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Monday, July 1, 2013

U.S.-China Relations: Policy Issues

Susan V. Lawrence
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Congress faces important questions about what sort of relationship the United States should have with China and how the United States should respond to China’s “rise.” After 30 years of fastpaced economic growth, China’s economy is now the second-largest in the world after the United States. With economic success, China has developed significant global strategic clout. It is also engaged in an ambitious military modernization drive, including development of extended-range power projection capabilities and such advanced weapons as a “carrier killer” anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). At home, it continues to suppress all perceived challenges to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

In previous eras, the rise of new powers has often produced conflict. President Obama and China’s leader Xi Jinping have embraced the challenge of establishing a “new style great power relationship” that avoids such an outcome. The Obama Administration has repeatedly assured China that the United States “welcomes a strong, prosperous and successful China that plays a greater role in world affairs,” and that the United States does not seek to prevent China’s reemergence as a great power. Washington has wrestled, however, with how to engage China on issues affecting stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Issues of concern for Washington include the intentions behind China’s military modernization program, China’s use of its paramilitary forces and military in disputes with its neighbors over territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, and its continuing threat to use force to bring Taiwan under its control. With U.S.-China military-to-military ties fragile, Washington has struggled to convince Beijing that the U.S. policy of rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific is not intended to contain China. The two countries have cooperated, with mixed results, to address nuclear proliferation concerns related to Iran and North Korea.

While working with China to revive the global economy, the United States has also wrestled with how to persuade China to address economic policies and activities the United States sees as denying a level playing field to U.S. firms trading with and operating in China. At the top of the U.S. agenda is commercial cyber espionage that the U.S. government says appears to be directly attributable to the Chinese government and military. Other economic concerns for the United States include China’s “indigenous innovation” industrial policies, its weak protections for intellectual property rights, and its currency policy. The United States has differed with China over approaches to combating climate change, while cooperating with China in the development of clean energy technologies. Human rights remains one of the thorniest areas of the relationship, with the United States pressing China to ease restrictions on freedom of speech, internet freedom, religious and ethnic minorities, and labor rights, and China’s leaders suspicious that the United States’ real goal is to end Communist Party rule.

This report opens with an overview of the U.S.-China relationship, recent developments in the relationship, Obama Administration policy toward China, and a summary of legislation related to China in the 113
th and 112th Congresses. The report then reviews major policy issues in the relationship. Throughout, the report directs the reader to other CRS reports for more detailed information about individual topics. This report will be updated periodically. A detailed summary of 113th and 112th Congress legislative provisions and hearings related to China is provided in appendices.

Date of Report: June 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 68
Order Number: R41108
Price: $29.95

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