Sino-American relations
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Map indicating location of China and USA
     China      United States

Sino-American or U.S.-China relations refers to international relations between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United States of America (USA). Most analysts have characterized present Sino-American relations as complex and multi-faceted, with the United States and the People's Republic of China being neither allies nor enemies. Generally, the U.S. government and military establishment do not regard the Chinese as an adversary, but as a competitor in some areas and a partner in others.

As of 2008, by purchasing power parity (PPP), the United States has the world's largest economy while China's economy is the second largest. China has the world's largest population while the United States' population is the third largest. The two countries are the two largest consumers of motor vehicles and oil.[1] They are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases and thus have a significant impact on climate change.[2]

Relations between the People's Republic of China and the United States have generally been stable with some periods of tension, especially after the breakup of the Soviet Union, which removed a common enemy and ushered in a world characterized by American dominance. There are also concerns which relate to human rights in the People's Republic of China and the political status of Taiwan.

While there are some irritants in Sino-American relations, there are also many stabilizing factors. The People's Republic of China and the United States are major trade partners and have common interests in the prevention and suppression of terrorism and in preventing nuclear proliferation. China is also the U.S.'s biggest foreign creditor. China's challenges and difficulties are also mainly internal, and therefore there is a desire on the part of the PRC to maintain stable relations with the United States. The Sino-American relationship has been described by top leaders and academics as the world's most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century.[3][4]

Images and conceptionsEdit

Much of the complexity of Sino-American relations comes from the images that the two have of themselves and of the other.

Within China, there is a love-hate relationship with the United States. On one hand, American consumerism and culture are seen as stylish. At the same time, there is resentment of American intervention into other nations' affairs, combined with a fear of American power. The Chinese are often perplexed at the stated motives of American foreign policy and tend to conclude that these goals (such as promoting freedom and democracy) are an insincere cover for darker motives, namely to make China weak and divided.

Americans tend to see China as a far off and distant land. People in the United States often believes that as part of their mission to advance freedom and democracy, they have the duty to advance the cause of human rights in China. Over the past 150 years, Americans have also tended to see the Chinese people as oppressed and abused by either the Japanese in World War II and more recently by the Communist Party of China. Americans do not generally accept the notion that many Chinese support the PRC government, because of its authoritarian nature, and are critical of the non-democratic government's ability to make decisions to benefit the Chinese people. Americans tend to believe that any authoritarian government is necessarily intolerable—a viewpoint not shared by most Chinese. As a result, Americans tend to be baffled by the suggestion that most Chinese people find American criticism of human rights "abuses" to be hypocritical and meddlesome.

Some in the United States, including diverse groups such as neoconservatives, labor activists, and environmentalists, view the PRC as having the potential to threaten American interests and allies.

Country comparisonEdit

22x20px People's Republic of China 22x20px United States of America
Area 9,596,961–9,639,688 km² (3,705,407–3,721,904 sq mi ) 9,629,091 km² (3,717,813 sq mi)
Population 1,345,751,000 308,169,000
Population Density 140/km² (363/sq mi) 31/km² (80/sq mi)
Capital Beijing Washington, D.C.
Largest City Shanghai - 18,884,600 New York City - 8,363,710 (19,006,798 metropolitan area)
Government Unitary socialist republic (one country, two systems) Federal presidential constitutional republic
Official languages Chinese (see the list) None at federal level
GDP (nominal) $4.327 trillion $14.441 trillion
GDP (PPP) $7.916 trillion $14.441 trillion
GDP (nominal) per capita $3,259 $47,440
GDP (PPP) per capita $5,963 $47,440
Human Development Index 0.772 0.956
Foreign exchange reserves 2,273,000 (millions of USD) 83,375 (millions of USD)
Military expenditures $70 billion $663.7 billion (FY 2010) [5]
Nuclear warheads 240 9,400
Active troops 2,255,000 1,473,900


Old China TradeEdit


First contact between the post-revolutionary Americans and the Chinese occurred during the voyage of the trader ship Empress of China, which arrived at Canton in 1784. Given the Chinese demand for raw goods as well as the American demand for anything remotely exotic, the voyage of the Empress was a financial windfall for its owners and thus began the lucrative Sino-American relationship known as the Old China Trade.

The result was the considerable exportation of specie, ginseng, and furs to China, not to mention the much larger influx of teas, cottons, silks, lacquerware, porcelains, and furniture to the United States. The merchants, who served as middlemen between the Chinese and American consumers, became fabulously wealthy from this trade, eventually giving rise to America's first generation of millionaires. In addition, many Chinese artisans began to notice the American desire for exotic wares and adjusted their practice accordingly, manufacturing goods made specifically for export. These export wares often sported American or European motifs in order to fully capitalize on the consumer demographic.

Opium WarsEdit

The end of the First Opium War in 1842 led to the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of Nanking[6], which forced open many Chinese ports to foreign trade. To this point, Sino-American relations had been conducted solely through trade; however, this new pact between the British and Chinese severely threatened further American business in the region. The John Tyler administration would thus secure the 1844 Treaty of Wangxia, which not only put American trade on par with the British but also secured Americans the right of extraterritoriality. This treaty effectively ended the era of the Old China Trade, giving the United States as many trading privileges as other foreign powers.

After China's defeat in the Second Opium War, the Xianfeng emperor fled Beijing and the Treaty of Tianjin was ratified by his brother, Yixin, the Prince Gong, in the Convention of Peking on October 18, 1860. This treaty stipulated, among other things, that along with Britain, France, and Russia, the United States would have the right to station legations in Beijing (a closed city at the time).

