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US-China Agenda Encompasses Many Contentious Issues

As President Bush prepares to visit China later this week, he has received calls from a variety of groups that are hoping he will raise specific issues with the Chinese government. These issues include human rights, trade and Tibet.

The list of U.S.-China issues is long. Human rights organizations want President Bush to raise criticisms of China's human rights record. Other groups go even further, urging the U.S. leader to bring up human rights violations in the context of North Korea.

The issue of Tibet was highlighted by none other than exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who met with Mr. Bush at the White House last week, before the president left on his current trip to Asia. The Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gyari, said he believes Beijing will take greater notice of the Tibetan position if President Bush adds his voice.

"I think the Chinese leaders are much more responsive to international concern. I don't want to use the word pressure, [but] international concern," he said.

The Dalai Lama's remote Himalayan homeland is part of China. The Tibetan spiritual leader rejects Beijing's accusations that he is seeking independence, and maintains he is only seeking autonomy and cultural respect.

Meanwhile, President Bush has shined the spotlight on a thorny issue at the heart of U.S.-China relations, by praising Taiwan's democratic development, in a speech Wednesday in Japan.

"Modern Taiwan is free and democratic and prosperous," noted Mr. Bush. "By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society."

Taiwan is an independently-governed island that Beijing claims as part of Chinese territory. In his speech, President Bush pointed to Taiwan as an example for China, saying economic development helped fuel the island's political liberalization. At the same time, he repeated the U.S. government's long-standing one China policy that urges peaceful resolution of the differences between China and Taiwan.

Meanwhile, U.S.-China economic issues will also be important items on the President's agenda. Earlier this month, the U.S.- China Economic and Security Review Commission issued its annual report. Among other issues raised, the commission accused China of manipulating its currency exchange rate and not adequately enforcing intellectual property rights violations.

Commission chair Richard D'Amato indicated there is growing impatience in the United States for these issues to be resolved.

"Our overall conclusion, that, on balance, the trends in the U.S.-China relationship have negative implications for the long-term economic and security interests of the United States," he said. "We are urging greater efforts be made to make progress on this agenda."

U.S. officials say they expect the U.S. trade deficit with China to reach $200 billion by the end of this year. In his speech, President Bush noted these economic concerns, saying he expects to hold what he described as "frank" discussions with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"We look forward to resolving our trade differences in a spirit of mutual respect and adherence to global rules and standards," said Mr. Bush.

President Bush's comments on trade were not all negative.

"The textile agreement our two nations reached last week shows that with hard work and determination, we can come together to resolve difficult trading issues," he added.

He also praised Beijing for taking a more active diplomatic role on the world stage.

"We welcome the important role China has assumed as host of the six-party talks aimed at bringing peace to the Korean peninsula," said Mr. Bush.

The U.S.-China relationship is complex, but Georgetown University Professor Bob Sutter says he doesn't see many differences among the Chinese leaders about how China should deal with the United States. Professor Sutter adds, though, that this relative smoothness could quickly change if there were some sort of crisis.

"Those that take a harder line view in the [Chinese] leadership, that emphasize the anti-hegemony aspects of Chinese policy, and to confront the containing aspects of U.S. policy, could come to the fore," he commented.

Professor Sutter says he doesn't see any major crisis looming on the horizon, though, and adds that his assessment of the overall U.S.-China relationship for the immediate future is good. Despite some disagreements, he describes U.S.-China relations as, "probably more stable than what we've seen in 30 years."