Friday February 21, 2020


March 22, 2013

New U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew spent March 19 and 20 in Beijing visiting newly appointed Chinese leaders. The trip marked the first time high-level American and Chinese officials have met since America and China began their political transitions in the fall of 2012. Secretary Lew’s meeting with Xi Jinping was also the first visit Xi had had with a high-ranking foreign official since being officially named China’s president.

Lew met with both President Xi and new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Most of the meetings were closed-door, private discussions, but Lew made two brief public appearances with Xi and Li after his meetings with each. In their public remarks, Lew, Xi, and Li all emphasized the importance of the U.S.-China relationship and the willingness of America and China to continue to work together.

According to Chinese media, Lew’s visit was an important step in reaffirming a commitment to U.S.-China relations after both countries underwent leadership transitions in top posts. The visit was one of a series of contacts between America and China in the days following China’s “two sessions.” President Obama spoke with President Xi by phone soon after Xi’s appointment, and new Secretary of State John Kerry plans to visit China in April.

In their public remarks, Lew, Xi, and Li all stressed common interests while acknowledging difficulties in the relationship. According to Xi Jinping, “in the China-US relationship we have enormous shared interests, but of course, unavoidably, we have some differences.” These “differences” were discussed at length during the meetings, where Lew brought up American concerns over recent cyberattacks. After his meetings on the subject with Chinese officials, Lew proclaimed that “there was no mistaking how seriously we [the Obama administration] take this issue.” Lew also raised more traditional American complaints, such as concerns over intellectual property rights and the value of China’s currency.

Likewise, Chinese officials voiced their usual economic grievances with the U.S. Lew acknowledged Chinese concerns over barriers to Chinese investment (exemplified by the recent cases of Huawei and ZTE) and bans on exporting certain high-tech products to China. However, the Chinese officials also sought to smooth the economic relationship. There is some concern on both sides that trade relations, traditionally a stabilizing force in U.S.-China interactions, have been deteriorating. Li and Xi’s remarks suggest that they are unwilling to let economic ties fray too badly. Xi Jinping called economic ties the “cornerstone” of U.S.-China relations, and Li Keqiang advocated for a economic relationship that is built on common interests.

The meetings also included discussion on North Korea, which would not usually be brought up by the Treasury Secretary. Chinese media stressed Lew’s title as a “special representative of the president,” which elevated the meeting above strictly economic affairs and allowed Lew to speak a variety of issues (including North Korea). The extra title was seen as a sign that Obama takes the U.S.-China relationship seriously. It also lent more authority to Lew, who lacks diplomatic experience and in-depth knowledge of China–traits last two Treasury Secretaries both possessed, as most Chinese media sources were quick to point out.

Western media mostly focused on the hot button issues at the meetings: cyberattacks, North Korea, and the value of the yuan. However, many Chinese media outlets dismissed the importance of discussions on these specific topics. Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials have repeatedly raised the idea of creating a “new type of major power relationship” between China and the U.S. In China, this concept receives more attention than either side’s grievances. Instead of getting bogged down in individual issues, Chinese analysts suggest that the U.S. and China should maintain a long-term perspective and work to set a foundation for U.S.-China relations in the future. With China growing in world status, and seeking to be treated as America’s equal, it will take some time for both sides to work out exactly what this “new type” relationship means.


For more information about Secretary Lew’s visit to Beijing, please see the following news sources:

China Daily“Li stresses trust is key element”

New York Times“U.S. Treasury Secretary and Chinese President Meet”

Washington Post“U.S. presses China on cyberattacks seemingly aimed at private firms”

Yahoo“New U.S., Chinese officials reach out ahead of talks later this year”


For Chinese language coverage of Secretary Lew’s visit to Beijing, please see the following sources:

Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报)“美国新财长 访华不只谈经济”

China News (中国新闻)“李克强会见美国总统特别代表、财政部长雅各布·卢”

Sina (新浪网)“美国财长雅各布卢中国首秀”

Xinhua (新华)“习近平会见美国总统特别代表、财政部长雅各布·卢”

Compiled and edited by Shannon Tiezzi. Photo from Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.