During a recent interview, the head of the Biden administration’s Commerce Department emphasized the importance of commercial engagement with China. At the same time, while decoupling with China is not "an option," she said that the United States will not shy away from confrontation when needed.
In an interview with Wall Street Journal reporter Bob Davis, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo spoke about several broad issues in the U.S.-China economic relationship. She noted that China doesn't "play by the rules" and she plans to be "a forceful advocate on behalf of American business, and ... to ramp up our direct engagement with my counterparts in China, and bring businesses there." Decoupling was not "an option," she said. However, while "[c]ooperation is the goal," "we'll be confrontational when we need to be." Finally, she stated that "robust commercial engagement will help to mitigate any potential tensions, you know if we can continue our commercial engagement, it will help prevent unintended conflict, which can come from lack of communication."
The full exchange was as follows:
Davis: Would you imagine taking delegations of CEOs or senior business officials abroad, you know to look at export or even investment opportunities, is that something you think you would do? ... Would China be one of the places you imagine taking and expect to take CEOs?
Raimondo: I think so, yes, once travel opens. Asia and China are very important markets. Obviously, a part of my day every day is talking to American businesses. The Chinese market is huge and growing. And they don't play by the rules. They're not living up to their phase one purchase commitments. They rip off our intellectual property. There's all kinds of barriers that they're putting in place, which prevent American businesses from accessing that market. So I plan to be a forceful advocate on behalf of American business, and yes to ramp up our direct engagement with my counterparts in China, and bring businesses there.
Davis: So it doesn't sound like you agree with the idea of the two economies decoupling.
Raimondo: Yeah, absolutely not. I don't really think that's an option. I mean, the size and scale of their economy is such that we need access to that market and they need and want access to this market. So we need robust commercial engagement with China that does not in any way ever compromise our national security.
Davis: This administration is talking about cooperation in some areas like climate, do you think then in the trade and economic area we're in the cooperation basket or the, let's just say compensation basket.
Raimondo: A little of both, you know. Cooperation is the goal, but we can't be taken advantage of, right? So, if they're going to block our companies, if they're going to flood our market with cheap steel and aluminum, which hurts our steel and aluminum industry, if they're going to not respect protection of intellectual property, well, then we'll be confrontational when we need to be. But also, we need to do business there. That's something that I think, it's just an economic fact. It's complex, and it is fraught, communication helps. I think a lot of communication has ... I actually think, robust commercial engagement will help to mitigate any potential tensions, you know if we can continue our commercial engagement, it will help prevent unintended conflict, which can come from lack of communication.