Chinese Exclusion ActEdit


During the California Gold Rush and the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, large numbers of Chinese emigrated to the US, spurring animosity by American citizens. After being forcibly driven from the mines, most Chinese settled in China Towns of cities such as San Francisco, and took up low end wage labor such as restaurant and laundry work. With the post Civil War economy in decline by the 1870s, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized by labor leader Dennis Kearney and his Workingman's Party as well as by the Governor of California, John Bigler, both of whom blamed Chinese "coolies" for depressed wage levels. In the first significant restriction on free immigration in U.S. history, the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act on May 6, 1882, following revisions made in 1880 to the Burlingame Treaty of 1868. Those revisions allowed the U.S. to suspend immigration, and Congress subsequently acted quickly to implement the suspension of Chinese immigration and exclude Chinese "skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining" from entering the country for ten years under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. The ban lasted for over 60 years.

The Boxer RebellionEdit


In 1899, a group of Chinese who called themselves the Society of Right and Harmonious Fists started a violent revolt in China, referred to by Westerners as the Boxer Rebellion, against foreign influence in areas such as trade, politics, religion and technology. The campaigns took place from November 1899 to 7 September 1901, during the final years of Manchu rule in China under the Qing Dynasty.

The uprising began as an anti-foreign, anti-imperialist peasant-based movement in northern China. They attacked foreigners who were building railroads and violating Feng shui, as well as Christians, who were held responsible for the foreign domination of China. In June 1900, the Boxers invaded Beijing and killed 230 foreign diplomats and foreigners as well as thousands of Chinese Christians, mostly in Shandong and Shanxi Provinces as part of the uprising. On June 21 Empress Dowager Cixi declared war against all Western powers, and diplomats, foreign civilians, soldiers and some Chinese Christians retreated to the legation quarter where they held out for fifty-five days until a coalition called the Eight-Nation Alliance of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, rushed 20,000 troops to their rescue.

The Chinese government was forced to indemnify the victims and make many additional concessions. Subsequent reforms implemented after the crisis of 1900 laid, at least in part, the end of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the modern Chinese Republic. The United States played a secondary but significant role in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion, largely due to the presence of U.S. ships and troops deployed in the Philippines since the U.S conquest of the Spanish American and Philippine-American War. In the United States military, the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion was known as the China Relief Expedition.

Open Door PolicyEdit

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In the late 19th century the major world powers, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia, began carving out spheres of influence amongst themselves in China, then under the Qing Dynasty. The United States, not having a sphere of their own, wanted this to stop. Therefore, in 1899, U.S. Secretary of State John Hay sent diplomatic notes to all of these powers, asking them to guarantee the territorial and administrative integrity of China, as well as to not interfere with the free use of treaty ports within their respective spheres of influence.[7] The major powers evaded responding, saying they could not commit to anything until all the other powers had assented first, but Hay took this as acceptance of his proposal, which came to be known as the Open Door Policy.

The Open Door Policy, while generally respected internationally, did suffer serious setbacks. The first one occurred with Russian encroachment in Manchuria in the late 1890s. Protested by the U.S., it would lead to a Russian war with Japan in 1904. Japan then presented a further challenge to the Policy with its Twenty-One Demands in 1915 (of the then Republic of China (ROC)). Japan also concluded secret treaties with the Allies which promised Japan the German territories in China. However, the biggest setback to the Open Door Policy came in 1931, when Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria, setting up the puppet state of Manchukuo. The United States, along with other countries, strongly condemned the action but did little at the time to stop it.

World War IIEdit

The outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 saw aid flow into the Republic of China (ROC, which was led by Chiang Kai-shek) from the United States (under President Franklin D. Roosevelt). A series of Neutrality Acts had been passed in the U.S. with the support of isolationists that forbade American aid to countries at war. However, since the Second Sino-Japanese War was undeclared, Roosevelt denied that a state of war existed in China and proceeded to send aid to Chiang.

American public sympathy for the Chinese was aroused by reports from missionaries, novelists such as Pearl Buck, and Time Magazine of Japanese brutality in China, including those surrounding the "Nanking Massacre." Japanese-American relations were further soured by the USS Panay Incident during the bombing of Nanjing. Roosevelt demanded an apology from the Japanese, which was received, but relations between the two countries would continue to deteriorate. Edgar Snow's 1937 book Red Star Over China reported that Mao Zedong's Chinese Communist Party was effective in carrying out reforms and fighting the Japanese. When open war broke out in the summer of 1937, however, the United States offered moral support but took no effective action.

China formally declared war on Japan in 1941 following the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the Americans into World War II. Massive amounts of aid were given by the Roosevelt administration to Chiang's beleaguered government, now headquartered in Chongqing. Madame Chiang Kaishek[8], who had been educated in the United States, addressed the American Congress and toured the country to rally support for China. Congress amended the discrimination against Chinese immigration and Roosevelt moved to end the unequal treaties. However, a perception grew that Chiang's government was unable to effectively resist the Japanese, or that he preferred to focus more on defeating the Communists. Americans debated policy. China Hands such as Joseph Stilwell argued that it was in American interest to establish communication with the Communists to prepare for a land based counter-offensive in invasion of Japan. The Dixie Mission, starting in 1943, was the first official American contact with the Communists. Others, such as Claire Chennault, argued for air power. In 1944, Generalissimo Chiang acceded to Roosevelt's request that an American general take charge of all forces in the area, but demanded that Stilwell be recalled. General Albert Wedemeyer replaced Stilwell, and Patrick Hurley became Ambassador.

