Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, is leading a bipartisan congressional delegation on Friday to China, where the group plans to meet with top government and business leaders at a time of rising tensions between the United States and Beijing.
Mr. Schumer, who has long taken a tough stand on China, said he would use the trip to appeal to the nation’s top leaders for better economic reciprocity for U.S. companies currently being iced out of Chinese markets and better policing of the export of fentanyl that has increasingly found its way into the United States.
But he offered measured expectations about how much the senators would be able to help resolve the standoff between Washington and Beijing, a goal that has eluded several Biden administration officials.
“I think the Chinese will hear things differently from the elected officials,” Mr. Schumer said during an interview in his Capitol office this week. Members of Congress, he added, “have their finger on the pulse of what the American people are feeling. And the good news is the Chinese want to learn this — they’ve made it clear to our people that they very much want to learn this, even though the conversations are not going to be ‘Kumbaya’ at all.”
The senators are hoping for a meeting with President Xi Jinping, though one has not yet been scheduled. After visiting multiple cities in China, they will also make stops in South Korea and Japan next week, before returning to Washington.
Mr. Schumer is being joined on the trip by Democratic senators, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Jon Ossoff of Georgia; as well as Republican senators, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho and Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy of Louisiana.
Mr. Schumer said it was a “propitious moment” for a bipartisan delegation to try to make inroads with Chinese officials.
“Whether we succeed or not, we don’t know, but it’s certainly worth trying,” he added.
Mr. Schumer has a long record of slamming Beijing for issues including currency manipulation and its aggressive conduct toward Taiwan. He is also not much of a world traveler. In the past dozen years, Mr. Schumer has been on only two other congressional delegations abroad: a trip earlier this year to India, Pakistan, Israel and Europe, and another trip to China in 2011.
But as the majority leader, Mr. Schumer brings a level of heft to talks with the United States’ chief geopolitical rival. The last congressional delegation to visit China went four years ago; the last time Mr. Xi met with representatives of Mr. Schumer’s rank was almost a decade ago.
“I want to hear from the Chinese exactly what vexes them about the United States, just as I think they should hear what vexes us about China,” he said, noting that he had been encouraged by senior Biden administration officials to organize the trip.
“When you talk frankly, you can solve those problems better than when you beat around the bush,” Mr. Schumer added.
At the top of Mr. Schumer’s list of irritants is what he sees as a lack of reciprocity in economic relations.
“Our electric cars are not allowed in China; their electric cars are allowed here,” he said, arguing that if China would enable “a more level playing field, that would solve a lot of problems.”
He confirmed that he and Mr. Crapo plan to raise concerns about China blocking the American semiconductor manufacturing firm Micron — which is headquartered in Idaho and building a plant in New York — from operating there. He would not say if the senators planned to make similarly pointed appeals on behalf of other U.S. businesses, such as the consulting firm Bain & Co., that have been targeted under China’s national security law.
It is unclear how much influence the senators will be able to wield. China has bristled at the United States for escalating sanctions with new restrictions on U.S. investments in its high-tech sector, including its semiconductor and microelectronics industries, and considers many of its punitive actions against American firms to be proportional countermoves.
Mr. Schumer has proposed a legislative framework for building on those restrictions with additional export and investment controls, but Congress is at an impasse over that issue and other initiatives to improve the United States’ ability to compete with China.
He said he was hopeful of coming to “some kind of understanding” with China on how it can rein in the trafficking of fentanyl and related chemicals, which are fueling an overdose epidemic across the United States. A joint effort between Washington and Beijing to disrupt the illicit fentanyl trade in has stalled in recent years, and Mr. Schumer has pushed Congress to pass sanctions targeting China for its role in the worsening crisis. Illicit fentanyl trafficking also tops the priority list of other senators on the trip, including Mr. Cassidy and Ms. Hassan.
“It would be a lot better if we didn’t need the sanctions,” Mr. Schumer said. “This is an area, it seems to me, that there would be a huge benefit to America, and help Americans have a better attitude toward China, at not much cost to the Chinese government.”
Mr. Schumer was less specific about how he planned to address a swath of other sensitive issues, such as Taiwan or China’s dismal human rights record, including the mass displacement of the ethnic Uyghur population into forced labor camps. He said he also planned to challenge Chinese officials about Beijing’s continued patronage of Russian energy, which helps enable Moscow to perpetuate the war in Ukraine.
“The bottom line is that China doesn’t want to be isolated from the world community, they want to be very much a part of it, and they’re helping someone who is an outlier,” Mr. Schumer said.