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Businesses keep close watch on Blinken China visit

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Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, is expected to meet with senior Chinese leaders in a visit that could set the tone for the wider U.S.-China relationship. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

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Update (Feb. 3, 2023) Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has postponed his trip following the detection in the U.S. of a Chinese balloon that the Pentagon said is “intelligence-gathering.”

Movie producer Shawn Xiang Yue of Beijing-based Goshfilm has offices in both China and the U.S. His subsidiary in L.A., Bamboo Curtain, was set up in 2021 because he wants to make more China-Hollywood co-productions.

“I can hire more American workers to work on my projects. I can use the pre-existing Hollywood infrastructure,” Yue said.

But last year, he laid off almost all his staff in L.A. and New York because of U.S.-China tensions.

“Currently everything is uncertain. Everything is up in the air. So, as a businessperson I don’t really know, should I invest? Or should I downsize?” Yue said.

He is keeping close watch on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s two-day visit to China starting this weekend. Blinken is expected to meet his counterpart, Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang and speak on a range of issues.

2022 was a tough year for bilateral relations with Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s zero-COVID lockdowns upending global supply chains, and tensions increasing over Taiwan. Both China and the U.S. want the other side to back off on this issues first.

“Beijing and Washington would like there to be a floor placed under the relationship where the prospects of open armed conflict are much, much lower,” said Scott Kennedy, Chinese business and economics chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China also wants the U.S. to, among other things, drop its tariffs on Chinese products and rescind export controls to buy advanced American semiconductors – something that is bound to come up during Blinken’s visit.

“For a lot of Chinese people, they will say the U.S. is trying very hard to maintain its preeminence … There is a fear or anxiety that China is catching up quickly,” said Xu Qinduo at the Beijing-based think tank, Pangoal Institution. “This is the Chinese view that the U.S. is trying to contain [China], to slow down the rise of China.”

If true, he said, the U.S. wouldn’t succeed, especially now that Chinese leaders have dropped COVID restrictions and reopened China.

“The Chinese economy remains full of potential. In the new year, 2023, [it’s] probably one of the brightest spot in terms of economic expansion and investment,” Xu said.

Movie producer Yue is interested in reviving his U.S. operations again. Yet every time he reads the news on U.S. restricting sales of high tech equipment to China, or that Texas is mulling a bill to ban Chinese citizens like him from buying land in that state, he worries his movie projects could be the next target.

“I just wish Blinken and his counterparts in China can figure out a way to let us have the certainty,” Yue said. He wants certainty that the U.S. welcomes Chinese investment.

“I think the question is, can the U.S. and China walk and chew gum at the same time?” analyst Kennedy said.

“Can they compete vociferously in certain areas, including continued imposition of export controls [and] other technology restrictions, competing for friends in other countries … and find a way to cooperate on common challenges they face, whether it’s the climate or public health,” explained Kennedy.

But these days, it is hard to separate politics from everything else – especially from business.

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