China pushes back at US overcapacity concerns as Yellen wraps visit

Beijing’s commerce minister dismissed as “groundless” US concerns that a surge of low-cost Chinese exports posed a risk to global markets, as Washington’s Treasury chief on Monday (8 April) wrapped up a visit aimed in part at addressing the issue.

During the visit by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Chinese officials have sounded a positive note that ties between the two countries are on more stable footing, with both sides agreeing to open channels for further talks on the issue of excess industrial capacity — though differences clearly remain.

The US concern is that with Chinese government support creating more production capacity than global markets can absorb, a flood of cheap exports in key sectors like solar and electric vehicles could impact the growth of those industries elsewhere.

But commerce minister Wang Wentao said during a trip to Paris on Sunday that “the accusations of ‘overcapacity’ by the United States and Europe are groundless”, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Wang said Chinese electric vehicle makers’ rapid growth was due to innovation and established supply chains, not subsidies.

He added that Beijing would support businesses in defending their interests, Xinhua said.

Beijing has repeatedly dismissed concerns over its vast state support for industry.

The European Union has started a probe into Chinese electric car subsidies that could lead to tariffs on vehicles it believes are unfairly sold at a lower price, which Beijing last month condemned as “protectionism”.

Yellen has brought up overcapacity repeatedly in talks with officials and business leaders in the southern city of Guangzhou and the capital Beijing.

In addition to tackling the issue with her counterpart Vice Premier He Lifeng over some 11 hours of engagement, she also raised it with Premier Li Qiang in a bid to bring the concerns to the highest levels of Chinese policymaking.

According to Xinhua, Li told Yellen that Washington should view the matter of production capacity “objectively” and from a “market-oriented” perspective.

He added that the growth of China’s new energy industry “will make important contributions to the global green and low-carbon transition”, the readout of their bilateral meeting said.

Yellen, for her part, has acknowledged that “this is a complicated issue that involves their entire macroeconomic and industrial strategy”.

“It’s not going to be solved in an afternoon or a month,” she earlier told reporters in Guangzhou.

But she said Chinese officials had “heard that this is an important issue to us” and one that will be critical to the bilateral relationship, as well as China’s ties with other countries, going forward.

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