Previously, when a US commerce secretary or trade representative visited China, they were expected to deal with a most important task: pressing China on the currency exchange rate, market opening and protection of intellectual property rights. More often than not the person carried out this task, sometimes with threats to take "punitive" action. A key reason behind this has been the United States' trade deficit with China.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is on a one-week visit to China.
But this time, he said he would tone down the traditional issues his predecessors liked to dwell on.
These issues are certainly still on his agenda. But the main theme of his trip this time is to help American companies in their search for business opportunities. His entourage includes executives from 25 big US companies seeking opportunities to export to, or start new operations in, China.
Helping American firms to export more to, and earn more profits from, China is a more sensible approach than the confrontational one of forcing the country to export less by appreciating its currency.
This approach can well lead to a win-win result US businesses earn hard cash and Chinese companies and consumers get goods and services.
The trade imbalance between the two countries is still there and is likely to exist for the foreseeable future. As the end of the year approaches, the accumulating trade surplus in favor of China may trigger discussions again.
It is important that policy-makers take a sensible attitude towards the deficit.
The US trade deficit is mainly caused by its own policy. Manufacturing of a considerable part of China's exports to the European and US markets actually takes place in other Asian countries. The US reluctance to sell some high-tech products to China also greatly contributed to the bilateral trade imbalance.
Policy-makers should not pretend they do not understand the facts.
It is encouraging to see that many talks between China and the United States on economic issues have been conducted in a more constructive atmosphere in past years.
The China-US strategic economic dialogue mechanism was launched in September. The first session of the dialogue is scheduled to be held soon.
Economic ties are a very important part of China-US relations. Both sides should work to make economic ties contribute to a better bilateral relationship and avoid making a sore point, like we have often seen in the past.
(China Daily November 15, 2006)