Janet Yellen and China’s Liu He Speak by Video Call
China’s top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, spoke with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen via videoconference in what the U.S. termed an introductory meeting.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that the two exchanged views on issues of mutual concern, and expressed a willingness to maintain communications. “The two sides believe that China-U.S. economic relations are very important,” Xinhua said.
According to a Treasury statement, Ms. Yellen discussed the Biden administration’s economic plans and “the importance of cooperating on areas that are in U.S. interests, while at the same time frankly tackling issues of concern.”
The conversation came a week after Mr. Liu spoke by phone to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Both sides agreed to continue communicating, according to a statement by China’s Commerce Ministry after Mr. Liu and Ms. Tai’s conversation.
Mr. Liu had negotiated many rounds on trade issues with former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer during the Trump administration. His call with Ms. Yellen marked the continuation of his role as Beijing’s point man for the U.S.-China economic relations, at least for the near term.
According to the Treasury statement, Ms. Yellen said she looks forward to future discussions with Mr. Liu.
Beijing recently has considered whether to replace Mr. Liu as its top economic envoy to Washington, The Wall Street Journal reported in May. The deliberation was part of a wider personnel shuffle as China recalibrates its approach to the new U.S. administration.
Veteran diplomat Qin Gang, a trusted aide to President Xi Jinping, is expected to travel to Washington soon to be the next Chinese ambassador to the U.S., the Journal has reported.
For now, President Xi has decided to keep Mr. Liu in his role as the economic interlocutor with Washington, Chinese officials have said, as a way to demonstrate the continued importance of economic cooperation between the two world powers.
In recent months, Beijing has indicated its desire to restore regular, high-level meetings between China and the U.S.
The so-called strategic-dialogue format was first put in place during the George W. Bush administration, but was abolished by the Trump administration, which viewed it as an exercise that tied up the U.S. in fruitless discussions. With the relationship becoming more competitive, Beijing sees the mechanism as a stabilizer to reduce chances of conflict. So far, the Biden team has shown no interest in re-establishing the talks.
One of the pressing issues faced by Mr. Liu, Mr. Xi’s chief economic adviser, is how to lessen what Beijing sees as excessive appreciation pressure on the Chinese currency, the yuan. China’s central bank recently has taken a number of measures to try to prevent the yuan from rising in value too fast. A more expensive yuan can hurt Chinese exports overseas.
Meantime, Beijing is wary of being seen as trying to manage the currency to its advantage, especially at a time when many in Washington have taken issue with what they see as China’s mercantilist policy.
“I would expect China’s currency management was discussed during the call,” a Beijing government adviser said.
Neither side disclosed any details about the conversation between Ms. Yellen and Mr. Liu.