On Saturday, President Bush begins a three-day visit to China where he is expected to discuss ways to improve ties that U.S. officials already describe as very good. While the two countries cooperate on a number of security and trade issues, the bilateral relationship is complicated at times by human rights concerns and events in Taiwan. A preview of the President's visit.
Speaking for the Bush administration last week, National Security advisor Stephen Hadley said U.S.-China relations have rarely been better than they are now.
"I think we have got a very solid relationship that allows us to work candidly with one another and work together on a lot of common problems, on proliferation, on counterterrorism, on trade issues, on the six-party talks," he said.
In a speech on Wednesday in Kyoto, Japan, President Bush sent a message to Chinese leaders in advance of his upcoming visit.
"By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society."
The candid remark about freedoms in Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, highlighted the matter on the mainland.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing was quick to respond. "We have to work hard and not pay attention to those people who talk about this or that, trying to shake our conviction, especially when it comes to our love of the motherland."
Mr. Bush visits a China that is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom. The country today makes jets and space rockets; skyscrapers are changing urban landscapes, and exports are flooding global markets, including the United States. However, some American economists say the expansion is fueled by artificially low wages and currency exchange rates.
Jing Huang, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution -- a Washington, D.C. think tank -- says this hurts Chinese workers, benefiting only the country's unelected rulers and multinational corporations. "It enables them to keep salaries low. It enables them to prevent the Chinese working forces to form any union. It enables them to deprive Chinese workers of some benefits they deserve."
U.S. officials have voiced concern for religious freedom in China, mentioning in particular Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. President Bush has underscored the issue with a plan to attend Sunday mass at a Christian church in Beijing and a call for freedom of speech.
The president said, "I have pointed out that the people of China want more freedom to express themselves, to worship without state control, to print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear of punishment."
Intellectual property rights are also expected to be on President Bush's agenda in China. However, Jing Huang says this is a complicated issue that pits China's national government against local leaders.
"If you talk with leaders in Beijing, they are genuinely sincere. They want to cooperate with us to promote intellectual property rights,? he told us. ?But, if you go to localities, it's a totally different story. So, we are fighting actually not with Beijing, we're fighting with local governments in Sichuan, Henan, Shandong. Those governments protect piracy of intellectual rights, because they can benefit from it."
The Bush administration has expressed satisfaction with statements made by Chinese officials during President Hu Jintao's September visit to New York. National Security advisor Stephen Hadley says the issue now is to translate those statements into action.