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Antony Blinken Visits China – The New York Times

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken cheered on the sidelines at a basketball game in Shanghai on Wednesday night, and spent Thursday chatting with students at New York University’s Shanghai campus and meeting American business owners. It all went to emphasize the kind of economic, educational and cultural ties that the United States is pointedly holding up as beneficial for both countries.

But hanging over those pleasantries during his visit to China this week are several steps the U.S. is taking to sever economic ties in areas where the Biden administration says they threaten American interests. And those will be the focus of greater attention from Chinese officials, as well.

Even as the Biden administration tries to stabilize the relationship with China, it is advancing several economic measures that would curb China’s access to the U.S. economy and technology. It is poised to raise tariffs on Chinese steel, solar panels and other crucial products to try to protect American factories from cheap imports. It is weighing further restrictions on China’s access to advanced semiconductors to try to keep Beijing from developing sophisticated artificial intelligence that could be used on the battlefield.

This week, Congress also passed legislation that would force ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, to sell its stake in the app within nine to 12 months or leave the United States altogether. The president signed it on Wednesday, though the measure is likely to be challenged in court.

Mr. Blinken’s visit, which was expected to take him to Beijing on Friday for high-level government meetings, had a much more cordial tone than on the trip he made to China last year. That trip was the first after a Chinese spy balloon traveled across the United States, tipping the American public into an uproar.

In a meeting with the Shanghai Communist Party secretary Thursday morning, Mr. Blinken said direct engagement between the U.S. and China was both valuable and necessary.

“We have an obligation for our people — indeed an obligation to the world — to manage the relationship between our two countries responsibly,” he said.

Speaking to students at the N.Y.U.’s Shanghai campus later that morning, he said the educational exchanges the students were engaged in provided a “ballast” for a complicated and confrontational relationship.

Since President Biden met with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, in California in November, the U.S.-China relationship has seemed more stable, with nothing like the dramatic ups and downs of the trade spats under former President Donald J. Trump.

But the Biden administration has still been marching toward a more restrictive economic relationship with China.

That includes controls on semiconductor technology, which are being raised by both sides as a more prominent issue than ever before. The Biden administration has been weighing further export controls, particularly on factories that have been helping produce advanced semiconductors for the Chinese tech giant Huawei.

“By explicitly trying to degrade Chinese tech capabilities, especially on advanced AI, the United States has moved export controls to the forefront of the U.S.-China agenda,” said Emily Benson, a trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

In a call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi earlier this month, both leaders raised the technology controls as matters of central importance.

Mr. Biden emphasized that the United States would continue to take necessary actions to prevent advanced American technologies from being used to undermine its own national security, without unduly limiting trade and investment, according to the White House.

Mr. Xi said that putting new sanctions on China was not “de-risking,” but creating risks. If the United States was bent on “containing China’s hi-tech development and depriving China of its legitimate right to development, China is not going to sit back and watch,” he said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

U.S. officials say their restrictions are necessary given China’s authoritarian government and statist economic model. But the moves have rankled Chinese leaders and pushed tensions over economic measures to their highest point in years.

The measures are not just emanating from the U.S. government: Susan Shirk, the author of “Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise,” said that China had pivoted toward a more self-sufficient industrial policy, and has been seeking to supplant the United States as a high-tech superpower under Mr. Xi.

“Xi openly acknowledges that while he wants China to be less dependent on other countries, he wants to keep other countries dependent on China ‘as a powerful countermeasure and deterrent’ as he put it, ‘against them cutting off supply,’” Ms. Shirk said.

China, too, has allowed security concerns to affect a greater proportion of its economy, even as Mr. Xi and other Chinese leaders have tried to reassure foreign businesses that their investment is welcome. A new national security law has extended Beijing’s reach into Hong Kong, threatening the city’s status as a financial hub. American executives have been alarmed by China’s investigations of foreign firms, as well as the country’s broader rules against sharing data and information with foreigners.

Despite China’s complaints about the U.S. government’s efforts to crack down on TikTok, China itself has for decades banned other Western social media services. Apple said last week that Beijing had ordered it to remove WhatsApp and Threads from app stores in China.

Mr. Blinken and other U.S. officials have emphasized that American export controls, sanctions and other restrictions being imposed on Chinese tech companies apply to only a small fraction of the broader U.S.-China relationship. Elsewhere, trade is encouraged, they say.

In a report this week, the U.S.-China Business Council, a group of 270 American companies that do business in China, estimated that U.S. exports to China supported more than 900,000 American jobs in 2022, though goods exports fell in 2023 due to China’s lackluster economy, U.S. tariffs and other factors.

“It is important for us to remind U.S. lawmakers and those in influential positions that every state and congressional district in the U.S. maintains its own economic and trade relationship with China, and changes in U.S.-China trade policy should be considered very carefully,” said Craig Allen, the group’s president.

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