After World War II ended in 1945, the obvious hostility between the ROC and the CCP exploded into open civil war. General Douglas MacArthur directed the military forces under Chiang Kai-shek to go to the island of Taiwan to accept the surrender of Japanese troops, thus beginning the military occupation of Taiwan. American general George C. Marshall tried to broker a truce between the ROC and the CCP in 1946, but it quickly came undone, and the Nationalist cause went steadily downhill until 1949, when the Communists emerged victorious and drove the Nationalists from the Chinese mainland onto Taiwan and other islands. Mao established the People's Republic of China (PRC) in mainland China,[9] while the ROC still remains in Taiwan and other islands.

People's Republic of ChinaEdit

For 30 years after its founding, the United States did not formally recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC). Instead, it maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of China government on Taiwan, and recognized the ROC as the sole legitimate government of all China.

As the People's Liberation Army moved south to complete the communist conquest of mainland China in 1949, the American embassy followed the Republic of China government headed by Chiang Kai-shek to Taipei later that year. U.S. consular officials remained in mainland China. However, the new PRC Government was hostile to this official American presence, and all U.S. personnel were withdrawn from mainland China in early 1950.

Korean WarEdit


Any remaining hope of normalizing relations ended when the U.S. and PRC's forces fought directly against each other in the Korean War stating on November 1, 1950. In response to the Soviet-backed North Korean invasion of South Korea, the United Nations Security Council was convened and passed the UNSC Resolution 82 condemning the North Korean aggression unanimously. The resolution was adopted mainly because the Soviet Union, a veto-wielding power, had been boycotting proceedings since January, in protest that the Republic of China (Taiwan) and not the People's Republic of China held a permanent seat on the council.[10] Once the American-led UN forces counter-attacked and pushed the invading North Korean Army back past the North/South border at the 38th parallel north and further into the north and began to approach the Yalu river on the Sino-Korea border, the PRC undertook a massive intervention into the conflict on the side of the communists. The Chinese struck in the west, along the Chongchon River, and completely overran several South Korean divisions and successfully landed a heavy blow to the flank of the remaining UN forces. The ensuing defeat of the U.S. Eighth Army resulted in the longest retreat of any American military unit in history.[11] Heavy casualties were sustained on both sides, before the UN forces were able to repel the PRC back, near the original division. At the end of March 1951, after the Chinese had moved large amounts of new forces near the Korean border, U.S. bomb loading pits at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa were made operational, and bombs were assembled there "lacking only the essential nuclear cores." On April 5, the Joint Chiefs of Staff released orders for immediate retaliatory attacks using atomic weapons against Manchurian bases in the event that large numbers of new Chinese troops entered into the fights or bombing attacks originated from those bases. On the same day, Truman gave his approval for transfer of nine Mark IV nuclear capsules "to the air force's Ninth Bomb Group, the designated carrier of the weapons" and "the president signed an order to use them against Chinese and Korean targets." Two years of continued and often locally bitter fighting ended in an overall stalemate that ensued while negotiations dragged on, until a cease-fire was agreed to on the 27 July 1953. The war officially has not ended, and the Korean issue has had an important role in Sino-American relations ever since. The entry of the Chinese in the Korean War caused a shift in US policy toward Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist government (confined to the island of Taiwan) from marginal support to full blown defense of Taiwan from any aggression by the PRC.

Vietnam WarEdit

The People's Republic of China's involvement in the Vietnam War began in 1949, when the communists took over the country. The Communist Party of China provided material and technical support to the Vietnamese communists. In the summer of 1962, Mao Zedong agreed to supply Hanoi with 90,000 rifles and guns free of charge. After the launch of "Rolling Thunder", China sent anti-aircraft units and engineering battalions to North Vietnam to repair the damage caused by American bombing, rebuild roads and railroads, and to perform other engineering work. This freed North Vietnamese army units for combat in the South. Between 1965 and 1970, over 320,000 Chinese soldiers fought the Americans along side the North Vietnamese Army. The peak came in 1967, when 170,000 troops served there. China lost 1,446 troops in the Vietnam War. The US lost 58,159 in combat against the NVA, Vietcong, and their allied forces including the Chinese.

Relations frozenEdit

The United States continued to work to prevent the PRC from taking China's seat in the United Nations and encouraged its allies not to deal with the PRC. The United States placed an embargo on trading with the PRC, and encouraged allies to follow it. The PRC developed nuclear weapons in 1964 and, as later declassified documents revealed, President Johnson considered preemptive attacks to halt its nuclear program. Ultimately he decided the measure was too risky and it was abandoned.

Despite this official non-recognition, beginning in 1954 and continuing until 1970, the United States and the People's Republic of China held 136 meetings at the ambassadorial level, first in Geneva and later in Warsaw.


Both the PRC and the U.S. had issued feelers to try to improve relations between the two major powers. This became an especially important concern for the People's Republic of China after the Sino-Soviet border clashes of 1969. The PRC was diplomatically isolated and the leadership came to believe that improved relations with the United States would be a useful counterbalance to the Soviet threat. Zhou Enlai, the PRC premier foreign minister, was at the forefront of this effort, but he had the committed backing of Mao.

