US President Joe Biden’s picks to lead economic and foreign policy on Tuesday signaled that there would be no letup in Washington’s efforts to combat China’s trade abuses.
The comments reflect an unusual area of common ground with former US president Donald Trump, who over the past four years unleashed an aggressive and costly trade war that imposed billions of US dollars in punitive tariffs on Chinese goods.
Janet Yellen, Biden’s pick for US secretary of the Treasury, and Antony Blinken, who was tapped to lead the US Department of State, nonetheless emphasized areas of difference, particularly the Biden administration’s commitments to working with Washington’s allies, and promoting investments to make US firms and workers more competitive against Beijing.
Responding to questions from the US Senate Committee on Finance at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Yellen called China “our most important strategic competitor.”
She accused Beijing of “undercutting American companies” by offering illegal subsidies, dumping products at below-market prices, stealing intellectual property and erecting barriers to US exports.
“We need to take on China’s abusive unfair and illegal practices,” she said, adding: “We’re prepared to use the full array of tools” to address those issues.
She also vowed to be watchful of the national security implications of China’s theft of “trade secrets” and “illegal efforts to acquire critical technology.”
Biden’s transition team pushed for her “swift confirmation” in a statement after her testimony, saying Yellen “demonstrated that she is the bold, experienced leader needed at the helm of the Treasury to begin building our economy back better.”
Blinken told the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “president Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” but added: “I disagree very much with the way he went about it in a number of areas.”
Unlike Trump, who pulled back from multilateral organizations and attacked the trade policies of US partners and adversaries alike, Yellen said that it would be important “to work with our allies” to combat the challenge posed by China.
Democrats have for years complained bitterly about the exodus of jobs and manufacturing to the Asian country. Trump, a Republican, doubled down on those complaints and won the support of many workers.
Biden, a Democrat, has also pledged to defend US workers and manufacturing, and under his slogan “Build Back Better” is expected to soon propose a stimulus plan that includes massive infrastructure investments.
Yellen said that policy would help fend off Beijing’s economic challenge.
Washington needs to “make investments that allow us to compete with China ... by investing in our infrastructure, investing in our people and creating a more competitive economy,” she said.
Trump, like other administrations before him, also accused China of keeping its currency artificially low as a way to make its products cheaper and gain a trade advantage, and Yellen underscored Washington’s opposition to that practice.
She also told senators that global digital tax negotiations under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are important for Washington to levy taxes on corporations that have moved their headquarters overseas.
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