More stories

  • in

    Can Ghana’s Debt Trap of Crisis and Bailouts Be Stopped?

    Emmanuel Cherry, the chief executive of an association of Ghanaian construction companies, sat in a cafe at the edge of Accra Children’s Park, near the derelict Ferris wheel and kiddie train, as he tallied up how much money government entities owe thousands of contractors.Before interest, he said, the back payments add up to 15 billion cedis, roughly $1.3 billion. “Most of the contractors are home,” Mr. Cherry said. Their workers have been laid off.Like many others in this West African country, the contractors have to wait in line for their money. Teacher trainees complain they are owed two months of back pay. Independent power producers that have warned of major blackouts are owed $1.58 billion.The government is essentially bankrupt. After defaulting on billions of dollars owed to foreign lenders in December, the administration of President Nana Akufo-Addo had no choice but to agree to a $3 billion loan from the lender of last resort, the International Monetary Fund.It was the 17th time Ghana has been compelled to turn to the fund since it gained independence in 1957.This latest crisis was partly prompted by the havoc of the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and higher food and fuel prices. But the tortuous cycle of crisis and bailout has plagued dozens of poor and middle-income countries throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia for decades.Joshua Teye, a teacher in Suhum, Ghana. The government’s fiscal crisis has cut investment in schools dangerously short.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesThese pitiless loops will be discussed at the latest United Nations General Assembly, which begins on Tuesday. The debt load for developing countries — now estimated to top $200 billion — threatens to upend economies and unravel painstaking gains in education, health care and incomes. But poor and low-income countries have struggled to gain sustained international attention.In Ghana, the I.M.F. laid out a detailed rescue plan to get the country back on its feet — reining in debt and spending, raising revenue and protecting the poorest — as Accra negotiates with foreign creditors.Still, a nagging question for Ghana and other emerging nations in debt persists: Why will this time be any different?The latest rescue plan outlined for Ghana addresses key problems, said Tsidi M. Tsikata, a senior fellow at the African Center for Economic Transformation in Accra. But so did many of the previous ones, he said, and still crises recurred.The last time Ghana turned to the fund was in 2015. Within three years, the country was on its way to paying back the loan, and was among the world’s fastest-growing economies. Ghana was held up as a model for the rest of Africa.Agricultural production was up, and major exports — cocoa, oil and gold — were rising. The country had invested in infrastructure and education, and had begun a cleanup of the banking industry, which was riddled with distressed lenders.Yet Accra is again desperately in need. The I.M.F. loan agreement, and the delivery of a $600,000 installment in May, have helped stabilize the economy, settle wild fluctuations in currency levels and restore a modicum of confidence. Inflation is still running above 40 percent but is down from its peak of 54 percent in January.Cocoa pods at a cocoa farm. Ghana’s economy is dependent on exports of raw materials like cocoa, oil and gold, which rise and fall wildly in price.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesDespite the I.M.F.’s blueprint, though, Mr. Tsikata, previously a division chief at the fund for three decades, said the chance that Ghana wouldn’t be in a similar position a few years down the road “rests on a wing and a prayer.”The effects of devastating climate change loom over the problem. Within the next decade, a United Nations analysis estimates, trillions of dollars in new financing will be needed to mitigate the impact on developing countries.In Ghana, the government owed $63.3 billion at the end of 2022 not just to foreign creditors but also to homegrown lenders — pension funds, insurance companies and local banks that believed the government was a safe investment. The situation was so unusual that the I.M.F. for the first time made settling this domestic debt a prerequisite for a bailout. A partial restructuring, which cut returns and extended the due dates, was completed in February. While the haircut may have been necessary, it undermined confidence in the banks.As for foreign lenders, there are thousands of private, semipublic and governmental creditors, including China, which have different objectives, loan arrangements and regulatory controls.The magnitude and type of debt means “this crisis is much deeper than the type of economic difficulties Ghana has faced in the past,” said Stéphane Roudet, the I.M.F.’s mission chief to Ghana.The dizzying proliferation of lenders now characterizes much of the debt burdening distressed countries around the globe — making it also more complex and difficult to resolve.“You don’t have six people in a room,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner and a former chief economist at the World Bank. “You have a thousand people in a room.”Victoria Chrappah, a trader, recounts the unfavorable business climate, as fluctuating exchange rates affect prices of imported goods from China.Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times‘Last Year Was the Worst of All.’Outside Victoria Chrappah’s narrow stall in Makola Market, snaking lines of sellers hawked live chickens, toilet paper packs and electronic chargers from giant baskets balanced on their heads. As restructuring negotiations with foreign lenders continue, households and businesses are doing their best to cope. Ms. Chrappah has been selling imported bathmats, shower curtains and housewares for more than 20 years.“Last year was the worst of all,” she said.Inflation surged, and the cedi lost more than half its value compared with the U.S. dollar — a blow to consumers and businesses when a country imports everything from medicine to cars. The Bank of Ghana jacked up interest rates to cope with inflation, hurting businesses and households that rely on short-term borrowing or want to invest. The benchmark rate is now 30 percent.Because of the rapidly depreciating currency, Ms. Chrappah explained, “you can sell in the morning at one price, and then you have to think of changing the price the following day.”Purchasing power as well as the value of savings has been halved. Doreen Adjetey, product manager for Dalex Swift, a finance company based in Accra, said a bottle of Tylenol to soothe her 19-month-old baby’s teething pain cost 50 cedis last year. Now it’s 110.A month’s worth of groceries cost more than 3,000 cedis compared with 1,000. Before, she and her husband had a comfortable monthly income of 10,000 cedis, worth about $2,000 when the exchange rate was 5 cedis to the dollar. At today’s rate, it’s worth $889.Joe Jackson, the director of business operations at Dalex, said default rates for small and medium-size enterprises “are through the roof,” jumping to 70 percent from 30 percent.The real estate and construction market has also tanked. “There’s been a drastic drop in the number of homes in the first-buyer segment of the market,” said Joseph Aidoo Jr., executive director of Devtraco Limited, a large real estate developer.Construction of an apartment complex in Accra. The real estate and construction market has suffered along with the rise in the cost of borrowing. Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesWhen the pandemic struck in 2020, paralyzing economies, shrinking revenues and raising health care costs, fear of a global debt crisis mounted. Ghana, like many developing countries, had borrowed heavily, encouraged by years of low commercial rates.As the Federal Reserve and other central banks raised interest rates to combat inflation, developing countries’ external debt payments — priced in dollars or euros — unexpectedly ballooned at the same time that prices of imported food, fuel and fertilizer shot up.As Ghana’s foreign reserves skidded toward zero, the government began paying for refined oil imports directly with gold bought by the central bank.Even so, while the series of unfortunate global events may have supercharged Ghana’s debt crisis, they didn’t create it.The current government, like previous ones, spent much more than it collected in revenues. Taxes as a share of total output are also lower than the average across the rest of Africa.To make up the shortfall, the government kept borrowing, offering higher and higher interest rates to attract foreign lenders. And then it borrowed more to pay back the interest on previous loans. By the end of last year, interest payments on debt were gobbling up more than 70 percent of government revenues.“The government is bloated and inefficient,” said E. Gyimah-Boadi, the board chair of Afrobarometer, a research network. Half-completed schools, hospitals and other projects are abandoned when a new administration comes in. Corruption and mismanagement are also problems, several economists and business leaders in Ghana said.More fundamentally, Ghana’s economy is not set up to generate the kind of jobs and incomes needed for broad development and sustainable growth.“Ghana’s success story is real,” said Aurelien Kruse, the lead country economist in the Accra office of the World Bank. “Where it may have been a bit oversold,” though, is that “the fast growth has not been diversified.” The economy is primarily dependent on exports of raw materials like cocoa, oil and gold, which peak and swoop in price.Manufacturing accounts for a mere 10 percent of the country’s output — a decline from 2013. Without a thriving industrial sector to provide steady employment and produce exportable goods, Ghana has no other streams of revenue from abroad, which can build wealth and pay for needed imports.This model — the import of expensive goods and the export of cheap resources — characterized the colonial system.Senyo Hosi, executive chairman of Kleeve & Tove, an investment company based in Accra, said he had an agribusiness that produced rice in the Volta region and worked with more than 1,000 growers. He can’t do required upgrades to equipment, though, because 30 percent interest rates make borrowing impossible. “I stopped production,” he said.Delivery riders for an online food delivery app. Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times‘For Us It Means Shutdown.’As the global financial system struggles to restructure hundreds of billions of dollars in existing debt, the question of how to avoid the debt trap in the first place remains more urgent than ever. Large chunks of money are required to invest in desperately needed roads, technology, schools, clean energy and more. But dozens of countries lack the domestic savings needed to pay for them, and grants and low-cost loans from international institutions are scarce.Road works continue on sections of the National Route Six, a carriageway connecting Ghana’s capital to its second largest city, Kumasi.Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times“The fundamental issue is the need for financing,” said Brahima S. Coulibaly, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.So governments turn to international capital markets, where investors are foraging the world for high returns. Both political leaders and investors often look for short-term wins, whether in the next election or earnings call, said Martin Guzman, a former finance minister of Argentina who handled his country’s debt restructuring in 2020.This free flow of capital around the globe has resulted in a flood of financial crises. “Inequality is embedded in the international financial architecture,” a United Nations Global Crisis Response Group concluded in an analysis.Even worthy investments — and not all of them are — don’t always generate enough revenue to repay the loans. When bad times hit or foreign lenders get spooked, governments are left in the lurch. This process can be accelerated in Africa, where research has found there is an exaggerated perception of risk, which lowers credit ratings and raises financing costs.Without a safety cushion to fall back on, a small government cash crunch can turn into a disaster. Think of a household in a tough stretch that can’t cover next month’s rent and is evicted. Now instead of being a few hundred dollars in debt, the members of the household are homeless.“For us,” said Ken Ofori-Atta, Ghana’s finance minister, a credit downgrade “means shutdown.”Ghana’s finance minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, at his home in Accra: “For us, a credit downgrade means shutdown.”Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesSeveral organizations have sketched out escape routes from the debt trap, including more low-cost lending from multilateral banks like the World Bank.Debt Justice, which advocates for debt forgiveness, along with many economists, argues that some of the $200 billion in debt must be erased. It has also called for governments and lenders to publicly reveal the amount and terms of loans, and what the money was used for so it can be better tracked and audited.Other research groups have looked at ways to stabilize the evolving African bond market and help governments survive short-term shortfalls as well as boom-and-bust swings in commodity prices.Mr. Ofori-Atta said he had “extreme confidence” that Ghana would have strong growth after it emerged from this debt tunnel.But the problem of finding manageable amounts of low-cost investment capital remains.Where does an African country — or any developing country — get the type of financing it needs to grow? Mr. Ofori-Atta asked.Before the cycle of debt crises is broken, that question will have to be answered. More

