet Yellen Weighs Visit to China, Her First as Treasury Secretary

The Treasury Department’s discussions on a possible Yellen visit are in the early stages.

Janet Yellen Weighs Visit to China, Her First as Treasury Secretary
Janet Yellen, U.S. Treasury secretary. (Photographer: Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg)

Janet Yellen is weighing a trip to China in the coming months that would be her first as U.S. Treasury secretary, people familiar with the matter said, as the Biden administration engages in a broad review of policy toward the Asian power and the tariffs on imported goods enacted under former President Donald Trump.

The Treasury Department’s discussions on a possible Yellen visit are in the early stages and no decision has been made, with considerations including travel risks stemming from the delta variant of the coronavirus, the people said on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private. If the trip goes ahead, she would likely meet with Vice Premier Liu He -- regarded as China’s top economic official -- and would be the highest-ranking Biden appointee to visit the country.

In response to a request for comment, Treasury spokeswoman Lily Adams said: “There are no plans for Secretary Yellen to travel to China in the fall.”

A Yellen visit would mark the first face-to-face economic talks with China under the Biden administration, after top State Department officials held contentious meetings on two separate occasions. A gathering in Alaska in March quickly descended into bickering and recriminations over human rights, trade and international alliances, while U.S. officials visiting Tianjin last month heard counterparts say the U.S. needed to stop criticizing China’s political system and drop all sanctions and tariffs.

President Joe Biden has revealed a hard-edged stance toward China so far, though the Biden administration is still working toward completing a broad review of the U.S.’s policy toward the nation. Officials have left in place the tariffs from the Trump administration, although Yellen has expressed skepticism of their effectiveness.

The goals of a potential trip for Yellen to China would include discussing common ground between the nations, such as climate change efforts, and also more difficult ones, such as trade, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Last week, more than 30 U.S. trade groups called on the Biden administration to resume negotiations with China and remove tariffs, which they say are harming the American economy. Groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote Yellen and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai urging the government to restart talks with China to ensure Beijing meets its commitments under the 2020 phase-one trade deal and increase purchases of American goods in the rest of 2021.

The U.S. and China have left open the possibility of a summit between their presidents.

Biden, during his first overseas trip as president in June, focused on uniting allies to confront China. The administration has also framed proposed infrastructure spending as necessary to stay ahead of the world’s second-largest economy. But officials have said they’ll work with China if they think progress can be made.

U.S. Treasury secretaries met with Chinese counterparts routinely until 2018 when a formal dialogue between the nations ended during the Trump administration. That line of communication, called the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, governed ties between the two countries during the Bush and Obama administrations. Yellen and her staff for now have no plans to resurrect it.

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