Smiling and shaking hands, U.S. and Chinese officials meeting in San Francisco are trying to play nice.
"We do not seek to decouple our economy from China's. This would be damaging to both the U.S. and China and destabilizing to the world," said Janet Yellin, the U.S. Treasury Secretary.
But tensions between the U.S. and China are at an all-time high as the two 800-pound economic gorillas fight for dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, which is responsible for half of the world's trade.
"I think it's fair to say that U.S.-China relations is certainly at one of the lowest points in history," said Patricia Kim, U.S.-China relations expert at the Brookings Institution.
President Barack Obama tried to counter China by joining the Trans Pacific Partnership, the world's largest free trade deal — but on his first day in office, President Donald Trump killed it.
"As a result of the Trump decision, we've lost an enormous amount of important leverage and momentum and a key driver for economic growth and prosperity," said Jeff Moon, former assistant U.S. trade representative for China.
This week at APEC, the U.S. is playing catch-up. President Biden is pushing a new trade agreement, but key Democrats in Congress are against it, worried it will outsource U.S. jobs. Free-trade advocates argue average Americans will see benefits.
"The average school kid has a backpack and clothes they start school with in September that are made all over the world, and a lot of them are made in the Asia-Pacific," said Monica Hardy Whaley, president of the National Center for APEC.
The U.S. this week will try to convince the Asia-Pacific economies it is a better partner than China, while also trying to convince Americans that their own prosperity is at stake.
"People don't realize that this is how we've become the prosperous nation that we are, is through international trade. And our own market is not big enough to sustain our economic aspirations. We must trade," said Moon.
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