China–United States relations
The relationship between the two countries has been complex, and varied from positive to highly negative. After 1980 the economic ties grew rapidly. The relationship is of economic cooperation, hegemonic
rivalry in the Pacific, and mutual suspicion over each other's intentions. Therefore, each nation has adopted a wary attitude regarding the other as a potential adversary but has meanwhile maintained an extremely strong economic partnership.
It has been described by world leaders and academics as the world's most important bilateral relationship
of the 21st century.
The downside is that Americans see China as a threat to the established order in its drive for regional hegemony in East Asia now, and a future aspirant for global supremacy. Beijing rejects these notions, but continues its assertive policies and its quest for allies.
Relations with China began slowly until the 1845 Treaty of Wangxia
. The US was allied to the Republic of China
during the Pacific War
against Japan (1941–1945) but, after the Communist
victory in Mainland China
during the Chinese Civil War
, fought a major armed conflict with the People's Republic of China in the Korean War
and did not establish relations for 25 years, until President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China
. Since Nixon's visit, every US president, with the exception of Jimmy Carter
, has toured China. Relations with China have strained under President Barack Obama
's Asia pivot
strategy. Despite tensions during his term, the Chinese population's favorability of the US stood at 51% in Obama's last year of 2016, only to fall during the Trump administration
According to a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center
, 22% of Americans have a favorable view of China, with 73% expressing an unfavorable view, one of the most negative perceptions of China. The poll also found that 24% (plurality) of Americans see China as the top threat to the US.
Furthermore, a survey of Chinese public opinions also found a corresponding decrease in favorability towards the US, with 61% expressing an unfavorable view.
The relationship deteriorated sharply under President Donald Trump
whose administration labeled China a "strategic competitor" starting with the 2017 National Security Strategy
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice initiated a "China Initiative
" to "combat economic espionage".
One of the first studies of the impact of the initiative
was published in 2020, concluding that how the initiative operates unfairly stigmatizes researchers of Chinese ethnicity, through implying "threat by association."
It subsequently launched a trade war against China
, banned US companies from selling equipment to Huawei
and other companies linked to human rights abuses in Xinjiang
increased visa restrictions on Chinese nationality students and scholars
and designated China as a currency manipulator
During the Trump administration, and especially since the US-China trade war began, political observers have started to warn that a new cold war
is emerging. Michael D. Swaine
warned in 2019, "The often positive and optimistic forces, interests, and beliefs that sustained bilateral ties for decades are giving way to undue pessimism, hostility, and a zero-sum mindset in almost every area of engagement."
By May 2020 the relationship had deteriorated to the lowest point as both sides were recruiting allies to attack the other regarding guilt for the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic
published Scratches on our Minds: American Images of China and India
in 1955. By reviewing the popular and scholarly literature on Asia that appeared in the United States and by interviewing many American experts, Isaacs identified six stages of American attitudes toward China.
They were "respect" (18th century), "contempt" (1840–1905), "benevolence" (1905 to 1937), "admiration" (1937–1944); "disenchantment" (1944–1949), and "hostility" (after 1949). In 1990, historian Jonathan Spence
updated Isaac's model to include "reawakened curiosity" (1970–1974); "guileless fascination" (1974–1979), and "renewed skepticism" (1980s).
As an absolute dictator, Mao Zedong was able to impose his views on the Communist Party, the government, and the media. Who is writing this? Please while capitalism was the great enemy, as represented by Chiang Kai-shek and its sponsor the United States government. The United States responded with equal hostility, making clear its intention to protect its old client now based on Taiwan from Chinese attack, while also preventing any attacks from Taiwan on the mainland. Washington ignored the possibility that its decision in June 1950 to defend South Korea, and then in September to invade North Korea, would alarm China. But it did, and in November 1950 the Chinese responded by a massive invasion of North Korea that pushed the Allies south of the 38th parallel. By 1951 the situation had stabilized close to the original 38th parallel dividing line. The new Eisenhower administration in Washington in 1953 made it clear the fighting had to stop, hinting it might use nuclear weapons if needed. Finding a solution to the problem of repatriating prisoners of war, both sites settled for an armistice in 1953, and China removed its forces from North Korea. No peace treaty was ever signed, and North Korean and South Korean forces remained into the 21st century in a face-off, with a large American contingent still based in South Korea.
In the late 1950s, Mao could not tolerate that anti--Stalinist program led by Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev. Ideological tensions escalated between Beijing and Moscow almost to the verge of war.
In nearly all capitalist countries and colonies, communist movements split between the old established pro-Moscow element, and the more radical upstart pro-Beijing Maoists.Although still not friendly to the United States, Mao realized that the American anti-Soviet posture in the Cold War was to his advantage as long as China was militarily much less powerful than neighboring Soviet Union.
The People's Republic of China and the United States of America Origins of the People's Republic of China
The United States did not formally recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC) for 30 years after its founding. Instead, the US maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of China government on Taiwan, recognizing it as the sole legitimate government of China
As the People's Liberation Army
moved south to complete the conquest of mainland China
in 1949, the American embassy followed Chiang Kai-shek's Republic of China
government to Taipei
, while US consular officials remained in mainland China. In December 1950, the People's Republic seized all American assets and properties, totaling $196.8 million. Prior to this, the US had frozen Chinese assets in America following the PRC's entry into the Korean War in November.
The Korean War
began on 25 June with the invasion of South Korea
by the North Korea
, a Communist state with close ties to Moscow and Beijing. In response the United Nations Security Council was passed UNSC Resolution 82
, declaring war on North Korea unanimously. The Soviet Union, with veto power, was boycotting UN proceedings. The American-led U.N. offensive pushed the invaders back past the north–south border at the 38th parallel
and began to approach the Yalu River
on the China-North Korea border. The UN had authorized the reunification of Korea and China could not tolerate hostile forces on its Yalu River border with Korea.
PRC Premier and foreign minister Zhou Enlai
's warning that it would intervene in the war on grounds of national security was dismissed by President Truman.
In late October 1950, China's intervention began with the Battle of Onjong. During the Battle of the Ch'ongch'on River, the People's Volunteer Army
overran or outflanked the UN forces, leading to the defeat of the US Eighth Army.
A ceasefire presented by the UN to the PRC shortly after the Battle of the Ch'ongch'on River
on 11 December 1950 was rejected by the Mao administration which was convinced of its invincibility after its victory in that battle and the wider Second Phase Offensive
, and also wanted demonstrate China's desire for a total victory through the expulsion of the UN forces from Korea.
The Chinese were victorious in the Third Battle of Seoul
and the Battle of Hoengsong
, but the UN forces recovered and pushed back to about the 38th parallel. Stalemate resulted.
The stalemate ended when the Korean Armistice Agreement
was signed on 27 July 1953. Since then, a divided Korea
has become an important factor in US-China relations, with large American forces stationed in South Korea.
The People's Republic of China provided resources and training to North Vietnam
, and in the summer of 1962, Mao agreed to supply Hanoi with 90,000 rifles and guns free of charge. After the launch of the America's Operation Rolling Thunder
in 1965, China sent anti-aircraft units and engineering battalions to North Vietnam to repair the damage caused by American bombing, rebuild roads and railroads, and perform other engineering work, freeing additional hundreds of thousands North Vietnamese Army
units for combat in American supported South Vietnam
. The United States lost 58,159 troops in the Vietnam War.
The Chinese presence in North Vietnam was well known to US officials, and can explain a number of factors surrounding American strategy in the conflict. In particular, President Lyndon B. Johnson
and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
ruled out the possibility of a ground invasion of North Vietnam early on, for fear of repeating the Korean War but now with a thermonuclear-armed China. However, it is unclear exactly what Beijing's reaction to a US invasion of North Vietnam would have been—Mao Zedong reportedly told journalist Edgar Snow
in 1965 that China had no intention of fighting to save the Hanoi regime and would not engage the US military unless it crossed into Chinese territory. On other occasions, Mao expressed confidence that the People's Liberation Army could take on the US again, much like it did in Korea. Whatever Chinese plans might have been, the Johnson administration was unwilling to tempt fate and so US ground troops never crossed into North Vietnam.
Freezing of relations
Between 1949 and 1971, US–China relations were uniformly hostile, with frequent propaganda attacks in both directions. Relations deteriorated under President John F. Kennedy
Before the Cuban Missile Crisis
, policymakers in Washington were uncertain whether or not China would break with the Soviet Union on the basis of ideology, national ambitions, and readiness for a role in guiding communist activities in many countries. New insight came with the Sino-Indian border war
in November 1962 and Beijing's response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy administration officials concluded that China was more militant and more dangerous than the Soviet Union, making better relations with Moscow desirable, with both nations trying to contain Chinese ambitions. Diplomatic recognition of China remained out of the question, as a crucial veto power on the UN Security Council was held by America's ally on Taiwan. The United States continued to work to prevent the PRC from taking China's seat in the United Nations
and encouraged its allies not to deal with the PRC. The United States placed an embargo on trading with the PRC, and encouraged allies to follow it.
