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Extensive Talks Held between Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and China’s He Lifeng

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[BEIJING — Just when the Biden administration thought they had it tough with U.S.-China economic ties, the Chinese government decided to shake things up by replacing their familiar policymakers with a whole new set of names. Out went the experienced negotiators like Liu He, who led China’s trade delegation during the turbulent Trump years, and in came officials known for their unwavering loyalty to Chinese leader Xi Jinping. This change in personnel prompted Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to visit China and try to bridge the diplomatic gap between the two countries.

Yellen’s goal was to understand Xi’s new team, particularly Vice Premier He Lifeng, who took over Liu’s role in March. The meeting between Yellen and He took place at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, a historically significant location for U.S.-China diplomacy. The talks aimed to address the balance between profitable commercial links and potential security risks. However, with He’s support for state-directed investments and Yellen’s emphasis on market reforms, finding common ground might prove challenging.

Yellen welcomed He’s commitment to stable U.S.-China relations, but also acknowledged the difficulties caused by a Chinese spy balloon incident earlier this year. The United States and China currently have disagreements on numerous issues, including efforts to prioritize domestic production over foreign factories. Despite these concerns, Yellen believes that a significant portion of U.S.-China trade can continue without controversy.

He Lifeng’s close relationship with Xi dates back to the 1980s, when they worked together in Xiamen. He’s loyalty to Xi is unparalleled, and as one of the four new vice premiers, he will oversee economic management. Despite lacking prior experience in the financial sector and foreign trade, He’s deep understanding of Xi’s mindset makes him a trusted leader for economic development.

In contrast, Liu He, He’s predecessor, was seen as an international policy expert and advocate for market reforms. However, as Xi shifted towards greater reliance on state-owned enterprises, Liu’s influence waned. He Lifeng, on the other hand, is a well-rounded political operative known for his ability to get things done and enforce Xi’s preferences.

The talks between Yellen and He took place in an elegant conference room, with other fresh faces from the Chinese side also present. After their meeting, they were expected to continue discussions over dinner. Yellen is set to return home the following day.

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