Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen committed a series of diplomatic gaffes during her trip to Beijing over the weekend, and they’re possibly the worst she could make.
The Biden administration’s number one economic official flew to China on a four-day visit as part of an attempt to repair the relationship between the two countries.
On the second day of her trip, Yellen shook hands with Vice Premier He Lifeng and bowed three times in quick succession, according to a video of the exchange.
He Lifeng stood tall and unbending as he stepped back to give her more space to complete her embarrassing display, choosing not to reciprocate the bows which could have softened the diplomatic blow for her.
“An American official does not bow,” George W. Bush senior staffer Bradley Blakeman said to the New York Post. “It looks like she’s been summoned to the principal’s office, and that’s exactly the optics the Chinese love.”
Just minutes later, Yellen tripped over He’s name, calling him “Vice Premier Hu” in the first official American meeting with the newly appointed economic czar, a Xi loyalist installed to the post in March.
Pleading Speech and Cold Welcome
During her speech, she tried to convince the country to establish a “healthy economic competition that is not winner-take-all.”
But China does not seem swayed.
Days before Yellen arrived, the country announced new export restrictions on two metals crucial to the semiconductor manufacture, claiming it needed to “safeguard national security and interests”.
The true motive behind the move is widely understood to be retaliation against American action on Chinese technology.
Shortly after Yellen landed, China also made moves against Taiwan, deploying 13 aircraft and 6 vessels into the airspace and waters around the disputed island country.
Chinese President Xi Jinping himself visited the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater headquarters just before Yellen arrived. Its area of operation is directly across the Taiwan Strait.
Yellen is not expected to meet with Xi during her trip.