File:Kissinger Mao.jpg

In the United States, academics such as John K. Fairbank and A. Doak Barnett pointed to the need to deal realistically with the Beijing government, while organizations such as National Committee on United States-China Relations sponsored debate to promote public awareness. Many saw the specter of Communist China behind the communist movements in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, but a growing number concluded that if the PRC would align with the U.S. it would mean a major redistribution of global power against the Soviets. Mainland China's market of over a billion consumers appealed to American business.

Senator William Fulbright, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a series of hearings and Mike Mansfield, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader was indirectly approached by the PRC and passed a note on to the State Department and President Richard Nixon

Nixon had long been interested in Asia as well and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger believed approaching the PRC would be valuable. Domestic political concerns also entered into Nixon's thinking; the boost from a successful courting of the PRC could help him greatly in the 1972 American presidential election. He also worried immensely that one of the Democrats would preempt him and go to the PRC before he had the opportunity.

Communications were ongoing between the PRC and American leadership through the intermediaries of Pakistan and Romania.

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In 1969, the United States thus initiated measures to relax trade restrictions and other impediments to bilateral contact, to which China responded. However, the rapprochement process was stalled by U.S. actions in Indochina until on April 6, 1971 the young American ping pong player, Glenn Cowan, missed his U.S. team bus and was waved by a Chinese table tennis player onto the bus of the Chinese team at the 31st World Table Tennis Championship in Nagoya, Japan. Cowan spoke with the Chinese players in a friendly fashion, and the Chinese player, Zhuang Zedong, a three-time World Men's Singles Champion, presented him with a silk-screen portrait of the famous Huangshan Mountains. While this had been a purely spontaneous gesture of friendship between two athletes, the PRC chose to treat it as an officially sanctioned outreach. Zhuang Zedong spoke about the incident in a 2007 talk at the USC U.S.-China Institute (video).According to sources of information from the PRC, the friendly contact between Zhuang Zedong and Glenn Cowan, as well as the photograph of the two players in Dacankao, had an impact on Mao's decision making. He had earlier decided not to invite the U.S. team along with teams of other western countries that had been invited. Later known as Ping Pong Diplomacy, the PRC responded by inviting the American ping pong team to tour mainland China. The Americans agreed and on April 10, 1971 the athletes became the first Americans to officially visit China since the communist takeover in 1949.[12]

In July 1971 Henry Kissinger, while on a trip to Pakistan, feigned illness and did not appear in public for a day. He was actually on a top-secret mission to Beijing to open relations with the government of the PRC. On July 15, 1971, President Richard Nixon revealed the mission to the world and that he had been invited to visit the PRC and that he had accepted.

This announcement caused immediate shock around the world. In the United States, some of the most hardline anti-communists spoke against the decision, but public opinion supported the move and Nixon saw the jump in the polls he had been hoping for. Since Nixon had sterling anti-communist credentials he was all but immune to being called "soft on communism."

Within the PRC there was also opposition from left-wing elements. This effort was allegedly led by Lin Biao, head of the military. Lin Biao, however, died in a mysterious plane crash over Mongolia while trying to defect to the Soviet Union, silencing most internal dissent over the move.

Internationally, the reactions varied. The Soviets were immensely concerned that two major enemies seemed to have resolved their differences, and the new world alignment contributed significantly to the policy of détente.

America's European allies and Canada were pleased by the initiative, especially since many of them had already recognized the PRC. In Asia, the reaction was far more mixed. Japan was extremely annoyed that it had not been told of the announcement until fifteen minutes before it had been made, and feared that the Americans were abandoning them in favor of the PRC. A short time later, Japan also recognized the PRC and would commit to substantial trade with the continental power. South Korea and South Vietnam were both concerned that peace between the United States and the PRC could mean an end to support for them against their communist enemies. Throughout the period of rapprochement both these states had to be regularly assured that they would not be abandoned.

From February 21 to February 28, 1972, President Nixon traveled to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. At the conclusion of his trip, the U.S. and the PRC issued the Shanghai Communiqué, a statement of their respective foreign policy views. In the Communiqué, both nations pledged to work toward the full normalization of diplomatic relations. The U.S. acknowledged the PRC position that all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The statement enabled the U.S. and PRC to temporarily set aside the "crucial question [Taiwan] obstructing the normalization of relations" and to open trade and other contacts.

The rapprochement with the United States benefited the PRC immensely and greatly increased its security for the rest of the Cold War. It has been argued that the United States, on the other hand, saw fewer benefits than it had hoped for. The PRC continued to heavily support North Vietnam in the Vietnam War and also backed the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Eventually, however, PRC's suspicion of Vietnam's motives would lead to a break in Sino-Vietnamese cooperation and, upon the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979, the Sino-Vietnamese War. Both China and the United States would back combatants in Africa against Soviet and Cuban supported movements. The economic benefits of normalization were slow as it would take decades for American products to penetrate the vast Chinese market. While Nixon's China policy is regarded by many as the highlight of his presidency, others such as William Bundy, have argued that it provided very little benefit to the United States.

Liaison Office, 1973-1978Edit

In May 1973, in an effort to build toward the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, the U.S. and the PRC established the United States Liaison Office (USLO) in Beijing and a counterpart PRC office in Washington, DC. In the years between 1973 and 1978, such distinguished Americans as David K. E. Bruce, George H. W. Bush, Thomas S. Gates, and Leonard Woodcock served as chiefs of the USLO with the personal rank of Ambassador.

