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Thursday, August 8, 2013

U.S.-China Relations: An Overview of Policy Issues

Susan V. Lawrence
Specialist in Asian Affairs

The United States relationship with China touches on an exceptionally broad range of issues, from security, trade, and broader economic issues, to the environment and human rights. 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 more than 30 years of fast-paced economic growth, China’s economy is now the second-largest in the world after that of 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. 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. China’s new leader Xi Jinping has pressed hard for a U.S. commitment to a “new model of major country relationship” with the United States that seeks to avoid such an outcome. The Obama Administration has repeatedly assured Beijing 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 re-emergence as a great power. China, for its part, has pledged to follow “the path of peaceful development.” 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 improving but still 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 the United States sees as denying a level playing field to U.S. firms trading with and operating in China. High on the U.S. agenda is commercial cyber espionage that the U.S. government says appears to be directly attributable to official Chinese actors. Other economic concerns for the United States include China’s apparent backsliding on its World Trade Organization commitments, its weak protections for intellectual property rights, and its currency policy. In recent months, the United States has strengthened cooperation with China on efforts to combat climate change, while continuing to work with China on 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 expression, and ethnic minorities, 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 Congress. 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 related to China is provided in appendices.

Date of Report: August 1, 2013
Number of Pages: 65
Order Number: R41108
Price: $29.95

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