The PRC developed nuclear weapons
in 1964 and, as later declassified documents revealed, President Johnson considered preemptive attacks to halt its nuclear program. He ultimately decided the measure carried too much risk and it was abandoned. Instead Johnson looked for ways to improve relations. The American public seemed more open to the idea of expanding contacts with China, such as relaxation of the trade embargo. But the War in Vietnam was raging with China aiding North Vietnam. Mao's Great Leap Forward had been a humiliating failure, and his Cultural Revolution
was hostile to the U.S. In the end Johnson made no move to change the standoff.
Despite official non-recognition, the United States and the People's Republic of China held 136 meetings at the ambassadorial level beginning in 1954 and continuing until 1970, first in Geneva
and in 1958–1970 in Warsaw
Beginning in 1967, the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission
established the China Claims Program, in which American citizens could denominate the sum total of their lost assets and property following the Communist seizure of foreign property in 1950. American companies were reluctant to invest in China despite (future leader) Deng Xiaoping
's reassurances of a stable business environment.
The end of the 1960s brought a period of transformation. For China, when American president Johnson decided to wind down the Vietnam War in 1968, it gave China an impression that the US had no interest of expanding in Asia anymore while the USSR became a more serious threat as it intervened in Czechoslovakia
to displace a communist government and might well interfere in China.
This became an especially important concern for the People's Republic of China after the Sino-Soviet border conflict
of 1969. The PRC was diplomatically isolated and the leadership came to believe that improved relations with the United States would be a useful counterbalance to the Soviet threat. Zhou Enlai
, the Premier of China
, was at the forefront of this effort with the committed backing of Chairman Mao Zedong. In 1969, the United States initiated measures to relax trade restrictions and other impediments to bilateral contact, to which China responded. However, this rapprochement process was stalled by the Vietnam War where China was supporting the enemies of the United States. Communication between Chinese and American leaders, however, was conducted through Romania
Henry Kissinger, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. Kissinger made two secret trips to the PRC in 1971 before Nixon's groundbreaking visit in 1972.
Richard M. Nixon mentioned in his inaugural address
that the two countries were entering an era of negotiation after an era of confrontation. Although Nixon during his 1960 presidential campaign had vociferously supported Chiang Kai-Shek, by the second half of the decade, he increasingly began to speak of there "being no reason to leave China angry and isolated". Nixon's election as president in 1968 was initially met with hostility by Beijing—an editorial in the People's Daily
denounced him as "a chieftain whom the capitalist world had turned to out of desperation".
Nixon believed it was in the American national interest to forge a relationship with China, even though there were enormous differences between the two countries.
He was assisted in this by his National Security AdvisorHenry Kissinger
. Domestic politics also entered into Nixon's thinking, as the boost from a successful courting of the PRC could help him in the 1972 American presidential election
. He also worried that one of the Democrats would preempt him and go to the PRC before he had the opportunity.
In 1971, an unexpectedly friendly encounter between the American and Chinese ping-pong athletes called Glenn Cowan
and Zhuang Zedong
in Japan opened the way for a visit to China, which Chairman Mao personally approved.
In April 1971, the athletes became the first Americans to officially visit China since the communist takeover. The smooth acceptance of this created the term "ping-pong diplomacy
", and gave confidence to both sides. The ping-pong diplomacy allowed reporters into the country as well, opening up communication to both sides, and breaking a barrier that had been there previously. This smoothed out the start of the trade partnership that was going to happen later.
In July 1971, Henry Kissinger feigned illness while on a trip to Pakistan and did not appear in public for a day. He was actually on a top-secret mission to Beijing to negotiate with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.
Kissinger and his aides did not receive a warm welcome in Beijing, and the hotel they stayed in was equipped with pamphlets excoriating US imperialism. However, the meeting with Zhou Enlai was productive, and the Chinese premier expressed his hope for improved Sino-US relations. He commented that the US had intentionally isolated China, not vice versa, and any initiative to restore diplomatic ties had to come from the American side. Zhou spoke of the late President Kennedy's plans to restore relations with China and told Kissinger "We are willing to wait as long as we need to. If these negotiations fail, in time another Kennedy or another Nixon will come along."
On 15 July 1971, President Richard Nixon
revealed the mission to the world and that he had accepted an invitation to visit the PRC.
caused immediate shock around the world. In the United States, some hard-line anti-communists
(most notably libertarian Republican
Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater
) denounced the decision, but most public opinion supported the move and Nixon saw the jump in the polls he had been hoping for. Since Nixon had sterling anti-communist credentials he was all but immune to being called "soft on communism." Nixon and his aides wanted to ensure that press coverage offered dramatic imagery.
Nixon was particularly eager for strong news coverage.
President Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai
toast during Nixon's 1972 visit to China
Within the PRC there was also opposition from left-wing elements. This effort was allegedly led by Lin Biao
, head of the military, who died in a mysterious plane crash over Mongolia
while trying to defect to the Soviet Union. His death silenced most internal dissent over the visit.
Internationally, reactions varied. In the communist world, the Soviets were very concerned that two major enemies seemed to have resolved their differences, and the new world alignment contributed significantly to the policy of détente
. Romania's president Nicolae Ceaușescu
praised the US initiative as a "move for world peace".[This quote needs a citation]
Several communist regimes, including Cuba, Albania, and North Vietnam, accused China of "capitulationism to the imperialists".[This quote needs a citation]
North Korea proclaimed that it was the reverse and that the US had been forced to capitulate to China, having failed to isolate it.
America's European allies
were pleased by the initiative, especially since many of them had already recognized the PRC. In Asia
, the reaction was far more mixed. Japan
was annoyed that it had not been told of the announcement until fifteen minutes before it had been made, and feared that the Americans were abandoning them in favor of the PRC. A short time later, Japan also recognized the PRC and committed to substantial trade with the continental power. South Korea
and South Vietnam
were both concerned that peace between the United States and the PRC could mean an end to American support for them against their communist enemies. Throughout the period of rapprochement, both countries had to be regularly assured that they would not be abandoned.
From 21 to 28 February 1972, President Nixon traveled
, and Shanghai
. At the conclusion of his trip, the US and the PRC issued the Shanghai Communiqué
, a statement of their respective foreign policy views. In the Communiqué, both nations pledged to work toward the full normalization of diplomatic relations. This did not lead to immediate recognition of the People's Republic of China but 'liaison offices' were established in Beijing and Washington.
The US acknowledged the PRC position that all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait
maintain that there is only one China
and that Taiwan is part of China. The statement enabled the US and PRC to temporarily set aside the issue of Taiwan and open trade and communication. Also, the US and China both agreed to take action against 'any country' that is to establish 'hegemony' in the Asia-Pacific. On several issues, such as the ongoing conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and Israel, the US and China were unable to reach a common understanding.
Most major anti-US propaganda disappeared in China after the Nixon visit; although there was still occasional criticism of US imperialism, the Soviet Union had definitively become China's arch-foe in the 1970s.
The rapprochement with the United States benefited the PRC immensely and greatly increased its security for the rest of the Cold War
. It has been argued that the United States, on the other hand, saw fewer benefits than it had hoped for, inasmuch as China continued to back America's enemies in Hanoi and Pyongyang. Eventually, however, the PRC's suspicion of Vietnam's motives led to a break in Sino-Vietnamese cooperation and, upon the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979, the Sino-Vietnamese War
. Both China and the United States backed combatants in Africa
against Soviet and Cuban
-supported movements. The economic benefits of normalization were slow as it would take decades for American products to penetrate the vast Chinese market. While Nixon's China policy is regarded by many as the highlight of his presidency, others such as William Bundy
have argued that it provided very little benefit to the United States.
Liaison Office (1973–1978)
President Gerald Ford
makes remarks at a Reciprocal Dinner in Beijing on 4 December 1975.
In May 1973, in an effort to build toward formal diplomatic relations, the US and the PRC established the United States Liaison Office
(USLO) in Beijing and a counterpart PRC office in Washington. In 1973 to 1978, such distinguished Americans as David K. E. Bruce
, George H. W. Bush
, Thomas S. Gates, Jr.
, and Leonard Woodcock
served as chiefs of the USLO with the personal rank of ambassador
. China made clear that it considered the Soviet Union its chief adversary, and urged the United States to be powerful, thereby distracting Moscow. Liaison officer George Bush concluded, "China keeps wanting us to be strong, wanting us to defend Europe, wanting us to increase our defense budgets, etc."
