American lawmakers say legislative action is necessary to address a huge and growing U.S. trade imbalance with China. VOA's Margaret Besheer has more from Washington.

In the year 2000, the U.S. trade deficit with China was $83.8 billion. At the end of 2006, it had soared to $213.5 billion, a 155 percent change in just six years.

Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin from the state of Maryland told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Thursday that this imbalance could pose great harm to U.S. interests. "China is our number one country for trade imbalance; our trade relations are not sustainable, it's dangerous in my view and it's unfair. China is not complying with the trade agreements and trade rules that have been established," he said.

Many U.S. legislators accuse China of manipulating its currency to keep it undervalued against the dollar. This makes Chinese goods cheaper for American consumers, while making American products more expensive in China. Senator Cardin told the panel this is unacceptable.

"China ties its currency to the U.S. dollar, and in doing that economists tell us they have overvalued our currency by about 40 percent, giving Chinese importers an unfair trade advantage over U.S. exporters, and that cannot be tolerated," he said.

Lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic Parties say it may be necessary to threaten China with economic sanctions if it does not change its trade policies. The United States imports a third of Chinese exports, making it China's top customer. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio says that should give the United States a strong negotiating position. "The U.S. is too big a player -- we are the most lucrative market in the history of the world -- they are not going to walk away from us if we demand fair play," he said.

In addition to trade imbalances, legislators and other experts expressed concern about China's accelerated efforts to modernize and equip its military.

Richard Lawless, the U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, told the panel that whether China's military transformation will be peaceful or not is uncertain. He cited Beijing's destruction of a non-operational weather satellite last month saying it poses dangers to space flight and endangers assets of all countries with space programs. "Its ... strategies are expanding from the traditional land, air and sea dimensions of the modern battlefield to now include space and cyberspace. In the face of these potentially disruptive developments, the United States continues to monitor closely China's military modernization while pushing for greater transparency," he said.

Legislators and commission members say China's behavior on a wide range of issues, especially the economic ones, affect Americans every day in very real ways, in the loss of jobs, the shift of manufacturing and the erosion of American competitiveness.