China has threatened trade with some countries after feuds. They're calling 'the firm' for help

China has threatened trade with some countries after feuds. They're calling 'the firm' for help

China has threatened trade with some countries after feuds. They're calling 'the firm' for help

The U.S. State Department has set up an eight-person team known as “the firm” to provide help to countries cut off from Chinese trade

ByDIDI TANG Associated Press

May 27, 2024, 12:06 AM

    WASHINGTON -- Business is good at “the firm.”

    The eight-person team at the State Department is leading Washington's efforts to ease the economic blowback for countries targeted by China.

    It emerged in the scramble to help Lithuania during a spat with China over Taiwan two years ago. Today, “the firm” is helping growing numbers of nations cope with what diplomats call economic coercion from Beijing.

    Countries “knock on the door, they call,” Undersecretary of State Jose Fernandez told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “We run a consulting firm that does not have to advertise for clients, as they come.”

    Led by State Department senior adviser Melanie Hart, the group reviews vulnerabilities and develops responses for countries that are cut off or fear losing trade with global powerhouse China. Since the group's launch with Lithuania, more than a dozen countries have approached the Biden administration for assistance, Fernandez said.

    The effort comes as Washington is stepping up its campaign to push back at China's global influence and tensions grow between the rivals.

    The Chinese Embassy in Washington took issue with the notion that Beijing is using economic pressure on other countries, calling it “completely unfounded.” The United States, it said, was the one bullying China economically by abusing export controls, treating Chinese companies unfairly and labeling Beijing as a perpetrator of economic coercion.

    Fernandez said that is a tactic China “is using over and over. They believe that intimidation works. That’s why we got into the act. The time had come to stop this thing."

    For example, when a Norwegian committee in 2010 awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, Beijing stopped buying salmon from the Nordic country. Two years later, China rejected banana imports from the Philippines over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. In 2020, Beijing responded to Australia’s call for an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic by raising tariffs on Australian barley and wines.

    Then came Lithuania. In late 2021 and early 2022, Lithuanian businesses saw their cargo shipments to and from China stranded, and they were warned by major European businesses that Lithuanian-made auto parts would be barred from products for the Chinese market.

    That came after Lithuania allowed Taiwan's de-facto embassy in Vilnius to bear the name Taiwan, instead of Taipei — Taiwan's capital city — as preferred by Beijing. China considers the self-governed island to be part of Chinese territory and protested the use of Taiwan.

    Instead of caving in, the northern European country asked for help. The U.S. and its allies stepped up.

    American diplomats sought new markets for Lithuanian goods. The Export-Import Bank in Washington provided Vilnius with $600 million in export credit, and the Pentagon signed a procurement agreement with the country.

    And “the firm” kept at it. The State Department works as the first line of response and can coordinate with other U.S. agencies to reach “every tool that the U.S. government has,” according to a department official who asked not to be named to discuss details of the team.

    While it takes years to reorient global supply chains to reduce reliance on countries such as China, the team tries to offer a quicker way to ease a crisis, the official said, comparing the team to ambulance services that “help you get past that scary emergency time.”

    For example, the U.S. might try to work with partners to help a country quickly divert agricultural products to new markets, build more cold storage so products can reach farther markets or improve product quality to gain entry into more markets, the official said.

    The assistance is confidential, the official said, declining to discuss the tools at the team’s disposal or name the countries that have sought help.

    Shay Wester, director of Asian economic affairs at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said it was “a significant and much-needed initiative.”

    “China’s growing use of economic coercion to pressure countries over political disputes is a significant challenge that requires a concerted response,” said Wester, who co-authored an April report on the issue.

    The responses from other countries show that demand is high for this kind of support, Wester said.

    This month, Lithuania hosted a conference on resisting economic pressure, and Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the aim of that action "is to crush the victims by forcing reversal and public renunciation of its policies.”

    Liu Pengyu, the Chinese Embassy spokesman, said the problem with Lithuania was “a political not an economic one. They were caused by Lithuania’s acts in bad faith that hurt China’s interests, not China’s pressure on Lithuania.”

    Fernandez, who attended the conference, applauded Lithuania for standing up to China. “Lithuania gave us the opportunity to prove that there were alternatives to the coercion,” he said.

