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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

U.S.-China Relations: Policy Issues

Thomas Lum
Specialist in Asian Affairs

The U.S.-China bilateral relationship is one of the world's most important, touching on a wide range of issues, including economics, global security threats, the environment, energy, human rights, and many others. U.S. interests regarding its relationship with the People's Republic of China (PRC) include promoting U.S. trade and investment, protecting national security interests, addressing global environmental and climate change issues, promoting economic liberalization and human rights in China, and maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the Asia- Pacific region. 

The emergence of China as a global economic power has added considerably to the complexity of U.S. policy toward China. The United States and the PRC are becoming increasingly interdependent, which means that the two countries must cooperate in many areas even when they disagree in others. The Obama Administration has sought cooperation with the PRC on several important international issues, including the global financial crisis, multilateral efforts to block the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and climate change. The Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), established in 2009, is a flexible diplomatic mechanism that brings together senior officials from the United States and China on an annual basis to maintain dialogue and build trust on an array of issues. 

Despite growing areas of cooperation and dialogue, deep mutual suspicions persist based upon ideological differences and uncertainty over each other's intentions, particularly in the security realm. Some U.S. policy makers have questioned China's long term military goals, given its rising military budget and expanding capabilities. Furthermore, China's increasingly active diplomacy, growing economic assistance and investment in developing regions, and political and economic ties to "rogue states" make it a potential competitor for global influence and natural resources. 

Other U.S. concerns include the bilateral trade deficit with China and allegations of PRC unfair trade practices, PRC holdings of U.S. Treasuries, military confrontations in the South China Sea, disagreements on global climate change policies, PRC human rights violations, and cyber attacks on U.S. companies that appear to have originated in China. An ongoing policy debate includes the following questions: whether a decades-long U.S. policy of engagement with China has helped to promote U.S. economic, national security, and other interests, or strengthened the PRC at the expense of U.S. interests and the promotion of democratic values; whether China's global outreach is defensive in nature and focused on domestic concerns such as economic growth and social stability, or part of an effort to undermine U.S. influence; and does China have the will or capacity to become a "responsible stakeholder" in the broader global system, or will ideological differences and Beijing's preoccupation with domestic economic and political pressures hinder cooperation between China and other world powers. 

This report provides an overview of selected, major issues in the U.S.- China relationship as they pertain to the 111th Congress. It provides a list of related CRS reports, as well as related legislation (see Appendix). Some portions of this report are based upon CRS Report R40457,
China-U.S. Relations: Current Issues and Implications for U.S. Policy, by Kerry Dumbaugh. .


Date of Report: March 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: RL41108
Price: $29.95

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