President Gerald Ford visited the PRC in 1975 and reaffirmed the U.S.'s interest in normalizing relations with Beijing. Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter again reaffirmed the goals of the Shanghai Communiqué. Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and senior staff member of the National Security Council Michel Oksenberg encouraged Carter to seek full diplomatic and trade relations with China. Brzezinkski and Oksenberg traveled to Beijing in early 1978 to work with Leonard Woodcock, then head of the liaison office, to lay the groundwork to do so. The United States and the People's Republic of China announced on December 15, 1978 that the two governments would establish diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979.

Normalization to Tian'anmenEdit

In the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations dated January 1, 1979, the United States transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The U.S. reiterated the Shanghai Communiqué's acknowledgment of the Chinese position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China; Beijing acknowledged that the American people would continue to carry on commercial, cultural, and other unofficial contacts with the people of Taiwan. The Taiwan Relations Act (text) made the necessary changes in U.S. domestic law to permit such unofficial relations with Taiwan to flourish.

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Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping's January 1979 visit to Washington, DC initiated a series of important, high-level exchanges, which continued until the spring of 1989. This resulted in many bilateral agreements - especially in the fields of scientific, technological, and cultural interchange as well as trade relations. Since early 1979, the United States and the PRC have initiated hundreds of joint research projects and cooperative programs under the Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology, the largest bilateral program. (Click here to see a video of Deng Xiaoping's 1979 visit to the United States.)

On March 1, 1979 the United States and the People's Republic of China formally established embassies in Beijing and Washington, DC. In 1979 outstanding private claims were resolved and a bilateral trade agreement was concluded. Vice President Walter Mondale reciprocated Vice Premier Deng's visit with an August 1979 trip to China. This visit led to agreements in September 1980 on maritime affairs, civil aviation links, and textile matters, as well as a bilateral consular convention.

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As a consequence of high-level and working-level contacts initiated in 1980, U.S. dialogue with the PRC broadened to cover a wide range of issues, including global and regional strategic problems, political-military questions, including arms control, UN and other multilateral organization affairs, and international narcotics matters.

The expanding relationship that followed normalization was threatened in 1981 by PRC objections to the level of U.S. arms sales to the Republic of China on Taiwan. Secretary of State Alexander Haig visited China in June 1981 in an effort to resolve Chinese questions about America's unofficial relations with Taiwan. Eight months of negotiations produced the U.S.-PRC joint communiqué of August 17, 1982. In this third communiqué, the U.S. stated its intention to gradually reduce the level of arms sales to the Republic of China, and the PRC described as a fundamental policy their effort to strive for a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan question. Meanwhile, Vice President Bush visited the PRC in May 1982.

High-level exchanges continued to be a significant means for developing U.S.-PRC relations in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan and Premier Zhao Ziyang made reciprocal visits in 1984. In July 1985, President Li Xiannian traveled to the United States, the first such visit by a PRC head of state. Vice President Bush visited the PRC in October 1985 and opened the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu, the U.S.'s fourth consular post in the PRC. Further exchanges of cabinet-level officials occurred between 1985–1989, capped by President Bush's visit to Beijing in February 1989.

In the period before the June 3–4, 1989 crackdown, a large and growing number of cultural exchange activities undertaken at all levels gave the American and Chinese peoples broad exposure to each other's cultural, artistic, and educational achievements. Numerous mainland Chinese professional and official delegations visited the United States each month. Many of these exchanges continued after the suppression of the Tiananmen protests.

Tian'anmen to September 11th, 2001Edit

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Following the Chinese authorities' suppression of demonstrators in June 1989, the U.S. and other governments enacted a number of measures to express their condemnation of the PRC's violation of human rights. The U.S. suspended high-level official exchanges with the PRC and weapons exports from the U.S. to the PRC. The U.S. also imposed a number of economic sanctions. In the summer of 1990, at the G7 Houston summit, Western nations called for renewed political and economic reforms in mainland China, particularly in the field of human rights.

Tian'anmen disrupted the U.S.-PRC trade relationship, and U.S. investors' interest in mainland China dropped dramatically. The U.S. government also responded to the political repression by suspending certain trade and investment programs on June 5 and 20, 1989. Some sanctions were legislated; others were executive actions. Examples include:

  • The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) - new activities in mainland China were suspended from June 1989 until January 2001, when then-President Bill Clinton lifted this suspension.
  • Overseas Private Insurance Corporation (OPIC) - new activities suspended since June 1989.
  • Development Bank Lending/International Monetary Fund (IMF) Credits - the United States does not support development bank lending and will not support IMF credits to the PRC except for projects that address basic human needs.
  • Munitions List Exports - subject to certain exceptions, no licenses may be issued for the export of any defense article on the U.S. Munitions List. This restriction may be waived upon a presidential national interest determination.
  • Arms Imports - import of defense articles from the PRC was banned after the imposition of the ban on arms exports to the PRC. The import ban was subsequently waived by the Administration and reimposed on May 26, 1994. It covers all items on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' Munitions Import List. During this critical period, J. Stapleton Roy, a career U.S. Foreign Service Officer, served as ambassador to Beijing. (He spoke at the USC U.S.-China Institute about the state of U.S.-China relations in 2007 (text and video).

In 1996, the PRC conducted military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in an apparent effort to intimidate the Republic of China (ROC) electorate before the pending presidential elections, triggering the Third Taiwan Straits Crisis. The United States dispatched two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region. Subsequently, tensions in the Taiwan Strait diminished, and relations between the U.S. and the PRC improved, with increased high-level exchanges and progress on numerous bilateral issues, including human rights, nonproliferation, and trade. President Jiang Zemin visited the United States in the fall of 1997, the first state visit to the U.S. by a PRC president since 1985. In connection with that visit, the two sides came to a consensus on implementation of their 1985 agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, as well as a number of other issues (U.Hawaii, 1997). President Clinton visited the PRC in June 1998. He traveled extensively in mainland China, and had direct interaction with the Chinese people included live speeches and a radio show, allowing the President to convey first hand to the Chinese people a sense of American ideals and values. President Clinton was criticized by some, however, for failing to pay adequate attention to human rights abuses in mainland China (Eckholm).

