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US and China hold more trade talks despite tensions

Joe Biden’s top trade official and China’s commerce minister have held talks over economic and trade disputes, in the latest signs of tentative efforts to stabilise ties between the two superpowers.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai met Chinese commerce minister Wang Wentao on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Detroit on Friday. She raised concerns about Beijing’s actions against US companies as well as its “non-market” approach to the economy and trade policy, according to a statement from her office.

According to a Chinese commerce ministry statement, Wang spoke about Chinese concerns over Taiwan, Trump-era tariffs on American companies buying from China and Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework — a trade agreement that excludes China and focuses on infrastructure, supply chain resilience and clean energy.

The meeting came five days after the US president forecast an imminent “thaw” in relations at the end of the G7 summit. It also came a day after Wang held talks with US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo, in the first visit by a senior Chinese official to the US capital since 2020.

Following the Friday meeting, both sides underscored the need to keep channels of communication open.

Earlier in May, Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, met US national security adviser Jake Sullivan in talks in Vienna, in an attempt to stabilise relations between the countries.

Analysts are now ramping up calls for Washington and Beijing to capitalise on a rare window of opportunity for high-level bilateral discussions.

That includes the potential for a fresh round of climate change talks between John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, the climate envoys for the world’s two biggest economies, who have previously pledged joint action on climate change despite strained ties. There are also hopes that Xi and Biden could meet during the Apec leaders summit in the US in November.

Still, with US-China relations at their lowest point in decades, efforts to stabilise diplomatic activities are struggling to get off the ground, with the two sides clashing over new restrictions on access to technology as well as Xi’s backing of Vladimir Putin in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

China last week ordered a swath of its infrastructure companies to stop buying from US chipmaker Micron, just hours after the G7 issued its harshest criticism of Beijing. On Wednesday, Xi met the Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin in Beijing and called for a deepening of trade, economic and energy ties with Russia, bucking western pressure to reduce support for Putin.

Also on Friday, the Department of Justice unsealed charges against two Los Angeles residents for bribery and participating in a state-directed scheme targeting US-based practitioners of Falun Gong, the religious movement outlawed in China.

“The Department of Justice continues to expose the Chinese government’s brazen attempts to perpetrate transnational repression, this time through attempted bribery,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement.

Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington and Maiqi Ding in Beijing

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