  • in

    Huawei Phone Is Latest Shot Fired in the U.S.-China Tech War

    The release of a homegrown Chinese smartphone during a visit by the Biden official in charge of regulating such technology shows the U.S.-China tech conflict is alive and well.In the midst of the U.S. commerce secretary’s good will tour to China last week, Huawei, the telecom giant that faces stiff U.S. trade restrictions, unveiled a smartphone that illustrated just how hard it has been for the United States to clamp down on China’s tech prowess.The new phone is powered by a chip that appears to be the most advanced version of China’s homegrown technology to date — a kind of achievement that the United States has been trying to prevent China from reaching.The timing of its release may not have been a coincidence. The Commerce Department has been leading U.S. efforts to curb Beijing’s ability to gain access to advanced chips, and the commerce secretary, Gina M. Raimondo, spent much of her trip defending the U.S. crackdown to Chinese officials, who pressed her to water down some of the rules.Ms. Raimondo’s powerful role — as well as China’s antipathy toward the U.S. curbs — was reflected online, where more than a dozen vendors cropped up on Chinese e-commerce sites to sell phone cases for the new model with Ms. Raimondo’s face imprinted on the back. Doctored images showed Ms. Raimondo holding the new phone, next to phrases like “I am Raimondo, this time I endorse Huawei” and “Huawei mobile phone ambassador Raimondo.”Chinese media have referred to the phone as a sign of the country’s technological independence, but U.S. analysts said the achievement still most likely hinged on the use of American technology and machinery, which would have been in violation of U.S. trade restrictions.Beginning in the Trump administration and continuing under President Biden, the United States has steadily ramped up its restrictions on selling advanced chips and the machinery needed to make them to China, and to Huawei in particular, in an attempt to shut down China’s mastery of technologies that could aid its military.For the past several years, those restrictions have curtailed Huawei’s ability to produce 5G phones. But Huawei appears to have found a way around those restrictions to make an advanced phone, at least in limited quantities. Though detailed information about the phone is limited, Huawei’s jade-green Mate 60 Pro appears to have many of the same basic capabilities as other smartphones on the market.An examination of the phone by TechInsights, a Canadian firm that analyzes the semiconductor industry, concluded that the advanced chip inside was manufactured by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation of China and was operating beyond the technology limits that the United States has been trying to enforce. Douglas Fuller, an associate professor at Copenhagen Business School, said SMIC appeared to have used equipment stockpiled before restrictions went into effect, equipment licensed to it for the purpose of producing chips for companies other than Huawei, and spare parts acquired through third-party vendors to cobble together its production.“The official line in China of a heroic breaking of the technology blockade of the American imperialists is incorrect,” Mr. Fuller said. “Instead, the U.S. has allowed SMIC continued significant access to American technology.”Huawei and SMIC did not respond to a request for comment. The Commerce Department also did not respond to a request for comment.Chinese social media commentators and news sites celebrated the smartphone’s release as evidence that U.S. restrictions could not hold China back from developing its own technology.“Regardless of Huawei’s intentions, the launch of the Mate 60 Pro has been imbued by many Chinese netizens with a deeper meaning of ‘rising up under US pressure,’” the state-run Global Times said in an editorial.The phone was released during a week when both American and Chinese officials had issued numerous statements about renewed cooperation and communication. Chinese officials had asked for the United States to roll back its restrictions on chip exports. But Ms. Raimondo — whose email, along with other U.S. officials, was targeted this year by Chinese hackers — told reporters that she had taken a hard line on the technology controls in her meetings, saying the United States was not willing to remove restrictions or compromise on issues of national security.During the trip, Ms. Raimondo and her advisers set up a dialogue to share information about how the United States was enforcing its technology controls. She said the step would lead to better Chinese compliance but was not an invitation to the Chinese to try to water down export controls.Ms. Raimondo also met directly with the Chinese premier, Li Qiang, during her visit. The week before, Mr. Li had visited Huawei during a visit to southern China, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, and met with the company founder Ren Zhengfei.Phone cases in China displaying doctored photos of the U.S. commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo.MengyanThe release of the Huawei phone raises questions about whether Ms. Raimondo’s department will continue trying to build good will with Chinese officials — or potentially take a more aggressive stance toward cracking down on China’s access to American technology.The Biden administration is preparing to issue a final version of the technology restrictions it first put out last October, and the revised rules could come within weeks.Huawei’s development of the phone does not necessarily demonstrate a huge leap forward for Chinese technological prowess — or the total failure of U.S. export controls, analysts said.Because Chinese firms no longer have access to the most cutting-edge machines for making semiconductors, they have developed novel workarounds that use older machinery to create more powerful chips. But these methods are both relatively time-consuming for manufacturers, and produce a higher proportion of faulty chips, limiting the scale of production.“This does not mean China can manufacture advanced semiconductors at scale,” said Paul Triolo, an associate partner for China and technology policy at Albright Stonebridge Group, a consultancy. “But it shows what incentives U.S. controls have created for Chinese firms to collaborate and attempt new ways to innovate with their existing capabilities.”“It is the first major salvo in what will be a decade or more struggle for China’s semiconductor industry to essentially reinvent parts of the global semiconductor supply chain without U.S. technology included,” he added.Nazak Nikakhtar, a partner at Wiley Rein and a former Commerce Department official, said Huawei’s progress was “a result of longstanding U.S. policy” — specifically U.S. licenses that allow companies to continue selling advanced technologies to firms that the Commerce Department placed on a so-called entity list, like Huawei and SMIC.From Jan. 3 to March 31, 2022, the Commerce Department approved licenses for the sale of $23 billion of tech products to companies on the entity list, according to information released in February by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.“Where gaps exist in licensing policies, exports will get funneled through the gaps,” Ms. Nikakhtar said. “The U.S. government needs to close the gaps if its intention is to limit exports of critical technologies to China.”In a statement on Wednesday, Representative Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who heads a congressional committee on China, called for ending all U.S. technology exports to both Huawei and SMIC. U.S. chip makers such as Qualcomm and Intel have received exporting licenses.Claire Fu More

  • in

    The U.S. and China Are Talking Again. Where It Will Lead Is Unclear.

