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Blinken raises Chinese trade practices in meetings with officials in the financial hub of Shanghai

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SHANGHAI — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised what the U.S. describes as unfair Chinese trade practices during his first full day of meetings in China on Thursday with local government officials in the financial hub of Shanghai.

Blinken met with the city’s top official, Communist Party Secretary Chen Jining, and “raised concerns about (Chinese) trade policies and non-market economic practices,” the State Department said in a statement.

It said he stressed that the United States seeks healthy economic competition with China and “a level playing field for U.S. workers and firms operating in China.”

“The two sides reaffirmed the importance of ties between the people of the United States and (China), including the expansion of exchanges between students, scholars, and business,” it said.

China’s multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the U.S. along with accusations of intellectual property theft and other practices seen as discriminating against U.S. businesses in China have long been a source of friction in relations.

China, for its part, has objected strongly to U.S. accusations of human rights abuses and Washington’s support for Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing considers its own territory and warns could be annexed by force.

Asked about Blinken’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China has “always conducted economic and trade cooperation in accordance with market principles, firmly supported the multilateral trading system, and fully complied with the rules of the World Trade Organization.”

“We hope the U.S. will also earnestly respect the principle of fair competition, abide by the WTO rules, and work with China to create favorable conditions for the sound and stable development of China-U.S. economic and trade relations,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.

Blinken also spoke with students and business leaders before flying to Beijing for what are expected to be contentious talks with national officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi and possibly President Xi Jinping.

Blinken arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday shortly before U.S. President Joe Biden signed a $95 billion foreign aid package that has several elements likely to anger Beijing, including $8 billion to counter China’s growing aggressiveness toward Taiwan and in the South China Sea. It also seeks to force TikTok’s China-based parent company to sell the social media platform.

China has railed against U.S. assistance to Taiwan and immediately condemned the aid as a dangerous provocation. It also strongly opposes efforts to force TikTok’s sale.

Still, the fact that Blinken made the trip — shortly after a conversation between Biden and Xi, a visit to China by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and a call between the U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs — is a sign the two sides are at least willing to discuss their differences.

“I think it’s important to underscore the value — in fact, the necessity — of direct engagement, of speaking to each other, laying out our differences, which are real, seeking to work through them,” Blinken told Chen, according to the State Department statement.

“We have an obligation for our people, indeed an obligation to the world, to manage the relationship between our two countries responsibly,” he said. “That is the obligation we have, and one that we take very seriously.”

Chen agreed with that sentiment and said the recent Biden-Xi call had helped the “stable and healthy development of our two countries’ relationship.”

“Whether we choose cooperation or confrontation affects the well-being of both peoples, both countries, and the future of humanity,” he said.

Chen added that he hoped Blinken was able to get a “deep impression and understanding” of Shanghai, a city of skyscrapers, ports and more than 25 million people that is a magnet for commercially ambitious young people from China and abroad.

Most recently, the U.S. has raised concerns that potential overcapacity in Chinese industries — such as electric vehicles, steel and solar panels — might crowd out U.S. and other foreign manufacturers.

Shortly after arriving, Blinken attended a Chinese basketball playoff game between the local Shanghai Sharks and the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, with the home team losing in the last seconds in a 121-120 nailbiter.

With the U.S. presidential race heating up, it’s unclear what ramifications a victory for either Biden or former President Donald Trump might have for relations. But Trump could deepen a trade war he started during his first term. His tough rhetoric on China and isolationist approach to foreign policy could ramp up uncertainties.

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