Bush concluded that American engagement was essential to support markets, allies, and stability in Asia and around the world.
President Gerald Ford
visited the PRC in 1975 and reaffirmed American interest in normalizing relations with Beijing. Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter
again reaffirmed the goals of the Shanghai Communiqué. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
, Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski
, and senior staff member of the National Security Council Michel Oksenberg
encouraged Carter to seek full diplomatic and trade relations with China. Although Brzezinski sought to quickly establish a security relationship with Beijing to counter the Soviet Union, Carter sided with Vance in believing that such a deal would threaten existing U.S.-Soviet relations, including the SALT II
negotiations. Thus, the administration decided to cautiously pursue political normalization and not military relations.
Vance, Brzezinski, and Oksenberg traveled to Beijing in early 1978 to work with Leonard Woodcock
, then head of the liaison office, to lay the groundwork to do so. The United States and the People's Republic of China announced on 15 December 1978, that the two governments would establish diplomatic relations on 1 January 1979.
Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski
, and other U.S. officials meet in the White House Cabinet Room with Deng Xiaoping, 29 January 1979
In the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations
, dated 1 January 1979, the United States transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The US reiterated the Shanghai Communiqué's acknowledgment of the Chinese position that there is only one China
and that Taiwan is a part of China; Beijing acknowledged that the American people would continue to carry on commercial, cultural, and other unofficial contacts with the people of Taiwan.
Taiwan, although fully expecting this step, nonetheless expressed disappointment at having not been consulted first. The reaction of the communist world was similar to 1972, with the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe mostly being noncommittal, Romania welcoming the move, and Cuba and Albania being strongly against it. North Korea issued a statement congratulating "our brotherly neighbors for ending long-hostile relations with the US".[This quote needs a citation]
Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping
's January 1979 visit
to Washington initiated a series of important, high-level exchanges which continued until the spring of 1989. This resulted in many bilateral agreements, especially in the fields of scientific, technological, and cultural interchange, as well as trade relations. Since early 1979, the United States and the PRC have initiated hundreds of joint research projects and cooperative programs under the Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology, the largest bilateral program.
On 1 March 1979, the two countries formally established embassies in each other's capitals. In 1979, outstanding private claims were resolved and a bilateral trade agreement was completed. Vice President Walter Mondale reciprocated Vice Premier Deng's visit with an August 1979 trip to China. This visit led to agreements in September 1980 on maritime affairs, civil aviation links, and textile matters, as well as a bilateral consular convention.
The threats of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
and Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia
were major factors that brought Washington and Beijing closer than ever before.
US-China military cooperation began in 1979; American arms sales to China were initiated, and in 1981 it was revealed that a joint US-China listening post had been operated in Xinjiang, near the Soviet border.
Chinese demands for advanced technology from the US were not always met, in part due to opposition from Congressmen who either distrusted technology transfer to a communist nation out of principle, or concern that there was no guarantee that such technology would not end up in the hands of unfriendly third parties. In 1983, the US State Department changed its classification of China to "a friendly, developing nation",[This quote needs a citation]
thereby increasing the amount of technology and armaments that could be sold. The skepticism of some US Congressmen was not entirely unmerited as China during the 1980s continued to sell arms to Iran
and other states that were openly hostile to American interests.
As a consequence of high-level and working-level contacts initiated in 1980, US dialogue with the PRC broadened to cover a wide range of issues, including global and regional strategic problems, political-military questions, including arms control, UN, and other multilateral organization affairs, and international narcotics matters. New York City and Beijing became sister cities.
High-level exchanges continued to be a significant means for developing US–PRC relations in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan
and Premier Zhao Ziyang
made reciprocal visits in 1984. Reagan's visit to Beijing went well, however a speech he made criticizing the Soviet Union and praising capitalism, democracy, and freedom of religion was not aired on Chinese state television
. In July 1985, Chinese President Li Xiannian
traveled to the United States, the first such visit by a PRC head of state. Vice President Bush visited the PRC in October 1985 and opened the US Consulate General in Chengdu
, the US's fourth consular post in the PRC. Further exchanges of cabinet-level officials occurred between 1985 and 1989, capped by President Bush's visit to Beijing in February 1989.
Shortly after being elected president in 1980, Ronald Reagan made a speech criticizing the PRC and welcoming restoration of ties with Taiwan. These remarks aroused initial concern in Beijing, but Reagan's advisers quickly apologized for his comments, and the president-elect soon retracted them. Reagan's first two years in office saw some deterioration in US-China relations due to the president's vociferous anti-communism, as well as the inability of the two nations to come to a common understanding over the Korean conflict
, the Israel–Palestine conflict
, or the Falklands War
. In 1982, Deng Xiaoping, in a reiteration of Mao Zedong's "Three Worlds" theory, criticized both the US and Soviet Union for imperialism. In 1983, there were quarrels over a Chinese tennis player, Hu Na, who defected to the US, and over an incident where an Olympic parade float in New York City displayed the flag of Taiwan rather than the PRC's flag.
In the period before the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
, a growing number of cultural exchange activities gave the American and Chinese peoples broad exposure to each other's cultural, artistic, and educational achievements. Numerous mainland Chinese professional and official delegations visited the United States each month. Many of these exchanges continued after the suppression of the Tiananmen protests.
Since the renewal of US-China relations in early 1979, the Taiwan issue remained a major source of contention. After the announcement of the intention to establish diplomatic relations with Mainland China (PRC) on 15 December 1978, the Republic of China (Taiwan) immediately condemned the United States, leading to rampant protests in both Taiwan and in the US.
In April 1979, the US Congress signed into law the Taiwan Relations Act
permitting unofficial relations with Taiwan to flourish, on the one hand, yet the right of the US to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character
, on the other. The expanding relationship that followed normalization was threatened in 1981 by PRC objections to the level of US arms sales to the Republic of China on Taiwan. Secretary of State Alexander Haig
visited China in June 1981 in an effort to resolve Chinese concerns about America's unofficial relations with Taiwan. Vice President Bush visited the PRC in May 1982. Eight months of negotiations produced the US-PRC Joint Communiqué of 17 August 1982. In this third communiqué, the US stated its intention to gradually reduce the level of arms sales to the Republic of China, and the PRC described as a fundamental policy their effort to strive for a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan question
. When Donald Trump
won the 2016 presidential election
, contention over the Taiwan issue intensified; President Trump became the first sitting US president since Jimmy Carter in 1979 to have any formal political or diplomatic contacts with Taiwan when he decided to receive a phone call from president Tsai Ing-Wen
. Trump has expanded the duties of the US' de facto
embassy in Taipei-American Institute in Taiwan - by adding more security personnel, and has overseen increasing non-diplomatic visits of Tsai Ing-Wen and Congressmen to each other's countries/regions. In addition, American warships have reportedly crossed the Taiwan strait and increased military drills with Taiwan, which mainland China views as a direct threat to its sovereignty. The Taiwanese government has also warned the Solomon Islands
not to switch recognition to the PRC as part of a bid to preserve its shrinking number of allies worldwide.
George H. W. Bush administration (1989–1993)
Americans who had been optimistic about the emergence of democratic characteristics in response to the rapid economic growth and China were stunned and disappointed by the brutal crackdown of the pro-democratic Tiananmen Square protests in 1989
The U.S. and other governments enacted a number of measures against China's violation of human rights
. The US suspended high-level official exchanges with the PRC and weapons exports from the US to the PRC. The US also imposed a number of economic sanctions
. In the summer of 1990, at the G7 Houston summit
, the West called for renewed political and economic reforms in mainland China, particularly in the field of human rights.
Tiananmen event disrupted the US-China trade relationship, and US investors' interest in mainland China dropped dramatically. Tourist traffic fell off sharply.
The Bush administration denounced the repression and suspended certain trade and investment programs on 5 and 20 June 1989, however Congress was responsible for imposing many of these actions, and the White House itself took a far less critical attitude of Beijing, repeatedly expressing hope that the two countries could maintain normalized relations.
Some sanctions were legislated while others were executive actions. Examples include:
- The US Trade and Development Agency (TDA): new activities in mainland China were suspended from June 1989 until January 2001, when President Bill Clinton lifted this suspension.
- Overseas Private Insurance Corporation (OPIC): new activities have been suspended since June 1989.
- Development Bank Lending/International Monetary Fund (IMF) Credits: the United States does not support development bank lending and will not support IMF credits to the PRC except for projects that address basic human needs.
- Munitions List Exports: subject to certain exceptions, no licenses may be issued for the export of any defense article on the US Munitions List. This restriction may be waived upon a presidential national interest determination.
