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US-China relationship at its most stable in years as Yellen visits

US-China relationship at its most stable in years as Yellen visits
US-China: Economic ties are “reasonably stable”, other tensions persist | Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: A Quick Take to kick off your week. Want to talk about the most important geopolitical relationship in the world, the US and China. Janet Yellen, the secretary of treasury, back over to China yet again, both to help ensure that the relationship is reasonably stable, also to deliver tough messages in places where she feels like that is required, the Biden administration feels it's required. And it's been a useful trip.

On the one hand, the United States, like the Europeans, delivering tough messages on Chinese dumping, on overproduction and low-cost goods going into the American and European markets, because of massive state subsidy, into key sectors. Particular concern on transition energy. On the one hand, great to see more effort to reduce carbon emissions, both in China and globally, and as the prices come down, that's a good thing. On the other hand, really hurting less competitive corporates that don't have that level of state subsidy in the United States and Europe. Tesla was really fast out of the box, hasn't got much support from the White House, but that's been the American champion to the extent that there is one. On the other hand, when you talk about other corporations, American and European, nowhere close to the Chinese. The hundreds of Chinese EV companies that are less expensive, they are higher quality, they are manufacturing at scale, and people can buy them all over the world. So, that is creating a lot of friction.

On the one hand, Americans and Europeans that are saying, “We want to move towards net-zero faster.” On the other hand, if the Chinese government is leaning into that and US and European jobs are at stake, and production is at stake, then they don't feel so comfortable with it. So, that's the primary area of tension between Yellen and her counterparts in China. Having said all of that, the meetings have been open, they've been pretty frank, they've been reasonably friendly, certainly not hostile, and Chinese state media and state influence media has been both very detailed and very fair in their coverage of Yellen, as they have been every high level meeting the Americans have had with the Chinese for months now. And that clearly has been a shift from the top in China, saying, “We don't want you to be picking on the Americans. We want you to show that this is a relationship that is treated with respect, and we want you to cover it reasonably accurately.” That's a big plus.

You know, you go to Russia, you go to Iran, you read their media and I try to follow their media pretty closely, it is overwhelmingly anti-US, anti-Western, strongly propaganda in orientation. That used to be more the case in China. It is not today. In fact, in many ways, I would argue, presently, US media covering US officials, certainly much more hostile, towards China, than the Chinese are towards the United States right now. That's very unusual in this relationship. And in large part it's because the Chinese economy continues to underperform and they're trying to get more American, more Western investment in, they're trying to have less pressure for capital flight out.

There are plenty of other areas where there are big tensions. In particular, we see that with semiconductors, with TSMC now getting, speaking of industrial policy, billions and billions in American government loans, as well as direct grants, subsidies, to expand production in the United States, which TSMC is now planning on doing. The Americans want 20% of semiconductor production globally in the United States by 2030. It is plausible that they get there. A big fact is at TSMC, the world's leading producer of semiconductors, now saying they are going to put their highest end production in part in the United States. That's a big win for the Americans.

It also, over time, makes Taiwan less critically important. That's also true for mainland China, as the Chinese will have to build their own. Finally, when you talk about Taiwan, you talk about the upcoming, in a month, inauguration and an incoming Chinese, Taiwanese president, who is has no engagement with mainland China as former President Ma is meeting with XI Jinping this week. Those things are not connected. They are very far apart. So former president of Taiwan, that China says, “We can work with that guy, we can't work with the incoming guy,” potential for greater tensions going up.

Also, especially around the South China Sea, in the Philippines, their president coming to the United States this week, He’s going to meet with Biden in addition to Japanese PM Kishida and it's going to be more coordinated and deepening defense relations as the Chinese are pushing the Philippines pretty hard in contested waters that the international legal community has ruled on in favor of the Philippines and the Western position. The Chinese say, “Sorry, we don't accept that outcome.”

So, plenty of areas where there is fighting, plenty of areas with this tension, but lots of communication at the high level and generally speaking, and Yellen said this, but I completely agree, the relationship is more stable than we've seen it, certainly in the first three years of the Biden administration and the four proceeding of Donald Trump.

That's it for me. And I'll talk to you all r


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