US, China to set up commercial issues working group

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo (R) met with Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao (centre-L) in Beijing (Andy Wong)
US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo (R) met with Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao (centre-L) in Beijing (Andy Wong)

The United States and China will set up a new working group for discussing trade tensions, Washington said Monday, as the world's largest economy seeks to cool tensions with its strategic competitor.

Washington's Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo reached the agreement with her Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Monday, during the latest in a series of high-level trips to China by US officials.

The trips could culminate in a meeting between leaders, with US President Joe Biden saying recently that he was expecting to sit down with China's Xi Jinping this year.

Raimondo met on Monday morning with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, describing the economic relationship between the two countries as "the most significant in the world".

The two sides agreed to set up a working group to "seek solutions on trade and investment issues and to advance US commercial interests in China," according to a readout from the US Commerce Department.

The working group is set to meet twice annually, with the US hosting the first meeting next year, according to the readout.

They also agreed to establish what Washington called an "export control enforcement information exchange" -- described as a platform to "reduce misunderstanding of US national security policies".

The first meeting of the group, to be conducted by assistant secretary-level officials, will take place in Beijing on Tuesday, Washington said.

China and the United States will also aim to have annual meetings between the Commerce Secretary and their Beijing counterpart, Washington said.

"We share $700 billion dollars of trade and I concur with you that it is profoundly important that we have a stable economic relationship," Raimondo told Wang, according to a separate readout.

"It's a complicated relationship; it's a challenging relationship," she told Wang.

"We will of course disagree on certain issues, but I believe we can make progress if we are direct, open, and practical."

Wang, in turn, told Raimondo it was a "great pleasure to conduct dialogue and coordination with you in the field of economy and trade".

Raimondo arrived in Beijing on Sunday and was met by Lin Feng, the director of the commerce ministry's Americas and Oceania department, as well as US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns.

In posts on the social media platform X, Raimondo said she was "looking forward to a productive few days".

Monday also saw her visit a showcase of US beauty products for the Chinese market at a Beijing hotel, accompanied by Ambassador Burns.

She will later travel to China's economic powerhouse Shanghai, before leaving on Wednesday, the US Department of Commerce said.

- Trade tensions -

Relations between the United States and China have plummeted to some of their lowest levels in decades, with US trade curbs near the top of the laundry list of disagreements.

Washington says they are crucial to safeguarding national security, but China sees them as seeking to slow its economic rise.

This month, Biden issued an executive order aimed at restricting certain US investments in sensitive high-tech areas in China -- a move Beijing blasted as being "anti-globalisation".

The long-anticipated rules, expected to be implemented next year, target sectors such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sought to reassure Chinese officials about the expected curbs during a visit to Beijing last month, promising that any new moves would be implemented in a transparent way.

And Raimondo on Monday told Chinese officials that while there was "no room to compromise or negotiate" on US national security, "the vast majority of our trade and investment relationship does not involve national security concerns".

"We believe a strong Chinese economy is a good thing," she said.

"We seek healthy competition with China. A growing Chinese economy that plays by the rules is in both of our interests."

In June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Beijing, where he met Xi and said progress had been made on a number of key sources of contention. US climate envoy John Kerry also visited China in July.

But none of the visits led to major breakthroughs, and a recent Camp David summit between the United States, South Korea and Japan aimed in part at countering China sparked condemnation from Beijing.

Following that summit, Biden said he still expected to meet Xi this year.

The US president is inviting the Chinese leader to San Francisco in November, when the United States holds a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which includes China.

They could also potentially meet next month in New Delhi on the sidelines of a G20 summit.