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Commentary: Keeping relations on an even keel
( 2003-10-10 09:24) (China Daily)

The word "China" has been mentioned frequently in recent news reports in the United States.

These reports are mainly about China's positive role in helping diffuse the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula and debate on "whether the undervalued renminbi has hurt American job opportunities."

This is not unusual during US presidential election campaigns in recent years, an article in Beijing-based China Youth Daily pointed out.

China will be mentioned more and more as this year's campaign heats up, and US policy towards China will be one of the points used by Democratic hopefuls to attack the incumbent Republican President George W. Bush, the article said.

The benign Sino-US relationship in the wake of September 11 now faces serious challenges. Both countries are not sure if they can deal with what has become the China syndrome in the US presidential election campaign.

During his visit to Washington on September 23, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing expressed his concern over this matter, urging American politicians to prevent US domestic politics from disturbing Sino-US relations.

That includes not politicizing the trade and economic issues and dealing with the Taiwan question cautiously.

However, China will unavoidably become a "star" again in US domestic politics with Washington's continuous shifting of its own political pressure onto Beijing, the article said.

President Bush is at the most fragile point of his political career. The domestic economic problem has become even more obvious due to difficulties in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.

America's European allies have been divided. There has yet been no evidence found to support the US contention that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Bush was forced to admit that Saddam Hussein had no connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

All these problems forced the Republicans to take some "strong medicine," including a huge tax reduction plan aimed at stimulating the domestic economy. To increase the competitive capability of US products in the international market, Washington also adopted a laissez-faire policy of devaluing the US dollar and attempted to force China to revalue the renminbi.

Undoubtedly, so long as it can place the Republicans in a favourable position in domestic politics, the Bush administration will continue to impose pressure on China by any and all means. The revaluation of the renminbi is just the first "sin" of which the United States has accused China.

US manufacturers and the government made their request for revaluation of the renminbi under the following logic:

The value of the renminbi has been underestimated, so Chinese products exported to the United States are comparatively cheaper. This has further hurt an already-weak US labour market.

In fact, instead of seizing the market portion from the Americans, the products made in China in the US market are merely replacing those made in Mexico, the Republic of Korea or Japan. The Chinese products occupy less than 10 per cent of the total imported by the United States and less than 2 per cent in the US GDP.

Therefore, it is groundless to accuse China of being responsible for millions of unemployed workers in the United States, the article pointed out.

Still, Washington will not waver in its criticism of Beijing because of this misplaced logic. It will soon find the second and third "sins."

Fortunately, what differs from the past is that Washington has less and less power to compel China to yield through its unilateral measures. Previously, the "super 301 item" and the "most-favoured nation status" were the sticks the United States always used to threaten China.

Though Washington may still consider taking unilateral steps, it no longer has the absolute initiative.

As some observers have noted, since the United States waged its anti-terrorism war and the nuclear crisis broke out on the Korean Peninsula, some of its old concerns, such as the human rights issue and the Tibet issue, have been relegated to less important status.

With China's positive role in some key issues, the United States cannot neglect its relations with China. Bush will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao later this year, and, as US Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated, Sino-US relations are at an all-time high.

So long as there is no problem relating to the Taiwan Straits, the Sino-US relationship could, for the first time, cross the US election year with no difficulty.

So long as the US Government does not let negative public sentiments affect bilateral political relations and keeps some politicians from making a fuss, the "China Syndrome" in this presidential election campaign will not be very serious, the article pointed out.

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