- Arms Imports – import of defense articles from the PRC was banned after the imposition of the ban on arms exports to the PRC. The import ban was subsequently waived by the Administration and reimposed on 26 May 1994. It covers all items on the BATFE's Munitions Import List. During this critical period, J. Stapleton Roy, a career US Foreign Service Officer, served as ambassador to Beijing.
After Tiananmen Square, Sino-US relations deteriorated sharply, falling to their worst since the 1960s, with Beijing accusing the US of "a decades-long conspiracy to subvert Chinese socialism".[This quote needs a citation]
years from 1989 to 1992 also witnessed a revival of hard-line Maoist ideologies and increased paranoia by the PRC as communist regimes collapsed in Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, China continued to seek foreign business and investment.
US-China military ties and arms sales were abruptly terminated in 1989 and as of 2020 have never been restored. Chinese public opinion became more hostile to the United States after 1989, as typified by the 1996 manifesto China Can Say No
. The angry authors called for Beijing to take more aggressive actions against the United States and Japan in order to build a stronger international position. The Chinese government at first endorsed the manifesto, then repudiated it as irresponsible.
Clinton administration (1993–2001)
Running for president in 1992, Bill Clinton
sharply criticized his predecessor George H. W. Bush for prioritizing profitable trade relationships over human rights issues in China. As president, 1993–2001, however, Clinton backed away from his position. He did articulate a desired set of goals for China. They included free emigration
, no exportation of goods made with prison labor
, release of peaceful protesters, treatment of prisoners in terms of international standards, recognition of the distinct regional culture
, permitting international television and radio coverage, and observation of human rights specified by United Nations resolutions. China refused to comply, and by summer 1994 Clinton admitted defeat and called for a renewal of normalized trade relations. However congressional pressure, especially from the Republican Party
, force Clinton to approve arms sales to Taiwan, despite the strong displeasure voiced by Beijing.
In 1993, the U.S. Navy stopped a Chinese container ship
, the Yinhe
, en route to Kuwait
on international waters, held it in place for several weeks, alleging it was carrying precursors of chemical weapons
, and eventually forced an inspection of the ship in Saudi Arabia
. However, no precursors of chemical weapons were found. This incident was viewed in China as international bullying by the United States.
In 1996, the People's Liberation Army
conducted military exercises in the Taiwan Strait
in an apparent effort to intimidate the Republic of China electorate before the pending presidential elections
, triggering the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
. The United States dispatched two aircraft carrier battle groups
to the region. Subsequently, tensions in the Taiwan Strait diminished and relations between the US and the PRC improved, with increased high-level exchanges and progress on numerous bilateral issues, including human rights, nuclear proliferation
, and trade. China's leader Jiang Zemin
visited the United States in the fall of 1997, the first state visit to the US by a paramount leader
since 1979. In connection with that visit, the two sides came to a consensus on implementation of their 1985 agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, as well as a number of other issues.
President Clinton visited the PRC in June 1998. He traveled extensively in mainland China, and had direct interaction with the Chinese people, including live speeches and a radio show which allowed the President to convey a sense of American ideals and values. President Clinton was criticized by some, however, for failing to pay adequate attention to human rights abuses in mainland China.
Relations were damaged for a time by the United States bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade
in May 1999, which was stated by the White House to be miscoordination between intelligence and the military, although which some Chinese believed to be deliberate. In any case, Beijing for several days was rocked by massive anti-US demonstrations. By the end of 1999, relations began to gradually improve. In October 1999, the two countries reached an agreement on compensation for families of those who were victims, as well as payments for damages to respective diplomatic properties in Belgrade
and China. US-China relations in 1999 were also damaged by accusations that a Chinese-American scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory
had given US nuclear secrets to Beijing.
In April 2001, a PLAAF J-8 fighter jet
collided with a USAF EP-3
reconnaissance aircraft flying south of the PRC in what became known as the Hainan Island incident
. The EP-3 was able to make an emergency landing on PRC's Hainan Island
despite extensive damage; the PRC aircraft crashed with the loss of its pilot, Wang Wei. The crew were detained by the PLA after destroying all classified documents pertaining to the aircraft's operation. Following extensive negotiations resulting in the "letter of the two sorries," the crew of the EP-3 was released from imprisonment and allowed to leave the PRC eleven days later. The US aircraft was returned by Beijing three months later in pieces, after which the relationship between the US and the PRC gradually improved once more.
George W. Bush administration (2001–2009)
In the United States, the threat of terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda
greatly changed the nature of discourse. It was no longer plausible to argue, as the Blue Team
had earlier asserted, that the PRC was the primary security threat to the United States, and the need to focus on the Middle East
and the War on Terror
made the avoidance of potential distractions in East Asia a priority for the United States.
There were initial fears among the PRC leadership that the war on terrorism would lead to an anti-PRC effort by the US, especially as the US began establishing bases in Central Asian
countries like Uzbekistan
and renewed efforts against Iraq
. Because of setbacks in America's Iraq campaign, these fears have largely subsided. The application of American power in Iraq and continuing efforts by the United States to cooperate with the PRC has significantly reduced the popular anti-Americanism that had developed in the mid-1990s.
Taiwan remains a volatile issue, but one that remains under control. The United States policy toward Taiwan has involved emphasizing the Four Noes and One Without
. On occasion the United States has rebuked Republic of China President Chen Shui-bian
for provocative pro-independence rhetoric. However, in 2005, the PRC passed the Anti-Secession Law
which stated that the PRC would be prepared to resort to "non-peaceful means" if Taiwan declared formal independence. Many critics of the PRC, such as the Blue Team, argue that the PRC was trying to take advantage of the US war in Iraq to assert its claims on Republic of China's territory. In 2008, Taiwan voters elected Ma Ying-jeou. Ma, representing the Kuomintang, campaigned on a platform that included rapprochement with mainland China. His election has significant implications for the future of cross-strait relations.
China's paramount leader Hu Jintao visited the United States in April 2006.
Clark Randt, U.S. Ambassador to China from 2001 to 2008 examined "The State of U.S.-China Relations in a 2008 lecture at the USC U.S.-China Institute.
A public opinion poll of the entire population of China conducted by Pew in spring 2008 shows:
Views toward Japan are especially negative – 69% have an unfavorable opinion of Japan, and a significant number of Chinese (38%) consider Japan an enemy. Opinions of the United States also tend to be negative, and 34% describe the U.S. as an enemy, while just 13% say it is a partner of China. Views about India are mixed at best – 25% say India is a partner, while a similar number (24%) describe it as an enemy.
Obama administration (2009–2017)
The 2008 US presidential election
centered on issues of war and economic recession, but candidates Barack Obama
and John McCain
also spoke extensively regarding US policy toward China.
Both favored cooperation with China on major issues, but they differed with regard to trade policy. Obama expressed concern that the value of China's currency was being deliberately set low to benefit China's exporters. McCain argued that free trade was crucial and was having a transformative effect in China. Still, McCain noted that while China might have shared interests with the US, it did not share American values.
The election of Barack Obama in 2008 generated positive reactions from most locals and state-run media outlets in China. His presidency
fostered hopes for increased co-operation and heightened levels of friendship between the two nations. On 8 November 2008, Hu Jintao
and Barack Obama shared a phone conversation in which the Chinese President congratulated Obama on his election victory. During the conversation both parties agreed that the development of US-China relations is not only in the interest of both nations, but also in the interests of the world.
Other organizations within China also held positive reactions to the election of Barack Obama, particularly with his commitment to revising American climate change policy
published an article detailing how Obama's victory would spell positive change for investment in the green jobs sector as part of a response to the financial crisis gripping the world at the time of Obama's inauguration.
A number of organizations, including the US Departments of Energy
, non-governmental organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations
and the Brookings Institution
, and universities, have been working with Chinese counterparts to discuss ways to address climate change. Both US and Chinese governments have addressed the economic downturn with massive stimulus initiatives. The Chinese have expressed concern that "Buy American" components of the US plan discriminate against foreign producers, including those in China.
As the two most influential and powerful countries in the world, there have been increasingly strong suggestions within American political circles of creating a G-2
(Chimerica) relationship for the United States and China to work out solutions to global problems together.
Obama meets with Wen Jiabao and members of the Chinese delegation after a bilateral meeting at the United Nations in New York City.
US President Barack Obama visited China on 15–18 November 2009 to discuss economic worries, concerns over nuclear weapon proliferation, and the need for action against climate change.
The USC US-China Institute produced a digest of press comments on this visit and on earlier presidential trips.
In January 2010, the US proposed a $6.4 billion arms sale to the Republic of China(Taiwan
). In response, the PRC threatened to impose sanctions on US companies supplying arms to Taiwan and suspend cooperation on certain regional and international issues.
