Gina Raimondo, US secretary of commerce, speaks during an interview in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, March 2, 2023.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Senior officials from the Department of Commerce will be traveling to Beijing and Shanghai next week as part of an effort to lay groundwork for a potential trip by Secretary Gina Raimondo later this year, according to people familiar with the planning.
Elizabeth Economy, a senior advisor to the secretary on China issues, and Scott Tatlock, the deputy assistant secretary for China and Mongolia, will assess whether such a meeting between Raimondo and her Chinese counterparts would produce results to justify the visit.
A spokesperson for the Commerce Department confirmed the trip “to meet with U.S. Commercial Service officers, government counterparts and industry to discuss bilateral trade and commercial opportunities for U.S. businesses.”
But the optics of a potential visit by Raimondo — the former governor of Rhode Island whose political ambitions are said not to end with the Commerce job — could be fraught with risk if the visit produces no deliverables, according to the people familiar with the planning. After a recent visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, for instance, Beijing agreed to deliver 160 Airbus planes, and Airbus agreed to double its production in the country.
A visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, set for early February, was postponed indefinitely as tensions escalated during a Chinese surveillance balloon’s cross-country trip.
The tensions paused economic discussions between Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and her counterparts, which have since resumed. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in late March that the White House was discussing potential visits by secretaries Yellen and Raimondo to “talk about economic issues … keeping those lines of communication open is still valuable.”
Beijing has missed key benchmarks in a 2020 trade pact between the countries, which Raimondo has pledged to enforce — including a promise by China to purchase planes made by Airbus rival Boeing.
“China is holding up the purchase of tens of billions of dollars in Boeing airplanes that Chinese airlines have already ordered,” Raimondo told reporters in September 2021. “That’s a lot of American jobs on the line.”
Since then, Commerce has taken an ad hoc approach to sensitive trade issues. On high-tech exports that could advance China’s military ambitions, Raimondo has drawn a hard line — expanding restrictions that prevent Beijing from acquiring leading semiconductors.
On TikTok, where support for a ban is growing on both sides of the aisle, Raimondo has taken a more dovish approach. “The politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever,” she told Bloomberg Businessweek. “However much I hate TikTok — and I do, because I see the addiction in the bad s— that it serves kids — you know, this is America.”
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