Top Chinese official tells the US commerce secretary he’s ready to improve cooperation

BEIJING — The top Chinese official in charge of economic relations with Washington told Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo today he was ready to “make new positive efforts” to improve cooperation following an agreement to reduce trade tension by launching groups to discuss export controls and other commercial disputes.

The agreement Monday was the most substantial result to date out of a string of visits by American officials to Beijing over the last three months to revive relations that are at their lowest level in decades. They express optimism about better communication, but neither side has given a sign it is ready to compromise on disputes about technology, security, human rights and other irritants.

Vice Premier He Lifeng sounded an optimistic note, referring to “in-depth exchanges” in July with his American counterpart, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

“I’m ready to work based on that with you, to make new positive efforts to deepen our consensus and extend our cooperation,” He told Raimondo during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.

The two governments would launch an “information exchange” about U.S. controls on technology exports that irritate Beijing, though she defended the curbs as necessary for national security and gave no indication they might be relaxed.

“I’m looking forward to finding ways that we can more effectively engage on commercial issues that impact our relationship,” Raimondo told He. She said President Joe Biden “asked me to reiterate to you our desire to have more open engagement.”

Beijing broke off dialogue on military, climate and other issues with Washington in August 2022 in retaliation for a visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The mainland’s ruling Communist Party claims the self-ruled island democracy as part of its territory and objects to any government having official contact.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s government is trying to revive investor interest in China and reassure foreign companies as part of efforts to reverse an economic slump.

A key Chinese complaint is limits on access to processor chips and other U.S. technology on security grounds that threaten to hamper the ruling Communist Party’s ambition to develop artificial intelligence and other industries. The curbs crippled the smartphone business of Huawei Technologies Ltd., China’s first global tech brand.

Raimondo defended the Biden administration’s strategy of “de-risking,” or encouraging more high-tech manufacturing in the United States and to develop more sources of industrial supplies to reduce disruption. Beijing has criticized that as a possible attempt to isolate China and hamper its development.

“While we will never of course compromise in protecting our national security I want to be clear that we do not seek to decouple or to hold China’s economy back,” Raimondo told He.

Also today, Raimondo met with the Chinese minister of culture and tourism, Hu Heping. She said they agreed to ”advance our people to people ties through increased tourism and educational and student exchange.”

China is gradually reviving foreign tourism after lifting anti-virus controls that blocked most travel into and out of the country for three years. The number of foreign students in China fell close to zero during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The visits take place under an agreement made by Xi and Biden during a meeting last November in Indonesia. The Chinese state press has given them positive coverage, but Beijing has given no indication it might change trade, strategic, market access and other policies that irk Washington and its Asian neighbors.