SHANGHAI – A senior American lawmaker, leading the first congressional trip to China in four years, said Saturday that the U.S. does not want to cut economic ties with the world’s second-largest economy but seeks a level playing field so that American companies can compete freely.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and five other senators arrived in Shanghai earlier in the day on a three-country tour that will also take them to South Korea and Japan. The trip comes amid a sharp deterioration in relations between the U.S. and China and as officials try to lay the groundwork for a possible meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November.
“We are prepared to compete but we do not seek to conflict,” Schumer told Shanghai’s Communist Party chief shortly after the delegation’s arrival.
The party head, Chen Jining, avoided specific issues in his public remarks, saying that a healthy and stable China-U.S. relationship would benefit the entire world. He noted the presence of 5,640 American companies in Shanghai, and said he is happy to have the opportunity to discuss how to promote trade at the local level.
The U.S. has placed tariff and other trade restrictions on China over national security, human rights and other concerns and blocked access to advanced semiconductors and other key technologies. China has accused the U.S. of seeking to contain its economic development as it emerges as a global power and potential threat to the U.S.-led international order.
Schumer said the U.S. wants the Chinese people to have increased economic opportunity but that many Americans feel China does not treat U.S. companies fairly.
“We believe we need reciprocity allowing American companies to compete as freely in China as Chinese companies are able to compete here,” he said.
A series of high-ranking Biden administration officials have met their Chinese counterparts in Beijing in recent months, but Schumer and his colleagues are the first American lawmakers to make the trip since China lifted its COVID-19 restrictions in December of last year.
The delegation of three Democrats and three Republicans landed on a U.S. government jet on an overcast and windy afternoon. The Republicans were led by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the senior member of his party on the Senate Finance Committee. Schumer is a New York Democrat.
China, in a statement earlier this week, said it hoped the visit would “contribute to a more objective understanding of China in the U.S. Congress.”
Schumer also raised the issue of Chinese companies that have stopped making fentanyl but which the U.S. government says continue to supply the ingredients for production of the opioid in Mexico.
“They are fueling the fentanyl crisis that is poisoning communities across the United States,” he said. “Every one of us knows families who have lost young men and women to fentanyl.”
China has said that it maintains strict control of the chemicals to ensure they are not exported for illegal purposes and that the U.S. should stop shifting the blame for its failure to curb drug abuse.
In a reminder of the tensions between the two countries, China’s commerce ministry said on Saturday that new U.S. restrictions placed on 42 Chinese companies were “a typical act of economic coercion and unilateral bullying.”
The U.S. Commerce Department added the Chinese companies and seven others to its entity list on Friday. It said the companies supplied “U.S.-origin” semiconductors that Russia uses for missile guidance systems and drones in the war against Ukraine. American companies cannot export to organizations on the entity list without obtaining a special license.
A Chinese international relations expert said that Schumer’s visit is a sign of improvement in China-U.S. relations. The senators hope to meet Xi in Beijing during their visit.
“If the talks proceed well, there is the possibility that President Xi will meet Schumer,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China. “If their meeting is realized, the chances for a Xi-Biden meeting will become greater.”
The White House has been in touch with Schumer and supports the delegation’s visit to the region, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said after the trip was announced.