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Congressional Research Service, "China-U.S. Relations: Current Issues and Implications for U.S. Policy", March 17, 2008

This CRS report was written by Kerry Dumbaugh, specialist in Asian Affairs.
March 17, 2008

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U.S.-China relations were remarkably smooth for much of the George W. Bush Administration, although there are signs that U.S. China policy now is subject to competing reassessments.  State Department officials in 2005 unveiled what they said was a new framework for the relationship — with the United States willing to work cooperatively with China while encouraging Beijing to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the global system.  U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in December 2006 established a U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue with Beijing, the most senior regular dialogue yet held with China.  But other U.S. policymakers have adopted tougher stances on issues involving China and U.S.-China relations. They are concerned about the impact of the PRC’s strong economic growth and a more assertive PRC diplomacy in the international arena; about procedures to assure the quality of Chinese pharmaceuticals, food, and other products being imported into the United States; and about trade practices and policies in China that contribute to a strong U.S.-China trade imbalance in the latter’s favor.

Taiwan, which China considers a “renegade province,” remains the most sensitive issue the two countries face and the one many observers fear could lead to Sino-U.S. conflict. But U.S. relations with Taiwan have also been plagued by what some U.S. officials see as that government’s minimal defense spending and the recurrent independence-leaning actions and rhetoric of its President and other government officials, which U.S. officials have called “unhelpful” to regional stability.  On March 11, 2008, the anniversary of a large-scale anti-Chinese uprising in 1959, the political status of Tibet re-emerged as an issue when monks in Lhasa launched a protest against PRC rule.  The protests, at times apparently resulting in violent clashes with police, judging from news reports, have spread to several other cities in Tibet and beyond. Beijing’s response has led some Tibetan activists to add their voices to other calls urging a boycott of the Summer Olympics in Beijing  in August 2008.  

Other concerns about China appear driven by security calculations in Congress and at the Pentagon, where officials question the motivations behind China’s expanding military budget. One congressionally mandated DOD report concluded Beijing is greatly understating its military expenditures and is developing anti-satellite (ASAT) systems — a claim that gained more credence when the PRC used a ballistic missile to destroy one of its own orbiting satellites in January 2007.Bilateral economic and trade issues also are growing matters of concern.  U.S. officials and lawmakers particularly criticize China’s massive bilateral trade surplus, its failure to halt piracy of U.S. intellectual property rights (IPR), and its continued constraints on currency valuation.

This report will be updated regularly as events warrant and will track legislative initiatives involving China. For actions and issues in U.S.-China relations considered during the 109th Congress, see CRS Report RL32804, China-U.S. Relations in the 109th Congress, by Kerry Dumbaugh.

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