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U.S. senators led by Majority Leader Schumer make first congressional visit to China since 2019

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and other members of the delegation arrive at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China, on Oct. 7, 2023.

Aly Song | Reuters

A delegation of U.S. lawmakers led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arrived in China on Saturday in the first congressional visit to the country since 2019.

The trip comes amid a sharp deterioration in relations between the two countries and as Chinese and American officials try to lay the groundwork for a possible meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November.

The delegation of six senators, which includes three Democrats and three Republicans, landed in Shanghai on a U.S. government jet on an overcast and windy afternoon. The Republicans were led by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the senior member of his party on the Senate Finance Committee.

Asked about his expectations for the visit, Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he hoped it would be productive.

A series of high-ranking Biden administration officials have met their Chinese counterparts in Beijing in recent months, but no other U.S lawmakers have made the trip since China lifted its COVID-19 restrictions in December of last year.

China, in a statement earlier this week, said it hoped the visit would “contribute to a more objective understanding of China in the U.S. Congress.”

In a reminder of the tensions between the two countries, China’s commerce ministry said on Saturday that new U.S. restrictions placed on 42 Chinese companies were “a typical act of economic coercion and unilateral bullying.”

The U.S. Commerce Department added the Chinese companies and seven others to its entity list on Friday. It said the companies supplied “U.S.-origin” semiconductors that Russia uses for missile guidance systems and drones in the war against Ukraine. American companies cannot export to organizations on the entity list without obtaining a special license.

Schumer’s office said his visit would focus on the need for reciprocity from China for U.S. business in trade and on maintaining American leadership in advanced technologies for national security. He also hopes to discuss human rights, fentanyl production, and China’s role in the international community, as well as areas for potential cooperation.

A smooth visit could help pave the way for a Biden-Xi summit during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders meeting in San Francisco next month. The senators hope to meet Xi in Beijing during their visit.

A Chinese international relations expert said that Schumer’s visit is a sign of improvement in China-U.S. relations.

“If the talks proceed well, there is the possibility that President Xi will meet Schumer,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China. “If their meeting is realized, the chances for a Xi-Biden meeting will become greater.”

The White House has been in touch with Schumer and supports the delegation’s visit to the region, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said after the trip was announced. The senators will go to South Korea and Japan after their stop in China.

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