On 19 February 2010, President Obama met with the Dalai Lama
, accused by China of "fomenting unrest in Tibet
." After the meeting, China summoned the US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman
has described the Chinese reaction as "muted," speculating that it could be because "the meeting came during the Chinese New Year
... when most officials are on leave." Some activists criticized Obama for the relatively low profile of the visit.
In 2012, the PRC criticized Obama's new defense strategy, which it said was aimed at isolating China in the East Asian region.
Obama is looking to increase US military influence in the area with a rotating presence of forces in friendly countries.
In March 2012, China suddenly began cutting back its purchases of oil from Iran
, which along with some signs on sensitive security issues like Syria
and North Korea
, showed some coordination with the Obama administration.
In March 2013, the US and China agreed to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea for conducting nuclear tests, which sets the stage for UN Security Council vote. Such accord might signal a new level of cooperation between the US and China.
In an effort to build a "new model" of relations, President Obama met Paramount leader Xi Jinping
for two days of meetings, between 6 and 8 June 2013, at the Sunnylands
estate in Rancho Mirage
The summit was considered "the most important meeting between an American president
and a Chinese Communist leader
in 40 years, since President Nixon
and Chairman Mao
," according to Joseph Nye
, a political scientist at Harvard University.
The leaders concretely agreed to combat climate change
and also found strong mutual interest in curtailing North Korea
's nuclear program
However, the leaders remained sharply divided over cyber espionage and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Xi was dismissive of American complaints about cyber security. Tom Donilon
, the outgoing U.S. National Security Adviser
, stated that cyber security "is now at the center of the relationship," adding that if China's leaders were unaware of this fact, they know now.
President Obama hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China for a bilateral meeting on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit on 31 March 2016.
Trump administration (2017–2021) President-elect
Trump's telephone conversation with the president of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen
on 2 December 2016 was the first such contact with Taiwan by an American president-elect or president since 1979. It provoked Beijing to lodge a diplomatic protest ("stern representations").
Trump went on to clarify his move by telling Fox News
, "I fully understand the 'one China' policy
, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade."
On Trump's inauguration day, an official from the People's Liberation Army
wrote on the official website that the US's military build-up in Asia, and its push to arm South Korea with the THAAD
missile-defense system were provocative "hot spots getting closer to ignition" and that the chances of war had become "more real".
On 23 January, speaking about China's claims to sovereignty over the Spratly Islands
in the South China Sea
, White House spokesman Sean Spicer
said, "It's a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we're going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country."
President Trump arrives in China in November 2017
On 9 February, Trump spoke with China's leader Xi Jinping over the phone discussing a wide range of issues; Trump was said to have re-iterated the United States' commitment to the status quo 'one-China' policy.
Paramount leader Xi Jinping reiterated before President Trump, in a telephone conversation held between the two men on 3 July 2017, that "China-US relations have made great progress in recent days, but they have also been affected by some negative factors."
By "negative factors," Geng Shuang, a Chinese government spokesmen, explained in a televised briefing: "Under the pretext of navigational freedom, the American side once again sent military vessels into the Chinese territorial waters of Xisha (Paracel
) Islands. It has violated Chinese and international law, infringed upon Chinese sovereignty, and disrupted order, peace and security of the relevant waters and put in jeopardy facilities and personnel on the relevant Chinese islands. It is a serious political and military provocation. The Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to the relevant actions by the US."
On 13 March 2018, the out-going US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson
, said: "Much work remains to establish a clear view of the nature of our future relationship with China, how shall we deal with one-another over the next fifty years, and ensure a period of prosperity for all of our peoples, free of conflict between two very powerful nations."
China enforced punitive tariffs on 128 categories of American goods on 1 April 2018 in retaliation for the Trump Administration
's national-security levies on steel and aluminum imports the previous month. The Chinese Government's response is measured, affecting $3 billion in annual trade or about 2% of U.S. goods exports to China. By late September 2018, the Trump Administration had placed tariffs (25% tax increase) on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, in an attempt to offset the trade imbalance between the two countries.
According to political analyst, Andrew Leung, "China is perceived as the antagonist and rival of the United-States," and that China's rise is seen as a "threat to the world order underpinned by American dominance or American values."
He claimed, moreover, that the arrest of the CFO
of Huawei on 1 December 2018 corresponded with the suspicious death on that same day of a leading Chinese-national quantum physicist
and venture capitalist at Stanford University
, Professor Shou-Cheng Zhang
, who was on a H-1B visa
, giving rise to conspiracy theories. In August 2018, the U.S. government signed an update to legislation for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S
., broadening governmental scrutiny to vetting VC
-backed, and especially Chinese state-funded, investments in U.S. tech startups.
U.S. lawmakers from both parties have voiced their support for pro-democracy Hong Kong protests
President Donald Trump and Vice Premier Liu He
sign the Phase One Trade Deal in January 2020
The U.S.-China relationship is confronting its most daunting challenge in the forty years since the two countries established diplomatic ties. Current trends portend steadily worsening relations over the long term, with increasingly adverse consequences for all actors involved. Specifically, Beijing and Washington are transitioning from a sometimes contentious yet mutually beneficial relationship to an increasingly antagonistic, mutually destructive set of interactions. The often positive and optimistic forces, interests, and beliefs that sustained bilateral ties for decades are giving way to undue pessimism, hostility, and a zero-sum mindset in almost every area of engagement.
According to two experts on US-China relations, Professor Rosemary Foot
at Oxford University and Senior Lecturer Amy King at Australian National University, the consensus of experts is that:
The relationship began to deteriorate in the second decade of the 21st century, and that the Trump administration has accelerated the deterioration. Explanations...have ranged over a large number of factors, all of which have played some role. Some relate to changes in official personnel in both the United States and China, others to the shifts and relative power between the two countries after the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, and yet others to China's greater determination to reform global governance institutions and to play more of a global leadership role.
Foot and King emphasize China's aggressive efforts in developing cutting-edge technologies with significant military and commercial implications, while the United States sees the need to defend itself aggressively against technological theft.
U.S. academics have made various policy prescriptions for the United States within the context of its deteriorating relationship with China.
According to Hong Kong economics professor Lawrence J. Lau
, a major cause of the deterioration is the growing battle between China and the U.S. for global economic and technological dominance. More generally, he argues, "It is also a reflection of the rise of populism, isolationism, nationalism and protectionism almost everywhere in the world, including in the US."
According to Ian Bremmer, the U.S and China are in a technology cold war
and Trump's technology war against the PRC has been his administration's biggest foreign policy win, saying, "on the issue of tech decoupling that it was America out front with most allies on board."
According to Greg Autry
, an academic at the University of Southern California, Trump's China policy was working, pointing to increased revenue intakes by the Treasury Department and offshoring by US manufacturing supply chains from China, and crediting the administration for being the first to fully recognize that globalization hadn't delivered for Americans and that China was an existential threat.
Former Obama administration officials Samantha Power and Susan Rice have criticized China's actions on trade, over the Meng Wenzhou affair and in Hong Kong while simultaneously criticizing the Trump administration for inadequate pushback.
On 29 January 2020, the Interior Department's fleet of more than 800 Chinese-made drones, including those by DJI, were grounded, citing security concerns.
On 18 February 2020, the US government announced five Chinese state media
would be designated "foreign missions," requiring them to be legally registered with the US government as a foreign government entity.
On the following day, China took action against three American journalists with The Wall Street Journal
by revoking their press credentials over a coronavirus
opinion column which their paper had run.
According to China, the column was racist and libelous; the CEO of the company that published the WSJ defended the article, as did the State department.
A March 2020 article by Reuters said that Washington slashed the number of journalists allowed to work at U.S. offices of major Chinese media outlets to 100 from 160 due to Beijing's "long-standing intimidation and harassment of journalists." In response, China expelled about a dozen American correspondents with The New York Times
, News Corp's Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, which prompted criticism from the State Department.
On 8 May, the US moved Chinese citizens at non-American news outlets from open-ended work visas to extendable 90-day work visas
and in June the State Department designated a further four Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies.
Americans, especially older Republican voters, took an increasingly negative view of China and of Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping
during the COVID-19 pandemic
, expressing economic, human-rights, and environmental concerns.
