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China Under New Scrutiny by US Lawmakers

China has come under scrutiny again in the U.S. Congress. Congressional committees Wednesday examined growing Chinese involvement, and competition for resources in, the Western hemisphere, as well as China's intentions toward Taiwan.

China's growing military might, of concern primarily in East Asia, its monetary and trade policies, and what many see as Beijing's attempts to strategically expand its influence in the Western hemisphere, are hot topics on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, two separate House of Representatives' committees examined these issues, while U.S. officials offered their views.

Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega says the United States continues to monitor China's outreach in Latin America, particularly military to military contacts, to ensure U.S. interests and progress toward representative democracy are not compromised.

But he says it is unlikely China will replace the United States as the historically dominant economic, cultural, and political partner of countries in Central, and South America, and the Caribbean:

"China may be a growing presence in the hemisphere, as it is in the rest of the world, but it is safe to say the United States has been and will continue to be the long-term partner of preference, a preference that is not merely based on short-term economic deals but based on long-term objectives and shared values."

Mr. Noriega says it is natural for China, with the sixth largest economy in the world, to seek to expand economic and trade ties with the Western hemisphere.

Some lawmakers agree, but others believe there has been a "lack of engagement" by the United States.

In the view of Democratic Congressman William Delahunt, the United States is in danger of losing economic influence in Latin America, while democratic values have suffered serious blows. "That is what we're talking about, and if that doesn't happen we are going to see a continued erosion of the attitude that people all over Latin America have of the United States," he said. "One looks at the polling data and it is disturbing. They are losing confidence in democracy."

Congressman Dan Burton, chairman of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, says it is time Congress pay more attention to what he calls aggressive moves by China into Latin America. "Particularly over the last few years, communist China has moved aggressively into Latin America with billions of dollars of investment, trade agreements, and massive infrastructure development projects," he said.

Congressman Burton says China is exploiting what he calls an opening created by poverty, drug trafficking, weak labor standards, and a still immature approach to human rights.

He adds that Beijing is increasingly competing with the United States for oil from places like Venezuela, while flooding the region with cheap exports and driving up trade deficits.

The renewed focus on China came as Congress renews its focus on a separate but related issue and a key Bush administration priority, the Central American Free Trade Area or CAFTA.

Many lawmakers link China's economic and trade offensive in the Western hemisphere with CAFTA, noting the sharp increase in Chinese exports not only to the United States but to Latin American nations.

Members of Congress have introduced a number of pieces of legislation to address what they call unfair trade practices by China, including one proposing to deny Beijing PNTR, or permanent normal trade relations.

On Thursday, House lawmakers unveil what they call The Chinese Currency Act of 2005, which aims to pressure Beijing to revalue its currency.

In a separate hearing Wednesday, another congressional committee held the second hearing in recent weeks on China's anti-secession law and its impact on cross-strait relations with Taiwan.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Affairs Randall Shriver said Beijing appears to have realized that approval of the law by China's National People's Congress was a "big mistake."