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Treasury Sec. Yellen Reveals China Game Plan

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is setting the stage for a crucial year in 2024 with a strategic approach to enhance the United States’ relationship with China. In her much-anticipated speech to business leaders, Yellen will unveil her detailed gameplan, focusing on fortifying economic ties with Beijing while addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Yellen appears ready to take the lead in improving relations with China, normally a task that would be led by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Yellen’s agenda, as shared in excerpts of her upcoming speech, revolves around a comprehensive strategy. She plans to “detail her 2024 priorities in improving US-China economic ties: improving communications between the world’s two largest economies, pushing Beijing for greater transparency, ramping up regulatory collaboration and tackling thorny issues like terror financing and the flow of fentanyl.”

In her speech, set to be delivered at the US-China Business Council’s 50th anniversary dinner, Yellen will assert, “We seek not to resolve all our disagreements nor avoid all shocks. This is in no way realistic.” She adds, “But we aim to make our communication resilient so that when we disagree, when shocks occur, we prevent misunderstanding from leading to escalation and causing harm.”

The US-China relationship, pivotal on the global stage, saw significant developments in 2023. From the tense situation in February, when President Joe Biden ordered the downing of a Chinese spy balloon, to the recent easing of tensions marked by high-profile meetings and dialogues, the relationship trajectory seems to be on an upswing. Yellen’s speech comes at a time when this relationship is arguably more stable than it was at the start of the year.

In an effort to sustain this positive momentum, Yellen has plans for further engagement with China. “I plan to take my second trip to China as Treasury secretary, where a significant portion of the agenda will focus on discussing difficult areas of concern with my counterpart,” she states. This visit is not just a diplomatic formality but a step towards deepening mutual understanding on critical issues.

The Treasury Secretary acknowledges that despite progress, challenges remain. “We know that this relationship will face continued challenges. There are many areas on which the US and China strongly disagree,” she notes, indicating a realistic approach to the complexities of this bilateral relationship.

Yellen also intends to hold China accountable on various fronts. She signals that the US will maintain its commitment to new limits on outbound investments to China and will continue pressing China on national security concerns. In her words, “Continuing to stabilize our relationship to prevent escalation won’t make news. But our economies, our people – and again, also economies and people around the world – will be safer and more secure.”

Her speech is timely, coming just after the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party released a report calling for a “fundamental reset” of America’s relationship with China. This report echoes Yellen’s sentiments, stating, “It embraces the clear reality that our current economic relationship with the People’s Republic of China needs to be reset in order to serve the economic and national security interests of the United States.”

Yellen’s vision extends beyond diplomatic talks and addresses global economic concerns. Business leaders and global investors are keenly observing China’s handling of its real estate crisis. Yellen underscores the global implications of China’s economic decisions, stating, “Financial shocks in China – and China’s response to them – do not occur in isolation.”

Looking to the future, Yellen reveals plans for increased regulatory collaboration, comparing it to existing partnerships with the European Union and the United Kingdom. “For economic policymakers responding to financial stress,” she says, “it is critical to know the counterpart on the other end of the line and be able to make a quick call.”

We are not optimistic about Yellen’s ability to make major inroads into this relationship. Negotiations start from the top, and Biden’s approach has been one more of appeasement than of serious compromise. It appears Yellen has a steep climb ahead.

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