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Yum China CEO: Biden's sentiment toward China ‘less worrying’ than Trump's

·3-min read
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The U.S. Department of Defense will take Chinese tech company Xiaomi off of a government blacklist, softening a Trump-era decision as competition between the two countries in the technology sector draws concern on Capitol Hill, a court filing revealed on Wednesday.

At the same time, the Biden administration has continued its predecessor's most significant and confrontational policies toward China. Tariffs on Chinese goods remain in place and the U.S. reaffirmed its label of the Chinese government's mass detention of minority Uighur citizens as "genocide."

All things considered, according to Yum China CEO Joey Wat (YUMC), the Biden administration has voiced a "less worrying" tone toward China. (Yum China oversees nearly 11,000 coffee shops and restaurants in the country, including brands like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.)

"In terms of change, since the new administration came to office, I think one change that's a bit subtle is the sentiment became less worrying," Wat told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer” (video above). "Because sometimes, certain statements from the previous president of the United States might cause some thoughts and some sort of challenge in terms of interpretation of the meaning."

Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China, speaks with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on an episode of
Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China, speaks with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on an episode of "Influencers with Andy Serwer."

'We're not looking for conflict'

Wat added that the clarity in communication from the Biden administration marks an "improvement" from the occasionally confusing statements made by former President Donald Trump.

In a primetime speech to Congress last month, Biden struck a firm but measured tone toward China, acknowledging the economic challenge posed by the country. 

"In my discussions with [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping], I told him we welcome the competition," Biden said. "We’re not looking for conflict."

Officials from the U.S. and China held two days of contentious meetings in Alaska in March, which highlighted the deep divide between the two countries on trade, human rights, and other subjects. 

But Biden has taken a more traditional approach to the diplomatic relationship than Trump, who tweeted about ongoing trade negotiations and referred disparagingly to the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus."

Speaking with Yahoo Finance, Wat said the trade war between the U.S. and China has not significantly impacted Yum China, since it imports very few items.

"It has been relatively smooth, because we do the majority of our sourcing locally," she said.

However, there was one notable exception: Cheese. The country imported all its cheese from the United States until 2019, when tariffs prompted the company to get the product from New Zealand, she told Time Magazine last year.

TIANJIN, CHINA - 2018/03/22: Self-service machine in a KFC restaurant, to improve the efficiency of ordering and payment.  KFC has made a significant contribution to the performance of Yum China. In 2017, Yum China opened 691 new restaurants, of which KFC took up 5488, accounting for about 68%. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A self-service machine in a KFC restaurant in Tianjin, China. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Nevertheless, Wat said the company could again change where it gets its cheese.

"We are open-minded about all the options," she said. "Whatever is is viable, we will pursue."

Wat, whose company has a market cap of $25.3 billion, said further improvement in communication will help Yum China operate effectively.

"As a company operating in China, we certainly want to see a bit more clarity and communication between the two countries," she said.

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