Obama's visit to Asia will test ties with China

Friend and foe. Partner and rival. Ally and adversary.

Thirty years after restoring diplomatic ties, the U.S. and China share a love-hate relationship forged by economic interdependence. Their bond will be tested Monday when President Barack Obama arrives for a three-day visit to Beijing and Shanghai.

Topping the agenda are money matters. China holds more than $800 billion in American debt and the U.S. buys the bulk of the communist nation’s exports. Political and ideological differences, however, will be hard to ignore at the summit.

“It’s a strange situation to be in,” said Asia expert Joshua Kurlantzick, of the Council on Foreign Relations. “You’re so intertwined with a country which you also view as your potential challenger.”

amNewYork takes a look at the top issues facing the two superpowers.

Economy
The U.S. will step lightly on trade and currency, its economic standing depleted by the recent recession and China’s improved global image, said Kurlantzick, author of “Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World.”

China has questioned whether the U.S. dollar should remain the global currency. The world’s most populous country has reason to be confident; its economy is on track to overtake America’s in as little as 20 years.

“China is on an upsurge, and that’s going to be a fact of life for the next decades,” said Zachary Karabell, author of “Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy and Why the World’s Prosperity Depends on It.” “It’s a significant market for everything from commodities to Oil of Olay.”

Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao likely will discuss recent U.S. tariffs on Chinese tires and other free trade deterrents; the appreciating Yuan currency; and Chinese software piracy and counterfeiting.

Despite increased influence, China is limited in how hard it can push the Obama administration. It’s banking on America’s economic recovery. After all, a further weakened dollar would diminish China’s huge stake in U.S. treasuries.

Human rights
A much thornier issue is the East Asian state’s civil abuses, including the stifling of protesters and the muzzling of the media. Chinese violence against Tibetans and other minorities has been condemned worldwide.

Here, Obama will be especially cautious. The president reportedly put off meeting with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama last month to appease his Chinese counterparts.

“The U.S. is in a weaker position vis-à-vis China than it’s been in a long time,” Kurlantzick said. “If he [Obama] is going to push on human rights issues, it’s going to be very quietly.”

Environment
China is the biggest polluter on the globe with the U.S. a close second. Together they make up 40 percent of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions.

The Obama administration more than its predecessor has taken steps toward climate control and China is making similar concessions, but they must move “beyond lip service,” said Justin Yu, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in New York.

The pressure is on to create a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to battle global warming, a task for a U.N. summit in Copenhagen in December. The cooperation of the U.S. and China, beginning this week, is vital.

Taiwan
President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao may try to dissuade Obama from his support of Taiwan, which they view as a Chinese territory. Washington is weighing weapons sales to Taiwan, including F-16 fighter jets.

Whether Taiwan, whose political status is in limbo, should declare itself an independent state is debated even among Taiwanese natives themselves. In 2012, presidential elections in the U.S. and Taiwan and the end of the Chinese president’s term could resolve the issue for good.

Also of note
Nuclear proliferation: China hasn’t been as hostile to Iran as the West would like, but the U.S. and China have a common goal of limiting nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea and likely will share tactics.

Auto sales: A blow to Detroit, China has overtaken the U.S. as the leading car market. GM sales were up by 55 percent in China this year and the growing demand there has peaked manufacturers’ interest, to the distress of the American industry.

Military: China marked the 60th anniversary of its founding with an impressive parade of tanks and phalanxes of uniformed troops. Its military relations with the U.S. are not as orderly. “The U.S. concern is that China’s military is still very opaque,” said Kurlantzick, adding that the countries do not have a good working relationship in this realm.

emily.ngo@am-ny.com

(Photo: AFP/Getty)

Tags: President Barack Obama , President Hu Jintao , China , economy , environment , Asia , Taiwan

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