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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

U.S., China tensions soar as accord is needed

February 16, 2010

By Stephen J. Bronner
AM New York
February 15, 2010

The rhetoric between the U.S. and China ratchets
up from time to time, and with the Dalai Lama set
to visit President Barack Obama on Thursday
tensions are likely to be high this week. The
exiled spiritual leader’s visit is only one of
many issues that have plagued U.S.-Chinese relations.

"The U.S. and China don’t need each other, but
they need a certain level of accord because
resolution of many of the world’s most pressing
problems ... depends on a level of agreement
between the two countries," said Elizabeth
Economy, director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

amNewYork takes a look at a few of these thorny issues.

Weapons sale

The U.S. has proposed selling helicopters and
missiles to Taiwan, infuriating China, which
considers the self-governed island a renegade
province. "China has to protest these sales or
they’ll lose face [with their people]," said Eric
Harwit, a fellow at the East-West Center, a
Hawaii-based organization set up by Congress in
1960 to help strengthen Asia-U.S. relations.

Bottom line: Experts agreed the sale is likely to
go through, with minimal  damage to the
relationship. "There’s diminishing trust on other
issues," said Steve Clemons, director of the
American Strategy Program at the New America
Foundation. "The arms sale is more a platform for a frustrated China."

Dalai Lama

China views the Dalai Lama as a threat to its
sovereignty over Tibet and Obama meeting with him
as an insult. "China accepts the status quo of
Taiwan as something tolerable," expert Eric
Harwit said. "In Tibet, they consider disruptions a threat to stability."

Bottom line: This meeting won’t severely damage relations.

Nuclear weapons

With nuclear saber rattling from Iran and North
Korea, China and Russia can play a big role in
trying to keep them in line by imposing sanctions
and the specter of military might. "The U.S.
doesn’t need China’s support, it needs its lack
of opposition," said Zachary Karabell, the author
of "Superfusion: How China and America Became One
Economy." It’s important for China to be on the
U.S.’s side to effectively punish Iran, but that
support may be hard to come by.

Bottom line: While China wants access to Iran’s
oil and natural gas reserves, it will go along
with sanctions to ensure its security.

Human rights and Internet freedom

China jails, hangs and keeps tabs on those who
oppose the government. After the Google e-mail
accounts of Chinese dissidents were compromised,
apparently by government-supported hackers,
Google threatened to pull out of the country.

Bottom line: Google will most likely stay in
China, a huge market, and the issue of cyber
security will fade away, Harwit said. The human
rights situation is not expected to improve, and
it will continue to be a problem for East-West relations.

Economic issues

China has a lot invested in the United States,
whether it’s almost $800 billion in U.S. Treasury
notes, the most of any country, or its $9.6
billion stake in many American companies,
including Bank of America, Apple and Coca-Cola.

Bottom line: "China is too invested in the United
States to see it fail," Karabell said. The U.S.
has to tread carefully not to further anger its Eastern lender.

Currency

The U.S. has renewed calls for China to revalue
its currency, the renminbi, which economists
argue is undervalued by 25 to 40 percent compared
to other currencies. This gives China an unfair
advantage in selling its exports.

Bottom line: "They’re not going to do it as fast
as we want," but they will eventually revalue their currency, Karabell said.
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