    Gina Raimondo, the U.S. commerce secretary, and her Chinese counterparts agreed to continue economic talks, but such dialogues have a disheartening record.Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, expressed hopes that American and Chinese officials would work on improving the countries’ business relationship.Pool photo by Andy WongWhen Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, visited China this week, she joined a long line of U.S. politicians who have come to the country to try to sway Chinese officials to open their market to foreign businesses and buy more American exports, in addition to other goals.Ms. Raimondo left Shanghai on Wednesday night with no concrete commitments from China to treat foreign businesses more equitably or step up purchases of Boeing jets, Iowa corn or other products. In a farewell news conference, she said that hoping for such an outcome would have been unrealistic.Instead, Ms. Raimondo said her biggest accomplishment was restoring lines of communication with China that would reduce the chance of miscalculation between the world’s two largest economies. She and Chinese officials agreed during the trip to create new dialogues between the countries, including a working group for commercial issues that American businesses had urged her to set up.“The greatest thing accomplished on both sides is a commitment to communicate more,” Ms. Raimondo said on Wednesday.She had also delivered what she described as a tough message. The Biden administration was willing to work to promote trade with China for many categories of goods. But the administration was not going to heed China’s biggest request: that the United States reduce stringent controls on exports of the most advanced semiconductors and the equipment to make them.“We don’t negotiate on matters of national security,” Ms. Raimondo told reporters during her visit.While she called the trip “an excellent start,” the big question is where it will lead. There is a long history of frustrating and unproductive economic dialogues between the United States and China, and there are not many reasons to believe this time will prove different.Forums for discussion may have helped resolve some individual business complaints, but they did not reverse a broad, yearslong slide toward more conflict in the bilateral relationship. Now, the U.S.-China relationship faces a variety of significant security and economic issues, including China’s more aggressive posture abroad, its use of U.S. technology to advance its military and its recent raids on foreign-owned businesses.Ms. Raimondo says she has the backing of the president and U.S. officials. And Biden administration officials argue that even the shift to begin talking has been significant, after a particularly tense period. Relations between the United States and China became frosty last August when Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker at the time, visited Taiwan, and they froze entirely after a Chinese surveillance balloon flew across the United States in February.Ms. Raimondo’s trip capped a summer of outreach by four senior Biden officials. R. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to China, who took office in January 2022 and accompanied Ms. Raimondo on the trip, said on Tuesday that American officials “literally were not talking to the Chinese leadership at a senior level, my first 15 months here.”“In a very, very challenging relationship, intensive diplomacy is critical,” he added.Not everyone views re-engagement as a good thing. Republican lawmakers, in particular, increasingly see the conflict between the United States and China as a fundamental clash of national interests. Critics view the outreach as an invitation for China to drag out reforms, or a signal to Beijing that the United States is willing to make concessions.“Of the more than two dozen great-power rivalries over the past 200 years, none ended with the sides talking their way out of trouble,” Michael Beckley, an associate professor of political science at Tufts University, wrote in Foreign Affairs this month. He added, “The bottom line is that great-power rivalries cannot be papered over with memorandums of understanding.”The space for compromise also seems narrow. Both governments have little desire to be seen by domestic audiences as making concessions. And in both countries, the share of trade that is considered off limits or a matter of national security concerns is growing.Ms. Raimondo at Shanghai Disneyland on Wednesday. She said her biggest accomplishment in her trip to China was restoring communication to reduce the chance of miscalculation.Pool photo by Andy WongMs. Raimondo expressed wariness at being drawn into unproductive talks with China — a persistent issue over the last several decades. But she also described herself as a pragmatist, who would push to accomplish what she could and not waste time on the rest.“I don’t want to return to the days of dialogue for dialogue’s sake,” she said. “That being said, nothing good comes from shutting down communication. What comes from lack of communication is mis-assessment, miscalculation and increased risk.”“We have to make it different,” Ms. Raimondo said of her new dialogue, adding that the U.S.-China relationship was too consequential. “We have to commit ourselves to take some action. And we can’t allow ourselves to devolve into a cynical place.”Kurt Tong, a former U.S. consul general in Hong Kong who is now a managing partner at the Asia Group, a Washington consulting firm, said Ms. Raimondo had offered China half of what it wanted. She sent a clear message that many American companies should feel free to do business in China, after years of receiving criticism for doing so during the Trump administration and still from many Republicans in Congress. But she did not agree to relax American export controls.“China is essentially forced by circumstances to accept that half a loaf,” Mr. Tong said, adding, “I do sense there is a real desire in Beijing to stabilize the relationship, both because of the geopolitical relationship but also, perhaps more important, the doldrums on the economic side.”The recent weakness in the Chinese economy may create some opening for compromise. The Chinese economy has only limped back from its pandemic lockdowns. China’s youth unemployment rate has risen, its debt is piling up, and foreign investment in the country has fallen, as multinational companies look for other places to set up their factories.In a meeting with Ms. Raimondo on Wednesday, the Shanghai party secretary, Chen Jining, admitted that the sluggish economy made business ties more crucial.“The business and trade ties serve the role as stabilizing ballast for the bilateral ties,” Mr. Chen said. “However, the world today is quite complicated. The economic rebound is a bit lackluster. So stable bilateral ties in terms of trade and business is in the interest of two countries and is also called for by the world community.”Ms. Raimondo met with Chen Jining, the Shanghai party secretary, on Wednesday.Pool photo by Andy WongMs. Raimondo responded that she was looking forward to discussing “concrete” ways they might be able to work together to accomplish business goals and “to bring about a more predictable business environment, a predictable regulatory environment and a level playing field for American businesses here in Shanghai.”Some of the issues that Ms. Raimondo raised during her visit — including intellectual property theft, patent protection and the inability of Visa and Mastercard to receive final approval for access to the Chinese market — are the very same ones that were discussed in economic dialogues with China more than a decade ago, including under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.For instance, China promised in 2001 as part of its entry into the World Trade Organization that it would quickly allow American credit card companies into its market, and it lost a W.T.O. case on the issue in 2012. But 22 years later, Visa and Mastercard still do not have equal access to the Chinese market.For more than three decades, commerce secretary visits to China followed a familiar script. The visiting American official would call on China to open its markets to more American investment, and to allow more equal competition among foreign and local companies. Then the commerce secretary would attend the signing of contracts for exports to China.That included Barbara H. Franklin, who in 1992, at the end of the George H.W. Bush administration, oversaw the signing of $1 billion in contracts and the re-establishment of commercial relations with China after the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.Gary Locke of the Obama administration oversaw the signing of a broad contract in 2009 for the provision of American construction services. And Wilbur Ross, who went to China on behalf of President Donald J. Trump in 2017, came back with $250 billion in deals for everything from smartphone components to helicopters to Boeing jets.These deals did little to erase China’s enormous trade imbalance with the United States. China has fairly consistently sold $3 to $4 a year worth of goods to the United States for each dollar of goods that it purchased.In a sign of how much the focus of the relationship has shifted, Ms. Raimondo’s trip contained more discussion of national security than of new contracts. She gave her final news conference in a hangar at Shanghai Pudong Airport near two Boeing 737-800s, but did not mention the contract for several Boeings that China has yet to accept, much less any new sales.China, the world’s largest single market for new jetliners in recent years, essentially stopped buying Boeing jets during the Biden administration and switched to Airbus planes from Europe to show its unhappiness with American policies. Ms. Raimondo said on Tuesday that she had raised the lapse of Boeing purchases with Chinese leaders during her two days in Beijing.“I brought up all those companies,” Ms. Raimondo said. “I didn’t receive any commitments. I was very firm in our expectations. I think I was heard. And as I said, we’ll have to see if they take any action.” More