Relations between the U.S. and the PRC were severely strained for a time by the NATO Bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999, accredited to an intelligence error but which some Chinese believed to be deliberate. By the end of 1999, relations began to gradually improve. In October 1999, the two sides reached agreement on humanitarian payments for families of those who died and those who were injured as well as payments for damages to respective diplomatic properties in Belgrade and China.

In April 2001, a PRC J-8 fighter jet collided with a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft, flying south of the PRC, in what became known as the Hainan Island incident. The EP-3 was able to make an emergency landing on PRC's Hainan Island despite extensive damage; the PRC aircraft crashed with the loss of its pilot, Wang Wei. It was widely believed that the EP-3 recon aircraft was conducting a spying mission on the Chinese Armed Forces before the collision. Following extensive negotiations resulting in the "letter of the two sorries", the crew of the EP-3 was released from imprisonment and allowed to leave the PRC 11 days later, but the U.S. aircraft was not permitted to depart for another three months. Subsequently, the relationship, which had cooled following the incident, gradually improved.

Bush administrationEdit


Sino-American relations changed radically following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The PRC offered strong public support for the war on terrorism. The PRC voted in favor of UNSCR 1373, publicly supported the coalition campaign in Afghanistan[citation needed], and contributed $150 million of bilateral assistance to Afghan reconstruction following the defeat of the Taliban. Shortly after 9/11, the U.S. and PRC also commenced a counterterrorism dialogue. The third round of that dialogue was held in Beijing in February 2003.

In the United States, the terrorist attacks greatly changed the nature of discourse. It was no longer plausible to argue, as the blue team had earlier asserted, that the PRC was the primary security threat to the United States, and the need to focus on the Middle East and the War on Terror made it a priority for the United States to avoid potential distractions in East Asia.

Initially, there were fears among the PRC leadership that the war on terrorism would lead to an anti-PRC effort by the U.S., especially as the U.S. began establishing bases in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and renewed efforts against Iraq. Because of the setbacks the U.S. faced in its Iraq campaign, these fears have largely subsided. Many PRC citizens died in the World Trade Center rubble, and mainland Chinese companies and individuals sent expressions of condolences to their U.S. counterparts. The application of American power in Iraq and continuing efforts by the United States to cooperate with the PRC has significantly reduced the popular anti-Americanism that had been fostered in the mid-1990s.

The PRC and the U.S. have also been working closely on regional issues, such as those pertaining to North Korea (the DPRK) and its nuclear weapons program. The People's Republic of China has stressed its opposition to the DPRK's decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, its concerns over North Korea's nuclear capabilities, and its desire for a non-nuclear Korean peninsula. It also voted to refer the DPRK's noncompliance with its International Atomic Energy Agency obligations to the UN Security Council.

Taiwan remains a volatile issue, but one that remains under control. The United States policy toward Taiwan has involved emphasizing the Four Noes and One Without. On occasion the United States rebuked ROC President Chen Shui-bian for provocative pro-independence rhetoric. However, in 2005, the PRC passed an anti-secession law which stated that the PRC would be prepared to resort to "non-peaceful means" if Taiwan declared formal independence. Many critics of the PRC, such as the Blue team, argue that the PRC was trying to take advantage of the U.S. war in Iraq to assert its claims on ROC's territory. In 2008, Taiwan voters elected Ma Ying-jeou. Ma, representing the Kuomintang, campaigned on a platform that included rapprochement with mainland China. His election is seen as having a significant implications for the future of cross-strait relations.[13]

China's president Hu Jintao visited the United States in April 2006.[14] Clark Randt, U.S. Ambassador to China from 2001 to 2008 examined "The State of U.S.-China Relations in a 2008 lecture at the USC U.S.-China Institute.[15]

Obama administrationEdit

File:Obama Basketball S&ED.jpg

The 2008 U.S. presidential election centered on issues of war and economic decline, but candidates Barack Obama and John McCain also spoke extensively regarding U.S. policy toward China. [17] Both favored cooperation with China on major issues, but they differed with regard to trade policy. Obama expressed concern that the value of China's currency was being deliberately set low to benefit China's exporters. McCain argued that free trade was crucial and was having a transformative effect in China. McCain, though, noted that while China might have shared interests with the U.S., it did not share American values.

With Barack Obama taking office on January 20, 2009, there are hopes for increased co-operation and heightened levels of friendship between the two nations. On November 8, 2008, Hu Jintao and Barack Obama had a phone conversation in which the Chinese President congratulated Obama on his election victory. During the conversation both parties agreed that the development of US-China relations is not only in the interest of both nations, but also in the interests of the world.[18][19]

Other organizations within China also held positive reactions to the election of Barack Obama, particularly his commitment to radical climate change policy. Greenpeace published an online article detailing how Obama's victory will spell positive change for investment in the Green Jobs sector as part of a response to the financial crisis that gripped the world at the time of Obama's coming to office.[20] A number of organizations, including the U.S. Departments of Energy and Commerce, NGOs such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, and universities have been working with Chinese counterparts to discuss ways to address climate change. Both U.S. and Chinese governments have addressed the economic downturn with massive stimulus initiatives. The Chinese have expressed concern that "Buy American" components of the U.S. plan are discriminate against foreign, including Chinese, producers.[21]

