A top Bush administration official briefed lawmakers on the status of U.S. China relations Thursday. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that bilateral relations have improved in recent years, but he said the United States remains concerned about China's actions relating to human rights, Taiwan and proliferation.
Assistant Secretary Kelly says the Bush administration has worked hard to improve Washington's ties with Beijing. Relations hit their lowest point with the accidental U.S. bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the subsequent collision of a U.S. reconnaissance plane with a Chinese fighter two years later.
In some respects, Mr. Kelly said, bilateral ties are the best they have been in many years, marked by cooperation on regional security issues and the war on terrorism.
But Mr. Kelly said the United States remains concerned about China's human rights record.
"Despite reform, China's legal system remains seriously flawed and often provides little or no due process to those accused of crimes, particularly political crimes," he said. "There is simply no other way to put it: ongoing gross violations of human rights are a serious impediment to better relations and undermine the good will generated by individual releases or other steps."
Secretary Kelly said Washington is also troubled by China's military modernization effort, which he said appears to be focused on ballistic missiles and what he called 'tactical capabilities focusing a threat on Taiwan.' He renewed an appeal to China to seek a peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences with Taiwan.
On the issue of proliferation, Mr. Kelly said China had taken steps to curb military technology exports to North Korea, but he said there is evidence of 'leakage', and he said Beijing could do more to tighten export control laws.
Lawmakers, for their part, were particularly focused on what they call China's unfair trade practices.
"In my state there is a growing consensus that the problems with competition with China are in many ways destroying our manufacturing base that is so important to our state," said Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.
Many lawmakers say China is keeping the value of its currency, the yuan, artificially low so it can flood U.S. markets with inexpensive goods. China, which rejects the charge, has pegged the yuan at 8.3 to the dollar since 1994.
Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate that calls on Beijing to float the yuan to allow world markets to determine the currency's real value.
Secretary Kelly noted that Treasury Secretary John Snow visited China last week to press officials to loosen their exchange regime. China agreed it would eventually do so but did not give a timetable.