  • in

    U.S. Does Not Want to ‘Decouple’ From China, Raimondo Says

    Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, emphasized U.S. concerns over harsh treatment of foreign companies and national security issues in a meeting with top officials in Beijing.Gina Raimondo, the U.S. secretary of commerce, told Chinese officials on Tuesday that the United States was not seeking to sever economic ties with China, but she expressed a litany of concerns that were prompting the business community to describe China as “uninvestable.”Ms. Raimondo, who oversees both trade promotion and U.S. limits on China’s access to advanced technology, spoke with several of China’s top officials on Tuesday. That included meeting with Premier Li Qiang, China’s second-highest official, and Vice Premier He Lifeng, who oversees many economic issues, at the Great Hall of the People, next to Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.Ms. Raimondo said she had pressed Chinese officials on a variety of challenges facing American businesses operating in China. Companies have expressed concerns about long-running issues like intellectual property theft as well as a raft of newer developments, like raids on businesses, a new counterespionage law and exorbitant fines that come without explanations, she said during an extended interview with reporters on a high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai on Tuesday evening.“Increasingly, I hear from businesses China is uninvestable because it has become too risky,” she said.Ms. Raimondo said after the meetings that she had raised the various concerns of U.S. companies like Intel, Micron and Boeing, but that she “didn’t receive any commitments.” Beijing scuttled Intel’s acquisition of another semiconductor company this month by not giving the deal antitrust approval. It has also severely restricted some of Micron’s semiconductor sales in China since May and has halted almost all purchases of Boeing jets over the last several years, mainly choosing Airbus aircraft from Europe instead.“I was very firm in our expectations. I think I was heard,” she added. “We’ll have to see if they take any action.”Ms. Raimondo also asked for China’s cooperation on broader threats like climate change, fentanyl and artificial intelligence. The Chinese in turn asked for the United States to reduce export controls on advanced technology and retract a recent executive order that bans new investments in certain advanced technologies, Ms. Raimondo said.The commerce secretary said she had refused those requests. “We don’t negotiate on matters of national security,” she said.Still, Ms. Raimondo tried to assure the Chinese that export controls applied only to a small proportion of U.S.-China trade, and that other economic opportunities between the countries should be embraced.“This isn’t about decoupling,” she said. “This is about maintaining our very consequential trade relationship, which is good for America, good for China and good for the world. An unstable economic relationship between China and the United States is bad for the world.”The official Xinhua news agency said late Tuesday that Premier Li had told Ms. Raimondo that economic relations between China and the United States were “mutually beneficial.” But he also warned that “politicizing economic and trade issues and overstretching the concept of security will not only seriously affect bilateral relations and mutual trust, but also undermine the interests of enterprises and people of the two countries, and will have a disastrous impact on the global economy.”Ms. Raimondo’s visit is part of an effort by the Biden administration to stop a long deterioration in the U.S. relationship with China and restore communications. She is the fourth senior Biden administration official to travel to China in three months. Her conversations with Chinese officials — which ranged from issues of national security to commercial opportunities for tourism — attested to both the economic potential of the trading relationship and its immense challenges.Chinese officials have welcomed her visit as an opportunity to reduce tensions and air their concerns. Seated in a red-carpeted reception room on the second floor of the Great Hall, Mr. He said at the start of their meeting that he was ready to work with Ms. Raimondo, and hoped the United States would adopt rational and practical policies. She responded by laying out what the Biden administration sees as its priorities.“The U.S.-China commercial relationship is one of the most globally consequential, and managing that relationship responsibly is critical to both our nations and indeed to the whole world,” Ms. Raimondo said. “And 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.”On Monday, Ms. Raimondo and China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao, met and agreed to hold regular discussions between the two countries on commercial issues. Those talks are set to include business leaders as well as government officials. The two governments also agreed to exchange information, starting with a meeting by their senior aides on Tuesday morning in Beijing, about how the United States enforces its export controls.Earlier on Tuesday, Ms. Raimondo met with China’s minister of culture and tourism, Hu Heping. That meeting came less than three weeks after Beijing lifted a ban on group tours to the United States that it had imposed during the pandemic, when China closed its borders almost completely for nearly three years.The two ministers agreed at the meeting that the United States and China would host a gathering in China early next year to promote the travel industry, the latest in a series of business promotion activities that Ms. Raimondo has been organizing.Travel from China to the United States remains at less than a third of prepandemic levels, the United States Travel Association, an industry group, said on Saturday.The number of nonstop flights between the two countries is still less than a tenth of its level before the pandemic. Chinese airlines carried most of the passengers between the two countries before the pandemic. But after Beijing frequently blocked American carriers’ flights to China during the pandemic because of Covid cases aboard — while allowing Chinese carriers’ flights to continue — the Biden administration began insisting on strict reciprocity.After the retirement of many pilots and flight attendants during the pandemic, American carriers have struggled to meet travel demand within the United States. They have been slow to restore long-haul services to China, which require many crews to operate, although United Airlines announced recently that this autumn it would increase the frequency of flights from San Francisco to Shanghai, and would resume flights from San Francisco to Beijing.Senior American officials previously tended to fly between Beijing and Shanghai during visits to China, but the Commerce Department decided to move its sizable delegation by train on this trip. Huge Chevrolet Suburban sport utility vehicles carrying Ms. Raimondo and her aides pulled straight up onto the train platform to unload them into one of China’s high-speed electric trains, which travel for long stretches at 217 miles per hour, or 350 kilometers an hour.The trains travel from Beijing to Shanghai, a distance comparable to the journey from New York to Atlanta or Chicago, in as little as four and a half hours, depending on how many stops they make. The trains, usually with 16 or more passenger cars, depart several times an hour in each direction. More

  • in

    Factories May Be Leaving China, but Trade Ties Are Stronger Than They Seem

    The United States is trying to lessen its dependence on Chinese goods, but research is showing how tough it is to truly alter global supply chains.The United States has spent the past five years pushing to reduce its reliance on China for computer chips, solar panels and various consumer imports amid growing concern over Beijing’s security threats, human rights record and dominance of critical industries.But even as policymakers and corporate executives look for ways to cut ties with China, a growing body of evidence suggests that the world’s largest economies remain deeply intertwined as Chinese products make their way to America through other countries. New and forthcoming economic papers call into question whether the United States has actually lessened its reliance on China — and what a recent reshuffling of trade relationships means for the global economy and American consumers.Changes to global manufacturing and supply chains are still unfolding, as both punishing tariffs imposed by the administration of former President Donald J. Trump and tougher restrictions on the sale of technology to China imposed by the Biden administration play out.The key architect of the latest restrictions — Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary — is meeting with top Chinese officials in Beijing and Shanghai this week, a visit that underscores the challenge facing the United States as it seeks to reduce how much it depends on China when the countries’ economies share so many ties.These reworked trade rules, along with other economic changes, have caused China’s share of imports into the United States to fall as the share of imports from other low-cost countries like Vietnam and Mexico have climbed. The Biden administration has also pumped up incentives for producing semiconductors, electric cars and solar panels domestically, and manufacturing construction in the United States has been rising quickly.Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with Chinese officials in Beijing on Monday.Pool photo by Andy Wong, Getty ImagesBut new research discussed at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual conference at Jackson Hole in Wyoming on Saturday found that while global trade patterns have reshuffled, American supply chains have remained very reliant on Chinese production — just not as directly.In their paper, the economists Laura Alfaro at Harvard Business School and Davin Chor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth wrote that China’s share of U.S. imports fell to about 17 percent in 2022 after peaking at about 22 percent in 2017, as the country accounted for a smaller share of America’s imports in categories like machinery, footwear and telephone sets. As that happened, places like Vietnam gained ground — supplying the United States with more apparel and textiles — while neighbors like Mexico began sending more car parts, glass, iron and steel.American Imports Shift Away From ChinaChange in the share of U.S. imports coming from each area between 2017 and 2022

    .dw-chart-subhed {
    line-height: 1;
    margin-bottom: 6px;
    font-family: nyt-franklin;
    color: #121212;
    font-size: 15px;
    font-weight: 700;

