Since the earliest days of U.S. independence, relations with China have tested the mettle of American diplomacy.
At some points in history, the gulf between the two nations seemed wider than the ocean that separates its shores. Today, Sino-American relations are marked by both unity and division.
Beijing claims Taiwan, which split from China in 1949, as part of its territory. However, they have no official ties and most direct travel and shipping between the two sides is banned.
The communist mainland repeatedly has threatened to invade if Taiwan tries to make its independence permanent, and passed a law March 14, 2005, authorizing such an attack. The legislation lays out for the first time legal requirements for military action; the day before it passed China’s parliament, President Hu Jintao told the Chinese military to be prepared for war. Taiwan denounced it as a “blank check to invade,” and announced war games aimed at repelling an attack.
The United States recognizes Beijing as the only government of both regions, but its relations with Taiwan have improved markedly under the Bush administration. Washington is Taiwan’s main arms supplier and could be drawn into any conflict. U.S. policy has been to keep Taiwan’s military preparedness in direct proportion to the perceived threat from China, often angering Beijing.
China’s military was once thought to be incapable of carrying out an invasion across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. But Beijing has spent billions of dollars buying Russian-made submarines, destroyers and other high-tech weapons to extend the reach of the 2.5 million-member People’s Liberation Army.
he U.S. State Department’s annual global human rights survey said that China’s record remained poor in 2004, as the government continued to commit “numerous and serious abuses.”
The 63,000-word report cited: instances of extrajudicial killings and deadly torture and mistreatment of prisoners; coerced confessions; arbitrary arrest and detention; and incommunicado detention. It also said China’s judiciary is not independent.
The report said that many Chinese who openly expressed dissenting political views were “harassed, detained or imprisoned, particularly in a campaign late in the year against writers, religious activists, dissidents and petitioners to the central government.”
China fired back in its annual response to the State Department report, accusing the American military of committing “wanton slaughters,” killing thousands of foreign civilians and torturing detainees.
“The atrocity of U.S. troops abusing Iraqi POWs exposed the infringement of human rights of foreign nationals by the United States,” said the report, released by the press office of China’s Cabinet.
China’s is the world’s sixth largest economy. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States is China’s second-largest trade partner, and China is America’s third.
U.S. trade with China is a politically sensitive issue at home. The U.S. Commerce Department reported that the trade deficit with China set a record of $162 billion in 2004, up 30.5 percent from 2003 and the largest imbalance ever recorded with a single country. The Bush administration says this is due in part to China’s shouldering of more and more of the low-skilled labor in Asia, a U.S. demand for labor-intense goods that outweighs production and Chinese trade barriers. The conditions of China’s admission into the World Trade Organization in 2001 – lowering tariffs and eliminating the government as a middleman in global business deals – has been seen by the Bush administration as a beginning to solving these problems.
American manufacturers contend that China should allow the value of its currency to be set by market forces, rather than keeping the value tightly linked to the dollar. They say the practice has given China a huge trade advantage.
China is second only to the United States as the world’s biggest consumer of energy, with coal making up the bulk of its consumption. Its reliance on coal, coupled with rapid industrialization, has led to environmental concerns. According to the World Health Organization, seven of the world’s 10 most polluted cities are in China.
The Clinton administration established the U.S.-China Forum on Environment and Development in 1997 to address common concerns and facilitate the sale of environmentally-friendly technology. The two nations also pledged to work together in international efforts to fight climate change. When the United States did not join other industrial nations in joining the Kyoto Treaty to stop global warming, one of President Bush’s criticisms of the pact’s rules was that they largely exempted developing countries like China.
Another issue is China’s Three Gorges dam, which was built to generate electricity and prevent flooding. The $22 billion project on the Yangtze River is unprecedented in scale. It has been criticized for its design, which some say may worsen pollution, and the environmental damage its construction and future flooding may cause.
The United States and China agree that North Korea must end its nuclear ambitions and resolve the standoff through six-nation talks, Washington’s top envoy said in February 2005. The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
Washington hopes China will use its economic influence on North Korea to persuade it to stop developing its nuclear program. Beijing is North Korea’s last key ally and an indispensable supplier of fuel and trade for its impoverished neighbor.
China was the last known Nuclear Weapons State to begin testing nuclear explosives, but also the first state to pledge “no first use” of them. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, China’s stockpile peaked at approximately 400 warheads sometime in the early 1980s. In 2005, China was estimated to have about 300 strategic warheads and 120 tactical warheads.
Beijing has been fairly quiet about U.S. missile defense plans, Pentagon officials say. China, however, is modernizing and expanding its missile force beyond what near-term U.S. plans for missile defenses could stop.
Meanwhile, Washington fears that a discussed end of a European embargo on arms trade with China – which was put in place in reaction to the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square – would boost the effectiveness of China’s Russian armaments, increasing its potential to threaten U.S.-aligned Taiwan and Japan.