As the two most influential and powerful countries in the world, there has been increasingly strong suggestions within American political circles of creating a G-2 (Chimerica) relationship where the United States and China would work out solutions to global problems together.[22]

The Strategic Economic Dialogue initiated by then U.S. President Bush and Chinese President Hu and led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi in 2006 has been broadened by the Obama administration. Now called the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and led by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner for the United States and Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo for the Chinese side, the focus of the first set of meetings in July 2009 was in responding to the economic crisis, finding ways to cooperate to stem global warming, and addressing issues such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons and humanitarian crises.[23]

US President Barack Obama visited China on November 15-18, 2009, to discuss of economic worries, concerns over nuclear weapons proliferation, and the need to act to stem climate change.[24] The USC US-China Institute produced a digest of press comments on this visit and on earlier presidential trips.[25]

Important issuesEdit

Human rightsEdit

In 2003 the United States declared that despite some positive momentum that year and greater signs that the People's Republic of China was willing to engage with the U.S. and others on human rights there was still serious backsliding. The PRC government has acknowledged in principle the importance of protection of human rights in mainland China and has purported to take steps to bring its human rights practices into conformity with international norms. Among these steps are signature of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in October 1997 (ratified in March 2001) and signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in October 1998 (not yet ratified). In 2002, the PRC released a significant number of political and religious prisoners, and agreed to interact with United Nations experts on torture, arbitrary detention and religion. However, international human rights groups assert that there has been virtually no movement on these promises, with more people being arrested for similar offences subsequently. Such groups maintain that the PRC still has a long way to go in instituting the kind of fundamental systemic change that will protect the rights and liberties of all its citizens in mainland China. The U.S. State Department publishes an annual report on human rights around the world. That report includes an evaluation of China's human rights record. In 2008, the State Department still found much to criticize about China's government's human rights record, but dropped China from its list of states with the greatest human rights violations. The 2008 report was issued on March 11, 2008. (report). The 2009 report was issued on February 25, 2009 (report)

To counter this, China has published a White Paper annually since 1998 detailing the human rights abuses by the United States, as well as its own progress in this area. The 2001 report criticizing U.S. human rights can be seen here. The 2008 report was issued two days after the U.S. State Department issued its report (document). The 2009 report was also issued two days after the US report (document).

Since October 19, 2005 the PRC government has also published its White Paper on its own democratic progress.[26] In November 2007, the Chinese government published a White Paper on the role of the Communist and other parties in China.[27] (Click here for video on the human rights issue.)

Additional attention on human rights concerns followed riots in Xinjiang that took more than 150 lives. The autonomous region's telephone to other countries and all internet links were severed. A number of people have subsequently been arrested and some have been sentenced to death. The Chinese government charged Rebiya Kadeer and the World Uyghur Congress with having incited the violence, a charge they reject. At the end of 2009, human rights conditions in China were again in the spotlight because Liu Xiaobo, a dissident and co-author of Charter 08, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for inciting state subversion. This is the longest sentence for the crime since the 1997 retooling of China's laws on such crimes. At the time of his sentencing, Liu had been in police custody for more than a year.

Military spendingEdit

PRC's military budget is often mentioned as a threat by many, such as the Blue Team in the United States.[citation needed] The PRC's investment in its military is growing at a fast rate. The United States, along with independent analysts, remain convinced that PRC conceals the real extent of its military spending.[28][29] According to the PRC government, China spent $45 billion on defense in 2007 [30]. In contrast, the United States has a $623-billion budget for the military in 2008, $123 billion more than the combined military budgets of all other countries in the world.[31] Some very broad US estimates, however, maintain that PRC military is roughly spending between $85 billion and $125 billion. According to official figures, the PRC spent $123 million on defense per day in 2007. As a comparison, in 2007, the US spent $1.7 billion ($1,660 million) per day.[32]

The concerns over the Chinese military budget may be caused by US worries that the PRC is attempting to challenge the United States or threaten their neighbors. Concerns have been raised that China is developing a large naval base near the South China Sea and has diverted resources from the People's Liberation Army Ground Force to the Peoples Liberation Army Navy and to air force and missile development.[33] However, even using the U.S. Defense Department's estimate of total Chinese defense spending, China's military spending is only a fourth of U.S. spending.[30] The true intention of China's military growth still remains a mystery, and it's unproven that China has any clear aggressive aims. Evidently however, when looked at as a percentage of GDP, US military spending is higher than China's spending.[34]

Andrew Scobell wrote that under President Hu, objective civilian control and oversight of the PLA appears to be weakly applied.[35]

On October 27, 2009, American Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised steps China has taken to increase transparency of defense spending.[36]

Republic of China (Taiwan)Edit

The Republic of China remains a focus of difficulties in the relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China. Although the PRC has never governed Taiwan, the PRC claims Taiwan as a 23rd province and has repeatedly threatened to take it by force. The United States exports large amounts of weaponry to the ROC and there is a great deal of sympathy for Taiwan partly because it, unlike the PRC, has transformed into a pluralistic, liberal democracy and because of residual sympathy over the ROC's anti-communism during the Cold War. Any accession of the ROC to the PRC may also change the balance of power in that region in both political and military terms; this potentiality has been of increasing concern to Japan, a traditional ally of Taiwan and an ally of the ROC since its relocation to Taipei, as well.