    Percentage points
    Source: Analysis of Comtrade data by Laura Alfaro and Davin ChorBy The New York TimesThat would seem to be a sign that the United States is lessening its reliance on China. But there’s a hitch: Both Mexico and Vietnam have themselves been importing more products from China, and Chinese direct investment into those countries has surged, indicating that Chinese firms are setting up more factories there.The trends suggest that firms may simply be moving the last steps in their lengthy supply chains out of China, and that some companies are using countries like Vietnam or Mexico as staging areas to send goods that are still partly or largely made in China into the United States.While proponents of decoupling argue that any move away from China may be a good thing, the reshuffling appears to have other consequences. The paper finds that shifting supply chains are also associated with higher prices for goods.A drop of five percentage points in the share of imports coming from China may have pushed prices on Vietnamese imports up 9.8 percent and Mexican imports up 3.2 percent, based on the authors’ calculations. While more research is needed, the effect could be slightly contributing to consumer inflation, they say.“That is our first caution — this is likely to have cost effects — and the second caution is that it is unlikely to diminish dependence” on China, Ms. Alfaro said in an interview.The research echoes findings from a forthcoming paper by Caroline Freund of the University of California, San Diego, and economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which examined how trade in specific imports from China had changed since Mr. Trump began imposing tariffs on them.That paper found that tariffs had a substantial impact on trade, reducing U.S. imports of the goods that were subject to the levies, even as the absolute value of U.S. trade with China continued to rise.The countries that were able to capture the market share lost by China were those that already specialized in making the products that were subject to tariffs, like electronics or chemicals, as well as countries that were deeply integrated into China’s supply chains and had a lot of trade back and forth with China, Ms. Freund said. They included Vietnam, Mexico and Taiwan.“They’re also increasing imports from China, precisely in those products that they’re exporting to the U.S.,” she said.Higher import tariffs have not deterred the influx of cars from China.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesPresident Biden added tougher restrictions to electric car manufacturers in China.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWhat this all means for efforts to bring manufacturing back to the United States is unclear. The researchers come to different conclusions about how much that trend is occurring.Still, both sets of researchers — as well as other economists at Jackson Hole, the Fed’s most closely watched annual conference — pushed back on the idea that these supply-chain shifts meant that global trade overall was retrenching, or that the world was becoming less interconnected.The pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and tensions between the United States and China have prompted some analysts to speculate that the world may turning away from globalization, but economists say that trend is not really borne out in the data.“We don’t see de-globalization at a macro level,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization, said during a panel at the Jackson Hole symposium. But she pointed to what she characterized as a worrying change in expectations.“Rhetoric on de-globalization is taking hold, and that feeds into the political tensions and then into the policymaking,” she said. “My fear is that rhetoric might turn into reality and we might see this shift in investment patterns.”Others at Jackson Hole warned of other consequences, such as product shortages.A move toward production domestically or in only closely allied countries could “imply new supply constraints, especially if trade fragmentation accelerates before the domestic supply base has been rebuilt,” Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, said in a speech on Friday.Global supply chains tend to change slowly, because it takes time for companies to plan, invest in and construct new factories. Economists are continuing to track current changes to global sourcing.Given growing geopolitical tensions with China as well as more recent troubles in the country’s economy, further shifts in global supply chains may be unavoidable.One question for economists now, Ms. Alfaro said, is whether the economic benefits from moving factories back to the United States or other friendly countries — like innovation in the U.S. manufacturing sector — will ultimately outweigh the costs of the strategy, for example, the higher prices paid by consumers.And separately, Ms. Freund said she believed the costs of reshoring had been “really under considered” by the government and others.The typical narrative was that “we’re going to bring it all back and we’re going to have all these jobs and it’s all going to be hunky-dory, but, in fact, it’s going to be extremely costly to do that,” she said. “Part of the reason we had such low inflation in the past was because we were bringing in lower-cost goods and improving productivity through globalization.” More

  • in

    U.S. and China Agree to Broaden Talks in Bid to Ease Tensions

    During a visit to Beijing, Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said the two sides would meet to discuss export restrictions and intellectual property, among other issues.The United States and China agreed on Monday to hold regular conversations about commercial issues and restrictions on access to advanced technology, the latest step this summer toward reducing tensions between the world’s two largest economies.The announcement came during a visit to Beijing by Gina Raimondo, the U.S. commerce secretary, who is meeting with senior Chinese officials in Beijing and Shanghai this week.The agreement to hold regular discussions is the latest move toward rebuilding frayed links between the two countries, a process that had already begun during three trips in the past 10 weeks by senior American officials: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and John Kerry, the president’s climate envoy.“I think it’s a very good sign that we agreed to concrete dialogue, and I would say, more than just kind of nebulous commitments to continue to talk, this is an official channel,” Ms. Raimondo said in an interview after four hours of negotiations with China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao.Ms. Raimondo said on Monday night in Beijing that she’d had an “open” and “pragmatic” discussion with Mr. Wang and had raised the American business community’s concerns about China’s recent actions against Intel and Micron Technology, two semiconductor companies in the United States. The Chinese government has scuttled a large acquisition planned by Intel and has blocked some sales in China by Micron this year.She said two separate dialogues would be established. One would be a working group that included business representatives and would focus on commercial issues. The other would be a governmental information exchange on export control issues.Bilateral talks about trade, technology and other economic issues were once the norm between the United States and China, but those discussions have atrophied in recent years. China halted eight bilateral discussion groups a year ago in retaliation for a visit to Taiwan by Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was House speaker at the time.The flight of a Chinese spy balloon that traveled across the United States last winter and was then shot down over the Atlantic Ocean only deepened divisions between China and the United States, and resulted in Mr. Blinken’s initially canceling a trip to Beijing.But relations have begun to thaw as both nations, whose economies are tied to each other, have opened the door to resuming diplomatic ties.In a readout after the meeting, the Chinese ministry of commerce said Mr. Wang had expressed serious concerns about U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, as well as the Biden administration’s efforts to bolster the U.S. semiconductor industry by providing government subsidies. Mr. Wang criticized those new subsidy programs, which are designed to lure manufacturing to the United States, as “discriminatory,” and he expressed concerns about U.S. sanctions on Chinese companies.China is willing to work with the United States to create a sound policy environment for business cooperation between the countries, he told the U.S. side, according to the readout.Even before Ms. Raimondo traveled to China, Republican lawmakers criticized her for planning a “working group” of U.S. and Chinese officials to discuss American export controls. Four senior Republicans contended in a letter last week that it was “deeply inappropriate for our foremost adversary to have any influence over controls on sensitive U.S. national security technologies that the American people charged her to protect.”Ms. Raimondo announced the new dialogue not as a working group but as an “information exchange.” She said that it had been set up to share more information about U.S. export restrictions on advanced technology, but that the group’s creation did not mean the United States would be compromising on issues of national security. The first meeting of the export control group was scheduled to take place in Beijing on Tuesday.Ms. Raimondo also said she and the Chinese commerce minister had agreed to meet with each other at least annually.He Weiwen, a former Chinese commerce ministry official who is now a trade specialist at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing research group, said the bilateral agreement to have more discussions showed a mutual commitment to pragmatism.“It means that both sides share the approach to solve practical issues,” he said.But in a sign of how politically fraught relations with China remain, plans for a formal dialogue structure between the two countries drew criticism from some China hawks in the United States.Matt Turpin, visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and former China director of the National Security Council, described the move as a “real head scratcher.” He pointed to China’s unwillingness to take action to stop the flow of fentanyl into the United States, its alliance with Russia and its hacking of Ms. Raimondo’s email account before the trip as reasons China did not deserve such outreach.“It seems that Raimondo gave a significant concession to Beijing and got nothing in return,” Mr. Turpin said.A senior Commerce Department official said the Chinese had raised concerns during the meetings Monday about a trend toward declining trade and investment between the two countries, as well as issues around government subsidies.U.S. officials conveyed the concerns of American businesses and investors, including unfair requirements faced by foreign businesses and a declining transparency in China’s economic statistics. China suspended the release of youth unemployment data this month after the figure reached a record high this summer.Ms. Raimondo said that she had spoken to nearly 150 business leaders in preparation for her trip and that they had given her a common message: We need more channels of communication.“A growing Chinese economy that plays by the rules is in all of our interests,” she said.As the Chinese economy has faltered this summer, Chinese officials have begun softening their stance on some issues. In the latest measure, the foreign ministry announced on Monday that starting on Wednesday, travelers to China would no longer need to test themselves first for Covid.Michael Hart, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said there had been a change in direction from Chinese officials this summer, with an increased willingness to hold discussions.“It used to be at every meeting I went to, the first five minutes were ‘Everything is America’s fault,’” Mr. Hart said. “It’s definitely toned down now. Government officials understand the importance of U.S.-China trade.” More

  • in

    What China’s Economic Woes May Mean for the U.S.

