© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reacts during a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Zurich, Switzerland, January, 18, 2023. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
By David Lawder and Kanishka Singh
SPRING HILL, Tenn./ WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday she still hoped to visit China but offered no details on plans or timing.
A team of U.S. Treasury officials was scheduled to travel to China this month to prepare for a visit by Yellen but that was before a diplomatic row over a Chinese balloon Washington claims was spying on the United States. The United States shot down the balloon on Saturday.
China’s commerce ministry said at a regular news conference on Thursday it welcomes Yellen’s willingness to visit the country.
The United States held briefings in Washington and Beijing with foreign diplomats from 40 nations about the Chinese balloon. Its appearance over the United States last week caused political outrage in Washington and prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing that both countries had hoped would patch their frayed relations. Blinken had been originally scheduled to arrive in Beijing this past Sunday.
Yellen, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said it was important to improve communications with Chinese counterparts on economic issues.
“I still hope to be able to visit China to meet with economic counterparts. But I don’t have any detail to offer you on just when, and I really think that’s up to State (department) and DOD (Department of Defense),” Yellen said, noting she did meet with her Chinese counterpart in Zurich on the way to Africa.
A U.S. Air Force fighter jet shot down the balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday, a week after it first entered U.S. airspace. China’s foreign ministry has said it was a weather balloon that had blown off course and accused the United States of overreacting.
When Yellen met Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in January in Zurich, they both agreed to enhance communication about macroeconomic and financial issues.
Yellen also told reporters the risk of recession remained low, largely because of the strong job market.
“When you have a 3.4% unemployment rate, which is the lowest since 1969 and you have over 500,000 jobs created in January, this is not an economy that is anywhere near recession.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen remains optimistic that she will be able to visitChina in the future, even though no specific time frame has been set.
Yellen revealed her hope during a press conference on Monday, stating that she would “love” to visit China. She said that while she has thus far only met with Chinese officials virtually, she would still like to make the trip in the future. She noted that the two nations have a “lot of close interaction” and “there are many issues that we have to address with China.”
Yellen is the first Treasury Secretary in the Biden administration, and in her short tenure she has already made several trips, including to Japan and South Korea earlier this month.
China and the U.S. have had a strained relationship for several years, with relations worsening during the Trump administration. Biden has promised to take a diplomatic approach to the issue and has already held talks with China’s President Xi Jinping, who promised the U.S. would “avoid confrontation.”
Yellen’s hopeful comment come after China imposed sanctions on several former Trump administration officials, a move that has not been welcomed by the U.S. government. However, Yellen stated that she views her visit plan as an opportunity to “help ensure that the relationship between the United States and China is conducted in a way that’s productive and beneficial to both countries.” She added that she doesn’t “expect” it to happen soon, but would “work to make it a reality.”
For now, it remains unclear when Secretary Yellen will be able to make her trip, but her optimism gives hope that the US and China can work to improve their relationship in the future.