    OTHER NEWS

    18 minutes ago

    Millwall head coach Neil Harris pays tribute to Matija Sarkic after his death at 26

    18 minutes ago

    The IRS wants to end another major tax loophole for the wealthy and raise $50 billion in the process

    18 minutes ago

    Italy Coast Guard searches missing migrants after shipwreck off Calabrian coast: 12 rescued, 1 dead

    18 minutes ago

    England fans call for urgent review of Euro 2024 travel plans after ‘dangerous overcrowding’ at Serbia game

    18 minutes ago

    Rory McIlroy makes swift Pinehurst exit after US Open heartbreak

    18 minutes ago

    Is this pint-sized electric vehicle about to be big disruptor in US?

    18 minutes ago

    Bosch: Legacy Season 3- What's Happening With The Jerry Edgar Spin Off Series?

    18 minutes ago

    Report debunks 33 false claims about renewable energy

    18 minutes ago

    Beauty fans bag ‘free’ Kiehl’s eye cream worth £30 in deal that’s cheaper than Boots

    22 minutes ago

    She thought pain was a pulled muscle... but scans revealed blood clots

    22 minutes ago

    Dan Walker says he's missed out on amazing jobs because of his Christian beliefs

    24 minutes ago

    Lion City Sailors’ Song Ui-young relishing new roles on and off the field

    24 minutes ago

    Sabalenka to skip Paris Olympics

    24 minutes ago

    ST Full-time Report: Hassan Sunny to donate money from China fans to charity | Shanti Pereira announces engagement

    24 minutes ago

    Chinese premier’s Australia visit overshadowed by officials’ apparent attempt to block Cheng Lei’s view at event

    24 minutes ago

    'Trump had severe memory issues': Writer details his meetings with Trump for new book

    24 minutes ago

    London trains cancelled as drivers refuse to work extra shift during England's Euro 2024 opener

    24 minutes ago

    Euro 2024 diary: missing underpants and lost confidence as Scotland hit Germany

    24 minutes ago

    PFF Names 1 Browns Player To All-Breakout Team

    24 minutes ago

    Explosion at Military Training Ground Results in Casualties

    24 minutes ago

    Mavericks vs. Celtics odds, score prediction, time: 2024 NBA Finals picks, Game 5 best bets from proven model

    27 minutes ago

    Search for missing woman in South Carolina ends with discovery in Australia

    30 minutes ago

    Treasury, IRS unveil plan to close ‘major tax loophole’ used by large partnerships

    30 minutes ago

    Britain's Airbnb hotspots revealed: The 'ruined' coastal towns with the most holiday rentals

    30 minutes ago

    Revealed: Why Thibaut Courtois isn't playing for Belgium at Euro 2024 despite playing in the Champions League final... as Nottingham Forest's Matz Sels and Luton's Thomas Kaminski get the nod

    30 minutes ago

    Wout Weghorst underlines desire to start for the Netherlands after the former Man United forward's instant impact against Poland

    33 minutes ago

    Reform UK manifesto launch - what Nigel Farage's party will claim amidst BNP row

    33 minutes ago

    Veteran investor David Roche 'optimistic' U.S. rate cuts are coming

    33 minutes ago

    ‘Insidious forces are at work’: ‘Inaction’ by government on Jew hate speech is ‘capitulation’

    33 minutes ago

    Tony Awards 2024: The Complete Winners List

    33 minutes ago

    Stock Market Today: Stocks mixed ahead of Juneteenth week split

    33 minutes ago

    US tourist dies in Greece as heat toll rises to three

    34 minutes ago

    Go to Bat with Viggo Mortensen: My films that deserved more love

    35 minutes ago

    Roger Mayne review – destitute kids running wild in the battered, bombed-out city

    35 minutes ago

    How is Paramount still alive

    38 minutes ago

    Virgin Mary statue 'crying tears of blood' is being investigated by church officials

    38 minutes ago

    Martin Lewis fan shares how money tip helped turn £31 payment into 'thousands'

    38 minutes ago

    Cost of living help worth up to £200 to be given to struggling households

    38 minutes ago

    Startup aims to revolutionize wind power with new bladeless rooftop turbines: 'Will play a vital role in helping companies fulfill their need for reliable, reasonably priced electricity'

    38 minutes ago

    ‘Ultraman: Rising' Review: A Famous Japanese Franchise Gets a Heartwarming American Reboot