    The fallout is probably limited — and there may be some upside for American interests.The news about China’s economy over the past few weeks has been daunting, to put it mildly.The country’s growth has fallen from its usual brisk 8 percent annual pace to more like 3 percent. Real estate companies are imploding after a decade of overbuilding. And China’s citizens, frustrated by lengthy coronavirus lockdowns and losing confidence in the government, haven’t been able to consume their way out of the country’s pandemic-era malaise.If the world’s second-largest economy is stumbling so badly, what does that mean for the biggest?Short answer: At the moment, the implications for the United States are probably minor, given China’s limited role as a customer for American goods and the minor connections between the countries’ financial systems.In a note published Thursday, Wells Fargo simulated a “hard landing” scenario for China in which output over the next three years would be 12.5 percent smaller than previous growth rates would achieve — similar to the impact of a slump from 1989 to 1991. Even under those conditions, the U.S. economy would shave only 0.1 percent off its inflation-adjusted growth in 2024, and 0.2 percent in 2025.That could change, however, if China’s current shakiness deepens into a collapse that drags down an already slowing global economy.“It doesn’t necessarily help things, but I don’t think it’s a major factor in determining the outlook in the next six months,” Neil Shearing, the chief economist at Capital Economics Group, an analysis and consulting firm, said in a recent webinar. “Unless the outlook for China becomes substantially worse.”A potential balm for inflation, but a threat to factories.When considering the economic relationship between the two countries, it’s important to recognize that the United States has played some role in China’s troubles.The United States is well past a boom in consumption during the pandemic that pulled in $536.8 billion worth of imports from China in 2022. This year, with home offices and patios stuffed full of furniture and electronics, Americans are spending their money on cruises and Taylor Swift tickets instead. That lowers demand for goods from Chinese factories — which had already been weakened by a swath of tariffs that former President Donald J. Trump started and the Biden administration has largely kept in place.How Much America Buys From (and Sells to) ChinaMonthly goods imports have fallen since a pandemic-era boom.

    Source: Census BureauBy The New York TimesFor years, China’s leaders have said they want to rely more on the country’s households to drive economic growth. But they have taken few steps to support domestic consumption, such as shoring up safety net programs, which would persuade residents to spend more of the money they now save in case of emergencies.That’s why some are concerned that China could again fall back on encouraging exports to foster growth. Such a strategy might succeed since the Chinese currency, the renminbi, is very weak against the dollar, and it’s possible to evade tariffs on most items by assembling Chinese parts in other countries — like Vietnam and Mexico.An export surge would have countervailing effects. It could lower prices for consumer goods, which — along with falling Chinese demand for commodities like gasoline and iron ore — would help lower inflation in the United States. At the same time, it could counteract efforts to resuscitate American manufacturing, raising the political temperature as the presidential election approaches.“My fear is that an export-based Chinese recovery will run up against a world that is reluctant to become ever more dependent on China for manufactures, and that becomes a source of tension,” said Brad Setser, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.And what about goods flowing the other way, from the United States to China? It’s not a huge volume — China accounted for only 7.5 percent of U.S. exports in 2022. American businesses have long sought to further develop the Chinese market, especially for agricultural products such as pork and rice, but success has been underwhelming. In 2018, the Trump administration negotiated a compact under which China would buy billions more dollars in products from U.S. farmers.Those targets were never met. With appetite fading in China, they may never be. That could mean lower food prices globally, but farmers would be hurt.“If their demand for corn and soybeans is rising, that’s good for everybody who produces corn and soybeans around the world,” said Roger Cryan, the chief economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. “It is something to be concerned about down the road.”Insulation for American institutions and investors.So much for general trade dynamics. But the U.S. economy is composed of millions of companies with particular concerns, and some may have more to worry about as China’s economy flounders.Tesla, for example, had made inroads in the Chinese market, but its sales there have tumbled in recent months in the face of tough competition from local brands with lower-cost models. Apple generates about 20 percent of its revenue in China, which could also take a hit as residents choose cheaper products.American banks that do business globally have noted slowing growth; Citigroup’s chief executive, Jane Fraser, said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call that China had been its “biggest disappointment.”Chinese tourists also pour money into U.S. cities when they visit, which they might do less of going forward. Glenn Fogel, the chief executive of Booking Holdings — which includes travel websites such as and Priceline — said in his earnings call that their outbound business from China had been anemic.“I don’t expect a recovery in China for us for some time, significant time probably,” Mr. Fogel said.Those effects, however, are likely to be muted. Even if the economic picture darkens, the American and Chinese banking systems are separate enough to insulate U.S. institutions and investors, aside from the few who might have invested in property developers like Evergrande or Country Garden.“There aren’t realistic channels for financial contagion from China to the U.S.,” Dr. Setser said. While China’s central bank may hold off on buying U.S. Treasury bonds, he noted, any impact on the overall market could be contained. “There’s no real scenario where China disrupts the bond market in a way that the Fed cannot offset.”On the contrary, there may be some upside for American companies if Chinese investors, lacking domestic opportunities, move more of their money into the United States. China’s direct investment in U.S. assets is relatively low and could face new obstacles as states seek to erect barriers to Chinese purchases of U.S. real estate and commercial enterprises. But places that welcome it could benefit.“Given that the U.S. seems to be doing relatively well, you could have money coming to the U.S., both in search of higher yield and in search of safety,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University.The wild card of geopolitics.Aside from any direct financial and economic spillovers, it’s worthwhile to consider whether a faltering China meaningfully alters geopolitical dynamics and American interests.Washington has long fretted that a China-dominated trading bloc could limit market access for American companies by setting rules that, for example, contain weak protections for intellectual property. Such a trade agreement came into force in early 2022 after the United States abandoned its push to form the Trans-Pacific Partnership.But if China appears less mighty, it may lose its attractiveness in a fracturing world. Countries that eagerly took loans from China for large infrastructure projects may turn back toward international lending institutions like the World Bank, despite their more stringent requirements.“The fact that the Chinese economy is seen as being in a rough spot, in addition to more aggressive outreach in Asia and elsewhere by the Biden administration, that has shifted the balance a little bit,” Dr. Prasad said.Could China’s economic condition affect its willingness to undertake any military adventures, such as an invasion of Taiwan? While the Communist Party leadership might seek to stir up patriotic spirits through such an attack, Dr. Prasad thinks a shaky economy would in fact make the use of military force less likely, given the resources required to sustain that kind of engagement.One thing to keep in mind: While China appears to be going through a rough patch, the outlook is uncertain. There’s a debate in think-tank circles about whether the country’s economic structure will be durable over the longer term or fundamentally unsound.Heiwai Tang, an economics professor at HKU Business School in Hong Kong, said it would be unwise to consider China the next Japan, on the brink of prolonged stagnation.“I remain optimistic that the government is still very agile and should be responsive to a potential crisis,” Dr. Tang said. “They know what to do. It’s just a matter of time before they come to some kind of consensus to do something.”Ana Swanson More

