Sources say commerce officers are touring to China forward of a doable Raimondo journey

Gina Raimondo, US Secretary of Commerce, speaks during an interview in Washington, DC, on Thursday, March 2, 2023.

Andreas Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Senior Commerce Department officials will travel to Beijing and Shanghai next week to lay the groundwork for a possible trip by Secretary of State Gina Raimondo later this year, according to people familiar with the planning.

Elizabeth Economy, a senior adviser to the secretary on China issues, and Scott Tatlock, deputy assistant secretary for China and Mongolia, will assess whether such a meeting between Raimondo and her Chinese counterparts would yield results that would justify the visit .

A Commerce Department spokesman confirmed the trip “to meet with US Commercial Service officials, government colleagues and industry to discuss bilateral trade and business opportunities for US companies.”

But the optics of a possible visit by Raimondo — the former Rhode Island governor whose political ambitions don’t want to end with the Commerce job — could be fraught with risk if the visit doesn’t yield results, according to those familiar with the planning. For example, following a recent visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, Beijing agreed to deliver 160 Airbus aircraft and Airbus agreed to double its production in the country.

A visit by Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, scheduled for early February, has been postponed indefinitely as tensions escalated during the overland flight of a Chinese surveillance balloon.

The tensions disrupted economic talks between Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and her counterparts, which have since resumed. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in late March that the White House was discussing possible visits by Secretaries Yellen and Raimondo to “discuss economic issues… there’s still value in keeping those lines of communication open.”

Beijing has missed key benchmarks in a 2020 trade deal between the countries that Raimondo has pledged to enforce — including a promise by China to buy planes from Airbus rival Boeing.

“China is halting purchases of tens of billions of dollars worth of Boeing planes that Chinese airlines have already ordered,” Raimondo told reporters in September 2021. “That puts a lot of American jobs at stake.”

Since then, Commerce has taken an ad hoc approach to sensitive commerce issues. On high-tech exports that could fuel China’s military ambitions, Raimondo has drawn a hard line — expanding restrictions that prevent Beijing from acquiring leading semiconductors.

On TikTok, where support for a ban is growing on both sides of the aisle, Raimondo has taken a more cautious approach. “The politician in me believes you’re going to lose literally every voter under the age of 35 forever,” she told Bloomberg Businessweek. “As much as I hate TikTok — and I do it because I see addiction in the bad — that it serves children — you know, this is America.”

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