U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans says China's slow progress in opening its markets is hurting its trade relationship with the United States.
In a speech to American businesspeople in Beijing Tuesday, the U.S. official said China's momentum in opening its markets might be slowing since it joined the World Trade Organization nearly two years ago.
U.S. officials say the China-U.S. trade deficit could reach $130 billion this year. Secretary Evans says the imbalance is causing friction between the two countries. He says U.S. patience is wearing thin.
"We have been patient," he said. "We know it takes time. We know transformation does not happen overnight. But if you see some degree of momentum and the process is slowing down, it begins to cause concern. We keep on looking at the number, and China's exports to the U.S. are five times the number of U.S. exports into China. So there is a significant imbalance between the two countries."
Secretary Evans says protectionist sentiments are increasing in the United States, with proposals in the U.S. Congress to impose a 27 percent tariff on Chinese goods.
The U.S. official's stern words drew a measured response from China's government Tuesday. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue is calling Mr. Evans' visit helpful and says China wants to improve trade ties with the United States.
"China's market will be opened and China stands ready to further expand its imports from the United States and develop its economic relations and trade with the United States," said Ms. Zhang. "It is a very clear message."
Ms. Zhang, however, offered no details of how China plans to address the U.S. concerns.
Secretary Evans' stop in Beijing this week is the latest in a series of visits by U.S. officials who are coming to demand that China reduce its trade deficit and revalue its currency, the yuan.
Political anger is rising in the United States among labor unions, manufacturers, and others who argue that China is keeping its currency artificially weak. They say the weak yuan makes Chinese products unfairly cheap and cheats Americans out of millions of jobs.
Analysts say that with the presidential elections nearly one year away, the Bush Administration is working hard to convey to U.S. voters that it is fighting to protect the interests of American workers and manufacturers.