  • in

    Raimondo Heads to China to Both Promote Trade, and Restrict It

    The commerce secretary’s trip may be the clearest demonstration yet of the balancing act the Biden administration is trying to pull off in its relations with China.Gina Raimondo, the secretary of commerce, is heading to China on Saturday with two seemingly contradictory responsibilities: a mandate to strengthen U.S. business relations with Beijing while also imposing some of the toughest Chinese trade restrictions in years.The head of the Commerce Department is traditionally the government’s biggest champion for the business community both at home and abroad, promoting the kind of extensive ties U.S. firms have with China, the world’s second-largest economy.But U.S.-China relations have turned chillier as China has become more aggressive in flexing its economic and military might. While China remains an important economic partner, American officials have increasingly viewed the country as a security threat and have imposed a raft of new restrictions aimed at crippling Beijing’s access to technology that could be used to strengthen the Chinese military or security services.The bulk of those restrictions — which have stoked anger and irritation from the Chinese government — have been imposed by Ms. Raimondo’s agency.The Commerce Department has issued extensive trade restrictions on sales of chips, software and machinery to China’s semiconductor industry and is mulling an expansion of those rules that could be issued soon after Ms. Raimondo returns to Washington.Her visit could be the biggest test yet of whether the Biden administration can pull off the balancing act of promoting economic ties with China while clamping down on some trade in the interest of national security.Ms. Raimondo will be the fourth administration official to travel to China in recent months, following John Kerry, the president’s special envoy for climate change; Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen; and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.Ms. Raimondo is expected to reiterate what her counterparts have told Chinese officials: that there is no contradiction between the administration’s goals for encouraging commercial engagement with China and protecting U.S. national security. They argue that the United States can maintain economic ties with China that benefit both countries and encourage peace, while also setting narrow but tough restrictions on China’s access to advanced technology in the interest of national defense.But the approach faces skepticism in both countries. In the United States, some Republicans argue that even more innocuous business ties with China could undercut U.S. industries and leave the nation vulnerable to influence from Beijing. And in China, many view what the U.S. government describes as narrow, national-security-related actions as a poorly disguised effort to hold back the Chinese economy.“I think the Commerce Department has tried to be very targeted,” said Samm Sacks, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center. “Now, the Chinese side won’t see it that way.”For Chinese officials, Ms. Raimondo simultaneously represents some of their best opportunities for engagement with the United States and their biggest source of frustration.Experts say her visit presents a chance for Chinese leaders to strengthen trade relations and signal that their country is still open to international business at a moment when the Chinese economy has stumbled, foreign investment has declined and a series of raids on companies with foreign ties have set executives on edge.But Chinese officials have also harshly criticized the technology curbs issued by her department, a condemnation they are likely to repeat in the week ahead. Officials in Beijing have also been highly critical of the new restrictions on American investment in certain high-tech Chinese industries, which the Biden administration proposed earlier this month.At a summit in South Africa this week, a Chinese official delivered a prepared statement from Chinese leader Xi Jinping that called for the world to avoid “the abyss of a new Cold War” and blamed “some country, obsessed with maintaining its hegemony” for working to cripple emerging markets and developing countries.In addition to export controls, Ms. Raimondo is overseeing the distribution of $50 billion to chip companies that build facilities in the United States. Any company that accepts that funding must agree not to build new factories for making advanced chips in China for at least a decade.“The Biden administration is probing for a way to engage the Chinese in a very difficult environment,” said Myron Brilliant, a senior counselor at Dentons Global Advisors-ASG who was formerly the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a balancing act for sure, between the national security agenda they are enforcing, while also recognizing that a lot of trade between the countries doesn’t touch on national security considerations and should therefore not be restricted.”Ms. Raimondo is set to meet with high-level Chinese officials and representatives of American businesses in Beijing and Shanghai between Monday and Wednesday. People familiar with the government’s planning say those talks may result in the creation of working groups to discuss export controls and commercial issues that arise between China and the United States.American businesses are also hoping that the Biden administration will push for additional intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies, more access to the Chinese market for Visa and Mastercard and the completion of a longstanding Chinese order of Boeing airplanes, among other goals, people familiar with the talks said.But those gains, while important for American firms, would still seem trivial compared with the mounting pressures U.S. companies can now face in China.China’s sputtering economy and harsh lockdowns during the pandemic are giving pause to businesses considering their presence in the country. The Chinese government has also restricted companies sending data from China abroad, making it more difficult for multinationals to do business.Chinese authorities have responded to increasing technology restrictions from the United States by barring the U.S. chip-maker Micron from sales to companies that handle critical Chinese information and by scuttling a proposed merger between Intel and an Israeli chip-maker with operations in China. And companies exporting from China still face nearly the full suite of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, in addition to the new export controls.The port in Yingkou, China. Experts say Ms. Raimondo’s visit presents an opportunity for Chinese leaders to strengthen trade relations and signal that their country is still open to foreign business.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe Biden administration has acknowledged the tensions in the U.S.-China relationship, saying that China poses a threat to U.S. national security but that it is still one of the country’s most integral economic partners.“This isn’t about, you know, holding China back or denying them commodity technology,” Ms. Raimondo said of the export controls at an event at the American Enterprise Institute in July. “Certainly not about denying U.S. companies revenue. It’s about being honest about the fact that China has a military civil fusion strategy, which includes getting our most sophisticated technology and using it to advance their military. And we’re not going to allow that.”The United States has for decades imposed export controls on the types of technology that can be sent to China, including restricting sales of satellites and other technology following Beijing’s crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989.But limits on technology trade with China have increased substantially in recent years, since the Trump administration imposed restrictions on the Chinese telecom firm Huawei. In October, the Biden administration expanded the limits to all firms using advanced chips in China. Chip firms, which earn a third or more of their global revenue through sales to China, have also pushed back, saying that the new restrictions are resulting in less money to invest in new research and innovation.In July, the chief executives of Nvidia, Qualcomm and Intel met with Ms. Raimondo in Washington to make that case.It’s not clear how much influence, if any, their lobbying will have on the rules. Ms. Raimondo, a former venture capitalist and governor of Rhode Island, has a long reputation as a business-friendly and pragmatic political actor. But as commerce secretary, she has repeatedly argued that the United States could not compromise on issues of national security.“We are not seeking the decoupling of our economy from that of China’s,” Ms. Raimondo said in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in November. “We want to continue to promote trade and investment in those areas that do not undermine our interests or values.” More