By May 2020 relations had deteriorated as both sides were accusing the other of guilt for the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Washington has mobilized a campaign of investigations, prosecutions and export restrictions. Beijing, meanwhile, has stepped up military activities in the contested South China Sea
, and launched denunciations of American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
, and publicly speculating that the American military deliberately unleashed the virus in China. In the growing aspersion, on 15 May 2020, the US blocked shipments of semi-conductors
, while China, for its part, has threatened to place Apple
, and other US firms on "unreliable entities" lists,
and has blamed the US government of using state power under the excuse of national security, and of abusing export control measures to continuously oppress and contain specific enterprises of other countries. Orville Schell
, the director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society
, summed up the situation as follows: "The consequences of the breakdown in US-China relations is going to be very grave for the world and for the global economy because the ability of the US and China to work together was the keystone of the whole arch of globalization
and global trade. With that pulled out, there's going to be a tremendous amount of disturbance."
American polls show the public has increasingly negative views of China.
A research paper by the Begin–Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
said that Chinese state-controlled media enthusiastically covered the protests and rioting attending the killing of George Floyd, comparing the American protests to the protests in Hong Kong and used the rioting and violence in the US as evidence that the democratic system was hypocritical and morally bankrupt.
A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said that racial tensions in the United States was a key area of focus for "a campaign of cross-platform inauthentic activity, conducted by Chinese-speaking actors and broadly in alignment with the political goal of the People's Republic of China (PRC) to denigrate the standing of the US."
In July 2020, FBI Director
Christopher Wray called China the "greatest long-term threat" to the United States. He said that "the FBI is now opening a new China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours. Of the nearly 5,000 active counterintelligence cases currently under way across the country, almost half are related to China."
A July 2020 article by Larry Diamond
asserted the end of China's peaceful rise, saying that while two generations of American scholars held out hope that China would become a responsible stakeholder, in 2020, those hopes had been dashed.
Trump on China: Putting America First
), published on November 2, 2020, a collection of speeches laying out Trump's policy on China
On 20 July 2020, the United States
sanctioned 11 Chinese companies, restricting any trade deal with America for what the US government said was their involvement in human rights violations in Xinjiang
, China, accusing them specifically of using Uyghurs
and other Muslim minorities in forced labor.
In September 2020 the United States had under a 29 May presidential proclamation revoked more than 1,000 visas for PRC students and researchers visas who the US government said had ties to the Chinese military in order to prevent them from stealing and otherwise appropriating sensitive research.
On 1 October 2020, U.S. Congressman Scott Perry introduced legislation to add the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to the Top International Criminal Organizations Target (TICOT) List and provide the United States law enforcement agencies a strategic directive to target the CCP's malign activity.
On 6 October 2020, Germany's ambassador to the UN, on behalf of the group of 39 countries including Germany, the U.K. and the U.S., made a statement to denounce China for its treatment of ethnic minorities and for curtailing freedoms in Hong Kong.
On 9 October 2020, the Department of Justice disallowed the use of its fund to purchase DJI drones, which the DoJ classified as a "Covered Foreign Entity."
According to sources, the State Department suggested President Trump
to include China's Ant Group
to its trade blacklist, following concerns regarding access to banking data of future users.
On October 21, 2020, the US approved arms sales
of $1.8 billion to Taiwan.
It involved three packages that included high technology weapons such as SLAM-ER missiles, HIMARS M142 Launchers and Recce Pods.
On 26 October 2020, China
announced its intentions to impose sanctions on US businesses and individuals, including Boeing
and Lockheed Martin
Taiwan welcomed the arms sales and disapproved of the sanctions.
Taiwan also said it would continue buying arms from America.
On 27 October 2020, the United States and India signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), enabling greater information-sharing and further defense cooperation, to counter China's growing military power in the region.
A December 2020 report stated that U.S. intelligence officials assessed that China had supervised a bounty program paying Afghan militants to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan
On 5 December 2020, the U.S. State department ended five cultural exchange programs with China
, which are - “the Policymakers Educational China Trip Program, the U.S.-China Friendship Program, the U.S.-China Leadership Exchange Program, the U.S.-China Transpacific Exchange Program and the Hong Kong
Educational and Cultural Program.” They described these programs as soft power propaganda tools of Chinese government.
In December 2020, an investigation by Axios
was published that detailed the suspected activities of Christine Fang, a Chinese national who has been suspected by U.S. officials of having conducted political espionage for the Chinese Ministry of State Security
(MSS) while she was in the United States from 2011 to 2015.
While Fang's suspected activities prior to the Axios investigation had already drawn scrutiny from federal law enforcement agencies, the subsequent reactions to its publication drew further scrutiny from politicians and the media.
On 19 January 2021, Mike Pompeo officially declared that China is committing a genocide against Uighurs in the Xinjiang region.
Pompeo called for “all appropriate multilateral and relevant juridical bodies, to join the United States in our effort to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities." Salih Hudayar
, the prime minister of the East Turkistan Government-in-Exile
(who claim to be the legitimate government of Xinjiang), has said, “We hope that this designation will lead to real strong actions to hold China accountable and bring an end to China’s genocide."
Biden administration (2021–)
Relations with the new Biden administration
in 2021 included heightened tensions over trade, technology and human rights, particularly regarding Hong Kong, and the treatment of minorities in China. In addition international tensions regarding control of the South China Sea remained high. However the Biden and Xi administrations agreed to collaborate on long-term projects regarding climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the global COVID-19 pandemic.
On 20 January 2021, China imposed sanctions against outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and 27 other former Trump officials. Biden's National Security Council called the sanctions "unproductive and cynical."
In his nomination hearing, Blinken endorsed Pompeo's report that China is committing a genocide against Uyghur Muslims
, reaffirming Biden's campaign stance.
With respect to "China policy," Biden plans to continue Trump's strict, hardline policy, but take a more collaborative, multilateral approach to China by enlisting the support of American allies, to maximize leverage on Beijing in matters relating to security and economic growth.
This is seen as a departure from the bellicose rhetoric and unilateral approach taken by the previous Trump administration. In late January 2021, China's Ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai
, reasserted China's long-standing position of seeking peaceful coexistence with the United States, and called out to the new American Administration in Washington to address differences through dialogue.
The new American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken
has called-out China on its treatment of the ethnic Uighurs
President Biden, in his first foreign policy address, has labeled China as "the most serious competitor" to the US.
On 22 February 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
urged Biden to lift the multiple sanctions imposed by Trump, including restriction on trade and people-to-people contact. He also called for the new administration to stop interfering in China's internal affairs.
On March 18–19, 2021, bilateral talks in Alaska
took place. Blinken and national security advisor
Jake Sullivan met with Politburo member Yang Jiechi
, and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi
. The Americans unleashed heated attacks on China's policies regarding human rights, cyberattacks, Taiwan, and its crackdown in Xinjiang
and Hong Kong. The Chinese side countered that the U.S. "does not have the qualification... to speak to China from a position of strength", that the U.S. does not serve as a model to others, and that China's "development and strengthening is unstoppable".
In the week ahead of the talks, the administration met with U.S. allies in Asia and imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials.
Imports and exports between the United States and China. US census.gov data.
In 1991, China only accounted for 1% of total imports to the United States.
For many years, China was the most important country which required an annual waiver to maintain free trade
status. The waiver for the PRC had been in effect since 1980. Every year between 1989 and 1999, legislation was introduced in Congress to disapprove the President's waiver. The legislation had sought to tie free trade with China to meeting certain human rights
conditions that go beyond freedom of emigration. All such attempted legislation failed to pass. The requirement of an annual waiver was inconsistent with the rules of the World Trade Organization
, and for the PRC to join the WTO, Congressional action was needed to grant permanent normal trade relations
(PNTR) to China. This was accomplished in 2000 (United States–China Relations Act of 2000
), allowing China to join WTO in 2001.
China's most favoured nation
(MFN) status was made permanent on 27 December 2001.
The PRC and the US resumed trade relations in 1972 and 1973. Direct investment by the US in mainland China covers a wide range of manufacturing sectors, several large hotel projects, restaurant chains, and petrochemicals
. US companies have entered agreements establishing more than 20,000 equity joint ventures
, contractual joint ventures, and wholly foreign-owned enterprises in mainland China. More than 100 US-based multinationals have projects in mainland China, some with multiple investments. Cumulative US investment in mainland China is valued at $48 billion. The US trade deficit with mainland China exceeded $350 billion in 2006 and was the United States' largest bilateral trade deficit.
Some of the factors that influence the U.S. trade deficit with mainland China include:
- US Import Valuation Overcounts China: there has been a shift of low-end assembly industries to mainland China from newly industrialized countries in Asia. Mainland China has increasingly become the last link in a long chain of value-added production. Because US trade data attributes the full value of a product to the final assembler, mainland Chinese value added is overcounted.
- US demand for labor-intensive goods exceeds domestic output: the PRC has restrictive trade practices in mainland China, which include a wide array of barriers to foreign goods and services, often aimed at protecting state-owned enterprises. These practices include high tariffs, lack of transparency, requiring firms to obtain special permission to import goods, inconsistent application of laws and regulations, and leveraging technology from foreign firms in return for market access. Mainland China's accession to the World Trade Organization is meant to help address these barriers.
