US-China Relations: the Overarching issues and the ‘nitty gritty”

Updated On: May 15, 2007

Cough mixture, pet food, Darfur, buying sprees are a lethal mixture for US-China relations. Who would expect a spate of pet deaths to become an issue for great power relations? 


The story actually starts off with cough mixtures. There were at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two decades and records and interviews indicate that in three of the last four cases, the cough mixtures came from China, one of the world’s major sources of counterfeit or sub-standard drugs. In the most recent case in Panamaalone, families have reported 365 deaths, 100 of which have been confirmed so far to be linked to the tainted medicine originating from Chinese companies.. When at least 88 children died in Haiti a decade ago, F.D.A. investigators traced the poison that killed at least 88 children to the Manchurian city of Dalian where a suspected rogue manufacturer resides.


Such incidents damaged the image of China as a world manufacturing superpower. And the problem does not end there. When pets die in the world’s only superpower, China’s role in exporting wheat gluten containing an industrial chemical, melamine, that ended up in pet food and livestock feed is now highlighted as a political problem, something detrimental to China’s international image. US investigators have arrived in China to look into this spate of mass pet poisoning. "The FDA team is on the ground in China. The investigation has begun," said David Acheson, assistant Food and Drug Administration commissioner for food protection.


China critics in the US are likely to pick on the pet deaths as an issue in Sino-US relations. But they run against those already working closely with the Chinese in the economic sphere. The US needs China as their economies become so closely intertwined.  China is about to embark on U.S. shopping spree ahead of a high-level strategic economic meeting. At this point of time, the last thing the US wants to do is to up tensions between the two countries. Chinakicked off its latest buying campaign in San Francisco with a commitment to buy $4.3 billion in U.S. technology (computer software, semiconductor and telecommunications from the likes of Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Hewlett Packard Co.) as part of China's efforts to narrow a trade gap that has tormented the U.S. for years.


This came two weeks before Washington is expected to pick its bone with China over the US$232 billion trade deficit. Lawmakers are already busy taking aim at the China with punitive measures design to pressure the PRC government to increase the value of the RMB. But how do you punish a country which is buying more American products without at the same time injuring oneself? 


With the influx of Chinese cash, California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi immediately hailed the agreements as an "important step in furthering the deep relationship between this state, this country and China." Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the state Capitol said that California exports to China totaled nearly $10 billion in 2006. Executives from more than 200 Chinese companies are waiting in the wing and scheduled to meet with their U.S. counterparts in 24 cities scattered across 23 states for more business deals.


But at the same time as the US welcomes the incoming Chinese cash, a political battle is brewing as Tom Lantos, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, warned China in a letter to President Hu Jintao on Sudan. Lantos warned that while the international community is stepping up to its responsibilities, unless China does its part to ensure that the government of Sudan accepts the best and most reasonable path to peace, “history will judge your government as having bank-rolled a genocide."


He also warned that China's image could be tarnished ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics if it failed to do more to curtail Khartoum. "This appalling genocide has already destroyed untold numbers of families, due to displacement or death of a loved one," Lantos said. "If China fails to do its part, it risks being forever known as the host of the 'Genocide Olympics.'" The Olympics is a coming-out party for China. The PRC wants nothing to tarnish its image. NotTaiwan and certainly not Sudan. A senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, traveled to Sudan to push the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force.


Ironically, US push for China to take a stance in controlling developments in Darfur may actually have the effect of pushing the Chinese to extend military activities into AfricaChina has announced that it would send an engineering unit of 275 members to Darfur in Sudan "in the near future" to participate in the implementation of the second phase of a UN support plan for the African Union (AU) peace-keeping mission in the region.


"We believe the international community should continue to push forward both peace-keeping missions and political progress in Darfur, and urge the opposition faction there to resume talks with the Sudanese government to achieve peace and stability in the region at an early date," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. "We would like to make joint efforts with the international community including the United States for a timely and proper solution to theDarfur issue," Jiang said in response to a question concerning calls from the United States that China should do more on the Darfur issue. "The United States has also played a positive role in Darfur," Jiang said, adding China and theUnited States share the same goal on the issue, namely a political resolution to the conflict.


Sudan is a good avenue for the Chinese to polish up its image in the US politically. Other than Darfur, the other great issue that needs better Sino-US communications is between the military. Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command Timothy Keating arrived in Beijing for his first China visit since taking office to meet with senior Chinese generals and officials, including Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, China's top military institution. The 19-member US delegation will tour Chongqing in southwest China and Nanchang in east China (14 May 2007)



China rapped by US Congress over Darfur (Channelnewsasia, 10 May 2007)

In China, US officials begin probe into tainted pet food (Channelnewsasia, 4 May 2007)

China to send 275-member engineer unit to Darfur (People’s Daily, 11 May 2007)

U.S. Pacific commander arrives in Beijing for his first China visit (People’s Daily, 11 May 2007)

Mainland leapfrogs JapanTaiwan (People’s Daily, 11 May 2007)

China Begins U.S. 'Buying Mission' (AP, 10 May 2007)

China keen to promote coal-bed methane mining (People’s Daily, 10 May 2007)

China begins U.S. 'buying mission' (Reuters, 10 May 2007)

Chinese To Deploy Soldiers To Darfur (Washington Post, 9 May 2007)

China says taking steps to head off food scares (Channelnewsasia, 9 May 2007)

From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine (NY Times, 6 May 2007)

Darfur Collides With Olympics, and China Yields (NY Times, 13 April 2007)