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US President Joe Biden.
US President Joe Biden.

Beijing — US treasury secretary Janet Yellen warned China on Monday that Washington will not accept Chinese imports destryoing new industries as she wrapped up four days of meetings to press her case for Beijing to rein in excess industrial capacity.

Yellen told a media conference that US President Joe Biden would not allow a repeat of the “China shock” of the early 2000s, when a flood of Chinese imports destroyed about 2-million US manufacturing jobs.

She did not, however, threaten new tariffs or other trade actions should Beijing continue its huge state support for electric vehicles, batteries, solar panels and other green energy goods.

Yellen used her second trip to China in nine months to complain that China’s overinvestment has built factory capacity far exceeding domestic demand, while fast-growing exports of these products threaten firms in the US and other countries.

She said a newly created exchange forum to discuss the excess capacity issue would need time to reach solutions.

Yellen drew parallels to the pain felt in the US steel sector in the past.

“We’ve seen this story before,” she told reporters. “Over a decade ago, huge PRC [People’s Republic of China] government support led to below-cost Chinese steel that flooded the global market and decimated industries across the world and in the US.”

Yellen added: “I’ve made it clear that President Biden and I will not accept that reality again.”

When the global market is flooded with artificially cheap Chinese products, she said, “the viability of American and other foreign firms is put into question”.

Yellen said her exchanges with Chinese officials had advanced US interests and that US concerns over excess industrial capacity were shared by allies in Europe, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and other emerging markets.

She said a possible short-term solution was for China to take steps to bolster consumer demand with support for households and retirement, and shift its growth model away from supply-side investments.

Yellen spoke about the issue at length with Premier Li Qiang and also met finance minister Lan Foan on Sunday. She met People’s Bank of China (PBOC) governor Pan Gongsheng and former vice-premier Liu He on Monday.

In a CNBC interview after the meetings, Yellen said she was “not thinking so much” about trade restrictions on China, as much as shifts in its macroeconomic environment. But she reiterated she would not rule out tariffs.

Treasury officials said the US and China were also deepening co-operation on financial stability issues, with two more simulations of financial shocks scheduled after a recent exercise on dealing with the failure of a large bank.

China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, said in March that the government would take steps to curb industrial overcapacity.

But Beijing says the recent focus by the US and Europe on the risks to other economies from China’s excess capacity is misguided.

Chinese officials say the criticism understates innovation by their companies in key industries and overstates the importance of state support in driving their growth.

They also say tariffs or other trade curbs will deprive global consumers of green energy alternatives key to meeting global climate goals.

State news agency Xinhua quoted Li as saying the US should “refrain from turning economic and trade issues into political or security issues” and view the topic of production capacity from a “market-orientated and global perspective”.

Chinese commerce minister Wang Wentao voiced more pointed objections during a roundtable meeting with Chinese electric vehicle (EV) makers in Paris, saying US and European assertions of Chinese excess EV capacity were groundless.

Rather than subsidies, China’s electric vehicle companies relied on continuous technological innovation, perfect production and supply chain systems and full market competition, Wang said on his trip to discuss a EU anti-subsidy inquiry.


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