- The undervaluation of the Renminbi relative to the United States dollar.
Beginning in 2009, the US and China agreed to hold regular high-level talks about economic issues and other mutual concerns by establishing the Strategic Economic Dialogue
, which meets biannually. Five meetings have been held, the most recent in December 2008. Economic nationalism seems to be rising in both countries, a point the leaders of the two delegations noted in their opening presentations.
The United States and China have also established the high-level US-China Senior Dialogue
to discuss international political issues and work out resolutions.
United States trade deficit
In September 2009 a trade dispute emerged between the United States and China, which came after the US imposed tariffs of 35 percent on Chinese tire imports. The Chinese commerce minister accused the United States of a "grave act of trade protectionism
while a USTR
spokesperson said the tariff "was taken precisely in accordance with the law and our international trade agreements."
Additional issues were raised by both sides in subsequent months.
When a country joins the World Trade Organization
they commit to keep their Tariffs beneath the bound rate, which is generally around 39 percent. China's reaction is due to the fact that nations usually keep their Tariffs at an average of 9 percent, but when the U.S raised their Tariff on Chinese imported tires to 35 percent, it was still below the average bound rate.
cautioned: "The statistical bias created by attributing commercial value to the last country of origin perverts the true economic dimension of the bilateral trade imbalances. This affects the political debate, and leads to misguided perceptions. Take the bilateral deficit between China and the US. A series of estimates based on true domestic content can cut the overall deficit – which was $252bn in November 2010 – by half, if not more."
Countries by total wealth
(trillions USD), Credit Suisse
In early 2012, a dispute over rare earth minerals was brought into the light between the two countries. President Obama
made an announcement that the United States would be one of a few countries to file a dispute with China. Amongst the United States, Japan and other Western European countries would also be filing disputes as well. This is simply just one of few disputes between the United States and China. It is believed by many experts, including Chris Isidore, a writer for CNN Money, that "any one of the disputes could damage the economies of both countries as well as the relationship between them."
The dispute was filed, and China was charged with putting unfair restrictions on the exportation of rare earth minerals. These minerals were crucial and in high demand by all countries. President Obama believed the United States should have those minerals in the United States whereas China disagreed. China denied all of the said charges brought forth "saying its rules are defensible on grounds of environmental and economic sustainability, and suggests there would be consequences if the United States presses the case." It is important to understand the relationship between the United States and China, especially economically. There is not one without the other. China's state news agency commented that "past experiences have shown that policymakers in Washington should treat such issues with more prudence, because maintaining sound China-U.S. trade relations is in the fundamental interests of both sides"
China was the biggest trading partner of the United States until 2019, when it dropped to the third place because of the ongoing trade war
From 2003 to 2014, China was a major currency manipulator
. Economist C. Fred Bergsten
, writing for the Peterson Institute for International Economics
, wrote that "During this 'decade of manipulation,' China bought more than $300 billion annually to resist upward movement of its currency by artificially keeping the exchange rate of the dollar strong and the renminbi's exchange rate weak. China's competitive position was thus strengthened by as much as 30 to 40 percent at the peak of the intervention. Currency manipulation explained most of China's large trade surpluses, which reached a staggering 10 percent of its entire GDP in 2007."
During this period, China's currency manipulation was a point of conflict with the United States. Domestic leaders within the United States pressured the Obama administration to take a hard-line stance against China and compel them to raise the value of their currency, and legislation was introduced to the United States Congress
calling on the President to impose tariffs on Chinese imports until China properly values its currency.
Since 2014, the situation changed dramatically, as China stopped artificially deflating its currency,
as the growth in the Chinese economy slowed and Chinese investors made more investments outside the country, leading to a drop in the yuan's value in relation to the dollar, as well as a decline in China's reserves.
In August 2019, US Treasury
designated China as a currency manipulator.
However, it removed the designation on 13 January 2020, as part of efforts to reach a trade deal on the ongoing trade war.
Chinese perspective on the US economy
China is a major creditor and the second largest foreign holder of US public debt
and has been critical of US deficits and fiscal policy,
advising for policies that maintain the purchasing value of the dollar
although it had little few options other than to continue to buy United States Treasury bonds.
China condemned the US monetary policy of quantitative easing
responding to S&P's downgrade of U.S. credit rating, and advised the United States not to continue with the accumulation of debt, concluding with the statement that America cannot continue to borrow to solve financial problems.
Military spending and planning
The PRC's military budget
is often mentioned as a threat by many, including the Blue Team
The PRC's investment in its military is growing rapidly. The United States, along with independent analysts, remains convinced that the PRC conceals its real extent of its military spending.
According to its government, China spent $45 billion on defense in 2007.
In contrast, the United States had a $623-billion budget for the military in 2008, $123 billion more than the combined military budgets of all other countries in the world.
Some very broad US estimates maintain that the PRC military spends between $85 billion and $125 billion. According to official figures, the PRC spent $123 million on defense per day in 2007. In comparison, the US spent $1.7 billion ($1,660 million) per day that year.
Concerns over the Chinese military budget may come from US worries that the PRC is attempting to threaten its neighbors or to challenge the United States. Concerns have been raised that China is developing a large naval base near the South China Sea and has diverted resources from the People's Liberation Army Ground Force
to the People's Liberation Army Navy
and to air force and missile development.
Andrew Scobell wrote that under President Hu, objective civilian control and oversight of the PLA appears to be weakly applied.
On 27 October 2009, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates
praised the steps China has taken to increase transparency of defense spending.
In June 2010, however, he said that the Chinese military was resisting efforts to improve military-to-military relations with the United States.
Gates also said that the United States would "assert freedom of navigation" in response to Chinese complaints about US Navy
deployments in international waters near China.
Admiral Michael Mullen
said that the United States sought closer military ties to China but would continue to operate in the western Pacific
A recent report stated that five of the six US Air Force
bases in the area are potentially vulnerable to Chinese missiles, and it called for increased defenses.
Meanwhile, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
wrote in a 2010 report that the Chinese continue to invest in modernization of their nuclear forces because they perceive that their deterrent force is vulnerable to American capabilities and that further improvement in American missile defenses will drive further Chinese spending in that area.
Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said that China is 20 years behind the United States in military technology.
In 2012, it was reported that the United States would invite a team of senior Chinese logisticians to discuss the possibility of the first logistics co-operation agreement between the two countries.
Professor James R. Holmes, a specialist on China at the US Naval War College
, has said that China's investments towards a potential future conflict are closer to those of the United States than may first appear because the Chinese understate their spending, the internal price structures of the two countries are different, and the Chinese need to concentrate only on projecting military force a short distance from their own shores. The balance may shift to the advantage of the Chinese very quickly if they continue double-digit annual growth, and the US and their allies cut back.
In line with power transition theory
, the idea that "wars tend to break out... when the upward trajectory of a rising power comes close to intersecting the downward trajectory of a declining power," some have argued that conflict between China, an emerging power, and the United States, the current superpower, is all but inevitable.
In 2003, the United States declared that despite some positive momentum that year and greater signs that the People's Republic of China was willing to engage with the US and others on human rights
, there was still serious backsliding
. China has acknowledged in principle the importance of protection of human rights and claimed to have taken steps to bring its own human rights practices into conformity with international norms. Among those steps are the signing of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
in October 1997, which was ratified in March 2001, and the signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
in October 1998, which has not yet been ratified. In 2002, China released a significant number of political and religious prisoners and agreed to interact with UN experts on torture, arbitrary detention, and religion. However, international human rights groups assert that there has been virtually no movement on those promises,
with more people having been arrested for similar offences since then. Those groups maintain that China still has a long way to go in instituting the kind of fundamental systemic change that will protect the rights and liberties of all its citizens in Mainland China. The US State Department publishes an annual report on human rights around the world, which includes an evaluation of China's human rights record.
Since 1998, China has annually published a White Paper
detailing the human rights abuses by the United States
and since 2005 has also published a White Paper on its own political system and democratic progress.
On 27 February 2014,
the United States released its China report on human rights practices for 2013
, which, according to its executive summary, described the PRC as an authoritarian state and a place in which repression and coercion were routine.
On 28 February 2014, China published a report on human rights in the United States that cited surveillance on its own citizens
, mistreatment of inmates
, gun violence, and homelessness, despite having a vibrant economy, as important issues.
