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Election-year rancor will make it difficult for Washington and Beijing to find areas of cooperation on trade and investment.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, standing in front of US. and Chinese flags.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen arrives in China on Thursday for four days of meetings with officials in Guangzhou and Beijing.Credit…Pool photo by Mark Schiefelbein

By Alan Rappeport

Alan Rappeport is part of a press delegation traveling with Treasury Secretary Yellen to Guangzhou and Beijing this week.

When Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen traveled to Beijing last summer, her mission was to re-establish a dialogue between the world’s largest economies and stabilize a relationship that appeared to have reached rock bottom.

The United States and China created formal economic working groups to keep the conversation going. Months later, Ms. Yellen met with her Chinese counterparts in San Francisco and Morocco. And the Treasury secretary’s consumption of a dish made with psychedelic “magic” mushrooms at a Yunnan-style restaurant in Beijing sparked something of a culinary craze in China, where Ms. Yellen is popular for being an acclaimed economist.

But despite those signs of progress, thorny economic issues continue to divide China and the United States. When Ms. Yellen arrives on Thursday for four days of meetings in Guangzhou and Beijing, the two sides are expected to exchange views on the state of the global economy, the Biden administration’s concerns about China’s wave of green energy technology exports and Beijing’s frustration’s about mounting barriers to Chinese investment in the United States.

“We don’t want to decouple our economies,” Ms. Yellen said on Wednesday during a stop in Alaska on her way to China. “We want to continue, and we think we both benefit from trade and investment, but it needs to be on a level playing field.”

But she suggested that the administration was prepared to take new trade actions against China to ensure the survival of the clean energy sector that the United States has been trying to grow through tax subsidies and other investments.

Here are some of the most contentious issues that have sown divisions between the United States and China.


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