Sen. Harry Reid returned Monday night from a weeklong trip to China where he said he was impressed by the giant nation’s embrace of renewable energy.
China’s handling of its currency, trade policies and human rights? Not so impressive.
The Senate majority leader from Nevada led a 10-senator delegation into meetings with Chinese government officials, U.S. diplomats, business leaders, and Peace Corps volunteers.
Along the way they stopped in Macau, the former Portuguese colony where Las Vegas gaming giants operate major resorts. An April 19 lunch at the MGM Macau was sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce.
In a report this morning, Reid said the delegation toured renewable energy facilities in Chengdu, a city of 14 million considered to be a leader in that field. China’s aggressive investments in clean energy underscored the need for the United States to keep pace, he said.
"With our vast renewable energy resources and American ingenuity, we can’t afford not to be a globally competitive leader in this important area," Reid said. “China isn’t investing so heavily in clean energy just because it’s good for the environment – it’s doing so because it’s good for the economy.”
Members of the delegation also met with officials from the Chinese Rail Ministry to discuss high speed rail, an Obama administration priority for the United States.
On other issues, however, the Americans and the Chinese did not see eye-to-eye.
U.S. manufacturers have complained that China manipulates the value of its currency to keep its products priced artificially low and at a competitive advantage to American counterparts. One of the primary aims of the trip was to make that point to the Chinese, Reid said.
But it appeared progress was limited.
"Chinese officials confirmed that China would continue the managed appreciation of its currency and were urged by the delegation to be more aggressive," according to Reid’s report.
"This was an important step because China’s currency policy has resulted in an unbalanced exchange rate…making it difficult for U.S. businesses to compete with China in the global marketplace."
Senators also raised concerns about other Chinese trade barriers, including its policies of "indigenous innovation." Those are procurement rules that require computers and other high tech equipment to contain intellectual property owned and registered in China. U.S. technology firms charge such policies essentially are locking them out of the market.
On human rights, Reid noted the senators’ visit occurred in the midst of a crackdown by China on dissidents, and the topic was brought up in multiple meetings with Chinese leaders.
"While differences of opinion remain, both sides agreed to continue discussing this issue," Reid said.
"The world needs its two largest economies to work together," Reid said. "We have to communicate and build mutual trust…Our meetings in China helped improve that relationship, and our experience there was an unmistakable reminder of just how hard we have to work to make American more competitive with the rest of the world."
The delegation included Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.