On 4 October 2019, the Houston Rockets
' general manager, Daryl Morey
, issued a tweet that supported the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests
Morey's tweet resulted in the Chinese Basketball Association
's suspension of its relationship with the Houston Rockets and the issuance of a statement of dissatisfaction from the consulate office of China in Houston
On 6 October, both Morey and the NBA
issued separate statements addressing the original tweet. Morey said that he never intended his tweet to cause any offense, and the NBA said the tweet was "Regrettable."
The statements were criticized by US politicians and third-party observers for the perceived exercise of economic statecraft by the PRC and insufficiency of the NBA's defense of Morey's tweet.
Critics also contrasted the league's disparate response to Morey's tweet with its history of political activism
and compared the incident to an 2 October South Park
episode "Band in China
" which parodies the self-censorship of the American entertainment industry to meet PRC censorship
The statements also drew criticism from PRC state-run media for their perceived insufficiency, as Morey did not apologize.
In June 2020, the White House on 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square
crackdown, asked Beijing to respect human rights, carry out its due commitments on Hong Kong, as well as flog persecution of ethnic and religious minorities.
On 9 July 2020, the United States
against Chinese politicians, who as per its record were responsible for human rights
violations against Muslim minorities
On September 15, 2020, the US government decided to take steps to block some exports from China's Xinjiang region
, over the country's alleged human rights abuses
directed mostly against the Muslim Uyghurs
minority group of the region.
On January 19, 2021, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that China is committing a genocide against the Uighurs
and crimes against humanity
. In a written letter, Pompeo wrote, “I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”
Pompeo called for “all appropriate multilateral and relevant juridical bodies, to join the United States in our effort to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities."
China strongly denies that human rights abuses are going on in Xinjiang.
Pompeo has previously stated that China is trying to "erase its own citizens." Salih Hudayar
, the prime minister of the East Turkistan Government-in-Exile
(who claim to be the legitimate government of Xinjiang), has said, “We hope that this designation will lead to real strong actions to hold China accountable and bring an end to China’s genocide." Antony Blinken
, Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of State, said that he agrees with Pompeo's assessment.
Around the time of President Biden's inauguration on the 20th, China announced sanctions against Pompeo and 27 other former officials as well as their immediate family members. China accused them of having "planned, promoted and executed” interfering with China's internal affairs. The sanctions bar them from entering China, Hong Kong or Macau. It has also restricted companies associated with them from doing business in China. A spokesperson for Biden's National Security Council called the sanctions "unproductive and cynical."
Influence in Asia
China's economic rise has led to some geo-political friction between the US and China in East Asia
For example, in response to China's response to the bombardment of Yeonpyeong
by North Korea, "Washington is moving to redefine its relationship with South Korea and Japan, potentially creating an anti-China bloc in Northeast Asia
that officials say they don't want but may need."
The Chinese government fears a conspiracy by the US to encircle it.[better source needed]
China and the US have recently led competing efforts to gain influence in Asian trade and development. In 2015, China led the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
with the goal of financing projects that would spur the development of the lower-tier Asian economies, thus facilitating improved economic ties across the region. It has been suggested that the United States considered the AIIB to be a challenge to the US-backed Asian Development Bank
and the World Bank
and saw the Chinese effort as an attempt to set the global economic agenda on terms that would be formulated by the Chinese government.
The Obama administration led an effort to enact the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
, a multilateral trade pact between a number of Pacific Rim countries, which excluded China. According to the US Trade Representative
, the agreement was designed to "promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in the signatories' countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections."
The deal was placed on hold after the US withdrew from the agreement on 23 January 2017.
The efforts are among the attempts by both the US and China to increase their influence over the Asia-Pacific by strengthening their economic ties within the region.
According to an article published in Jura Gentium
, Journal of Philosophy of International Law and Global Politics, there is a "new Sphere of Influence 2"
that is shaped mainly by China and the US. Even on social media, if Western, Japanese, and South Korean events and daily life are linked through Facebook
and American habits and customs are disconnected by the lack of sharing on social media.[original research?]
That strategy to avoid American influences from social networks is preserved by the Chinese government.
Countries in Southeast Asia have responded to Chinese claims for sea areas by seeking closer relations with the United States.
American Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
said that in spite of budget pressures, the United States would expand its influence in the region to counter China's military buildup.
On 7 June 2013, Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East–West Center
, argued in The Diplomat
that the United States and China must stop striving for trust but instead emphasize verification:
"The argument that trust leads to peace is built on the premise that the suspicions between China and the U.S. are unfounded and would evaporate with more and deeper dialogue. Unfortunately, however, at least some of these suspicions are all too warranted."
Whether international law
should govern regional affairs in Asia, whether China should be allowed to make expansive sovereignty claims, and what the future strategic roles of South Korea
should be are issues that Roy considers to be irreconcilable between China and the US
and so strategic trust is not attainable. "The two countries should strive to manage their inevitable bilateral strategic tensions by reaching agreements where both see a benefit and where compliance is measurable... for these inherent rivals and potential adversaries, the emphasis belongs on 'verify,' not 'trust.'"
In the context of US-China relations, a potential application of MAR would be the US pledging not to move its forces into North Korea in the event of a regime collapse, which could be followed by a commitment from China not to move its troops to the Demilitarized Zone
in that event.
Cyberwarfare and election meddling
In October 2018, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
held a hearing on the threat to the US posed by China. Before the hearing, Bloomberg
released an article that stated that China is embedding technology in microchips that are sent to America that collect data on American consumers. However, both FBI Director Christopher Wray
and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen
declined to confirm that statement. Nielsen said that China has become a major threat to the US and also confirmed, in an answer to a question from a senator, that China is trying to influence US elections.
In 2019, two Chinese nationals were indicted for the Anthem medical data breach
About 80 million company records were hacked, stoking fears that the stolen data could be used for identity theft
In February 2020, the United States government indicted members of China's PLA
for hacking into Equifax
and plundering sensitive data as part of a massive heist that also included stealing trade secrets.
Private records of more than 145 million Americans were compromised in the 2017 Equifax data breach
The Voice of America
reported in April 2020 that "Internet security researchers say there have already been signs that China-allied hackers have engaged in so-called "spear-phishing" attacks on American political targets" ahead of the 2020 United States elections
As of 7 July 2020, the U.S. government was 'looking at' banning Chinese video streaming application, TikTok
due to national security concerns. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
said the Trump administration
had been aware of the potential threat and has "worked on this issue for a long time".
On 19 September 2020, a complaint was filed in Washington by TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance
, challenging the recent moves made by the Trump administration to prevent the application from operating in the US. The court documents argued that the US government took the step for political reasons rather than to stop an "unusual and extraordinary threat".
In relation to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on politics
, the United States government has referred to the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus" or the "Wuhan virus", terms which have been criticized for being racist
and "distract[ing] from the Trump administration's failure to contain the disease".
In return, some Chinese officials, including Zhao Lijian
, rejected an earlier acknowledgement of the coronavirus outbreak starting in Wuhan
, in favor of conspiracy theories
that the virus originated in the U.S. or Italy.The Daily Beast
obtained a U.S. government cable outlining a communications strategy with apparent origins in the National Security Council
, quoted as "Everything is about China. We're being told to try and get this messaging out in any way possible".
Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies
have reportedly been pressured by the Trump administration to find intelligence supporting conspiracy theories regarding the origins of the virus in China.
The U.S. intelligence community
says China intentionally under-reported its number of coronavirus cases, with no presented evidence.
Some outlets such as Politico
and Foreign Policy
have said China's efforts to send aid to virus-stricken countries is part of a propaganda
push for global influence.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell
warned there is "a geo-political component including a struggle for influence through spinning and the 'politics of generosity'".
Borrell also said "China is aggressively pushing the message that, unlike the U.S., it is a responsible and reliable partner."
China has also called for the U.S. to lift its sanctions
while reportedly sending aid to the latter two countries. Jack Ma
's donation of 100,000 masks to Cuba was blocked by U.S. sanctions on 3 April.
Trade in medical supplies between the United States and China has also become politically complicated. Exports of face masks and other medical equipment to China from the United States (and many other countries) spiked in February, according to statistics from Trade Data Monitor
, prompting criticism from The Washington Post
that the United States government failed to anticipate the domestic needs for that equipment.
Similarly, The Wall Street Journal
, citing Trade Data Monitor
to show that China is the leading source of many key medical supplies, raised concerns that US tariffs on imports from China
threaten imports of medical supplies into the United States.
The trade war between China and the US alongside Beijing behavior during the COVID-19 crisis have combined to worsen American public opinion about China.
On September 22, 2020, Donald Trump
called on the United Nations
to "hold China accountable for their actions", in a speech to the world body's General Assembly. President Trump blamed the Chinese government for the global spread of COVID-19
, which had infected 31 million people worldwide and killed more than 965,000, by then.
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