Officially, U.S. policy is governed by the Taiwan Relations Act (text), by the Six Assurances, and by the Three Communiques; it has stated a commitment to a one China policy in which it acknowledges the PRC's position that Taiwan is part of China, but does indicate whether it agrees with that position. The strength of that commitment and the relationship between these policies, which may seem contradictory, changes from administration to administration.

On Taiwan, there is a general public consensus in favor of the status quo. However, some supporters of Taiwan independence, such as Lee Teng-hui, have expressed the idea that Taiwan must act quickly to formally declare independence because the long term trends favor increased Chinese economic and military power. Given the PRC's threats to invade if Taiwan formally declares independence, and the USA's commitments to Taiwan in the Taiwan Relations Act, such a declaration would put the United States in a difficult position. In several cases in which the administration of Chen Shui-bian appeared to be moving away from the status-quo and toward de jure independence, the United States has asked for and received assurances that the ROC remains committed to the "Four Noes and One Without" policy.

U.S.-China economic relationsEdit

The PRC and the U.S. resumed trade relations in 1972 and 1973. U.S. direct investment in mainland China covers a wide range of manufacturing sectors, several large hotel projects, restaurant chains, and petrochemicals. U.S. companies have entered agreements establishing more than 20,000 equity joint ventures, contractual joint ventures, and wholly foreign-owned enterprises in mainland China. More than 100 U.S.-based multinationals have projects in mainland China, some with multiple investments. Cumulative U.S. investment in mainland China is valued at $48 billion. The U.S. trade deficit with mainland China exceeded $350 billion in 2006 and was the United States' largest bilateral trade deficit.[37] Some of the factors that influence the U.S. trade deficit with mainland China include:

  • The strength of the U.S. economy: a shift of low-end assembly industries to mainland China from the newly industrialized countries (NICs) in Asia. Mainland China has increasingly become the last link in a long chain of value-added production. Because U.S. trade data attributes the full value of a product to the final assembler, mainland Chinese value added is overcounted.
  • U.S. demand for labor-intensive goods exceeds domestic output. The PRC has restrictive trade practices in mainland China, which include a wide array of barriers to foreign goods and services, often aimed at protecting state-owned enterprises. These practices include high tariffs, lack of transparency, requiring firms to obtain special permission to import goods, inconsistent application of laws and regulations, and leveraging technology from foreign firms in return for market access. Mainland China's accession to World Trade Organization is meant to help address these barriers.
  • The undervaluation of the Renminbi relative to the United States Dollar.[38]

At the September 2002 Joint Economic Committee meeting in Washington, the United States and People's Republic of China discussed strengthening cooperation in fighting terrorist finance and money laundering, prospects for foreign direct investment in mainland China's financial services, and the regional reliance on U.S. macroeconomic developments. Mainland China's continued strong growth has made it an important regional engine of growth, and the PRC reiterated its commitment to a strategy of market reforms and global economic openness.

Beginning in 2006, the U.S. and China agreed to hold regular high level talks about economic issues and other mutual concerns by establishing the China-U.S. strategic economic dialogue which meets biannually. Five meetings have been held, the most recent in December 2008. Economic nationalism seems to be rising in both countries, a point the leaders of the two delegations noted in their opening presentations (Wu Yi, PRC Vice Premier, Henry Paulson, Jr., U.S. Treasury Secretary Click here for video on trade tensions).

The U.S. and China have also established the high-level U.S.-China Senior Dialogue to discuss international political issues and work out resolutions.

In September 2009 a trade dispute emerged between China and the United States which came after the US imposed tariffs of 35 per cent on Chinese tyre imports. The Chinese commerce minister accused the United States of a "grave act of trade protectionism" and China is taking the dispute to the World Trade Organisation. Additional issues were raised by both sides in subsequent months.[39][40]

See alsoEdit


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  6. English language text of the Treaty of Nanking: [3]
  7. Text of the first Open Door note, to Germany: [4]
  8. See Laura Tyson Li, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek : China's Eternal First Lady (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006).
  9. Mao announced the creation of the PRC government on Sept. 21, 1949 [5]
  10. Malkasian, Carter (2001). The Korean War: Essential Histories. Osprey Publishing. pp. 16. 
  11. Cohen, Eliot A; Gooch, John (2005). Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War. Free Press. pp. 165–195. ISBN 0743280822. 
  12. [6]
  14. Text of Pres. Bush's welcome
  15. Click here for a streaming video version of the lecture
  16. Details and video from the meeting[7]
  17. Video and documents: Obama and China [8]; McCain and China [9].
  18. [10]
  19. [11]
  24. The aims and challenges of the trip were summarized by the USC US-China Institute: [12], [13].
  25. Instant Analysis: Reporting on US Presidents in China [14]
  26. [15]
  27. [16]
  28. [17]
  29. [18]
  30. 30.0 30.1 [19]
  31. [20]
  32. [21]
  33. [22]
  34. SIPRI military expenditure database
  35. Is There a Civil-Military Gap in China's. Peaceful Rise?
  36. Time to end 'on-again-off-again' US-China ties: Pentagon
  37. Graph showing US-China trade [23]; source [24]
  38. World Economic Outlook Database, April 2007
  39. Statistics on world trade, list of US-China WTO complaints [25]
  40. China slaps deposits/tariffs on US steel exports; US politicians rant about China [26]

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

fr:Relations entre la Chine et les États-Unis it:G2 (Cina-USA) ja:米中関係 pt:Relações entre China e Estados Unidos zh:中美关系

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