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First on CNN: Janet Yellen tells top CEOs the US wants to work with China to tackle urgent global challenges

<i>Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters</i><br/>During a closed-door meeting with business leader
Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters
During a closed-door meeting with business leader

By Matt Egan, CNN Business

New York (CNN Business) — During a closed-door meeting with business leaders on Thursday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stressed that the United States wants to work with China on urgent global challenges, a person familiar with the matter told CNN.

The comments by Yellen signal increased efforts by US officials to lower the temperature in the complicated and intertwined relationship between the United States and China, the first- and second-biggest economies in the world, respectively.

The huddle with CEOs took place in Washington, where Yellen met with the board of the US-China Business Council, a group that promotes trade between the world’s two largest economies. The council’s board includes the CEOs of multinationals, including FedEx, Pepsi, Walmart and Ford.

The business community and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed alarm at China’s trade tactics, including the alleged theft of intellectual property.

During the US-China Business Council meeting, Yellen stressed the importance of both trade and investment with China but also acknowledged concerns about barriers to accessing China’s vast market and Beijing’s use of non-market tools, the source told CNN.

The US-China Business Council told CNN that after Yellen spoke, business leaders heard from Chinese Ambassador Xie Feng.

“In our separate meetings with each, we discussed the importance of ensuring a productive commercial relationship between the US and China,” USCBC President Craig Allen said in a statement. “These types of dialogues foster greater understanding between our two countries at a very important moment. We are grateful for the insights and perspectives both provided.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump administration’s trade war with China both exposed just how reliant the world economy and supply chains are on links between the nations.

Yellen told business leaders that the US economic approach to China remains focused on not just seeking cooperation on the climate crisis and other global challenges but trying to get China to play by the rules of international trade and addressing national security and human rights issues, according to the source.

Yellen’s meeting with the US-China Business Council comes amid high tensions between the United States and China in the wake of the Chinese spy balloon incident. US officials have expressed continued concerns about Beijing’s record on human rights and trade.

During a speech in April, Yellen said the United States and China “can and need to find a way to live together” despite their differences.

“A growing China that plays by international rules is good for the United States and the world,” Yellen said.

In what could be a significant step in the right direction, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China in the coming weeks, two US officials and a source familiar with the matter previously told CNN.

Last week, Jay Shambaugh, under secretary of the US Treasury, held a meeting with Xie Feng, Beijing’s new ambassador in Washington. Treasury described that meeting as “candid, constructive and part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication.”

Meanwhile, a flurry of US-based CEOs visited China last week, including Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

During a closed-door lunch with moderate House Democrats earlier this week, Dimon expressed optimism about the state of the US economy on the world stage, a person familiar with the matter previously told CNN.

“America is in very good shape. They are not a ten-foot giant,” Dimon told reporters after the lunch, speaking of China. “We have the most prosperous economy the world has ever seen.”

The US-China Business Council represents more than 270 American companies, including iconic brands such as Apple, McDonald’s and the NBA.

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