Rebuilding trust: Raimondo's China visit in key numbers
Reality Check

Editor's note: What do 4, 3, 1, 7, and $700 billion mean to you? Well, through this seemingly random set of numbers, we can see the opportunities and challenges from U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo's visit to China. This episode of Reality Check shows you what they are and breaks them down for you.

Hey guys, welcome to Reality Check, I'm Huang Jiyuan. We are talking about the U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo today. And let's do it differently. As a courtesy to her title, let's look at three sets of numbers.

We start with four and three. Gina Raimondo is the fourth high-level U.S. official to visit China in three months. Fourth in three months. The visit did produce some results. The two countries set up a working group that will hold deputy ministerial-level meetings twice a year to seek solutions to specific business issues. They've also initiated an export control information exchange mechanism to explain each country's export control system and improve communication. Raimondo said in an interview that these aren't the "nebulous commitments" to continue to talk. She emphasized that "this is an official channel."

Speaking of the official channel, let's talk about the second set of numbers: One and seven. Raimondo is the first Commerce Secretary to visit China in seven years. Since the previous administration, trade between the two countries has been increasingly distorted by the so-called "national security concerns." Before her trip, one New York Times headline stated that Raimondo heads to China "to both promote trade, and restrict it." 

Building on the previous administration's policies, the Biden administration has specifically zeroed in on restricting technological transfers, exports and investments to China not just from the U.S., but from American allies. According to reports, the U.S. has put more than 1,300 Chinese companies under various sanctions. U.S. tech companies like Intel and Nvidia have suffered from U.S. restrictions. Nvidia's CFO warned that further restrictions could result in the "permanent loss of an opportunity for the U.S. industry to compete and lead in one of the world's largest markets."

William Lee, Chief Economist at the Milken Institute, said in an interview that "one of the things that we have to realize is that China is a leader in a lot of the high-tech leading-edge technologies like facial recognition and artificial intelligence, and quantum computing already. So I think one of the things that the United States is trying to do is really playing a game of catch-up and trying to re-direct a lot of our investment into our own work in the same area."

James Heimowitz, Honorary Chair of the China Institute in America stated that "what's really worrisome to me is that they are emblematic of the state of affairs and the state of the relationship. And they are basically saying America is not trusting; we're very nervous and concerned about depending on China as a partner. To me, this is the most worrisome part of it because that needs to be fixed."

As Raimondo said herself, China and the U.S. have a more than $700 billion trade relationship and she wants to preserve it. So, let's talk about the final number: The $700 billion.

It represents a tight economic relationship. Besides Mexico and Canada, the two U.S. neighbors, China is its largest trading partner. And if we take organizations like ASEAN and the EU out of the equation, China trades the most with the U.S. That $700 billion binds the economic interests of the world's largest economies, or more than 40 percent of the global GDP, together.

More importantly, these two countries have the capabilities to fundamentally affect international governance. The climate crisis, AI governance, and global health management are a few of the many examples where China and the U.S. can shape the outcome.

The problem is trust. It's not quantifiable. The fourth official in three months helps build it. The first visit in seven years helps build it. The $700 billion trade helps build it.

Warwick Powell, the adjunct professor at the Queensland University of Technology, said that "the thing to be mindful of, in my view, with these sorts of visits is the promise that the talk will somehow be followed by the walk. And I think it is increasingly clear to people around the world, not just in China, but any observer from the Global South and elsewhere that the U.S., in particular, has developed a habit of speaking and saying one thing whilst doing another."

Actions that betray the words have eroded it too far over the past several years. And as long as we can't rebuild that, no numbers count.  

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