The U. S. economy is so huge that it is unavoidably an important market for Chinese goods. The United States has also become a large source of investment in China. Any country as large as China must consider not only its direct relations with the United States but also the impact of those relations with all of its neighbors.
U. S. president Nixon initiated the first thaw in U. S.-Chinese relations with his 1972 visit to China, but he did not carry through to full restoration of diplomatic relations. U. S. president Jimmy Carter normalized diplomatic relations with Beijing and canceled the U. S. military treaty with Taiwan. President Ronald Reagan tried to strengthen U. S.-Taiwan relations despite numerous protests from Beijing. U. S.-Chinese relations recovered later in the Reagan administration and improved under U. S. president George Bush. As a former U. S. envoy to China, Bush recognized the importance of strong ties with China.
American criticism of China's forced abortion policies and human rights practices continued. With the 1989 suppression of prodemocracy demonstrations in China, diplomatic relations declined. Good relations between China and the United States remained important, and improvements were made during President Bill Clinton's administration. However, several issues continued to divide the two countries.
In particular, relations with Taiwan continued to be difficult. During the Taiwanese election, Beijing attempted to influence the outcome by shooting missiles near Taiwan. The Chinese apparently hoped this would frighten the Taiwanese into voting against a party that threatened to make Taiwan more independent of China. The ploy did not work and forced a strong show of force by the Clinton administration.
Taiwan remained a point of bitter disagreement between China and the United States. In July, 1999, the Chinese reacted strongly against a statement by Taiwanese president Lee Teng-Hui that relations between China and Taiwan should be a special sort of relation between two different states. Chinese worries about possible Taiwanese movements toward independence grew more serious in March, 2000, with the election of Chen Shui-bian, a proindependence candidate, as president of Taiwan. U. S. president George W. Bush reiterated American support for Taiwan in April, 2001, when he agreed to supply the island nation with a wide range of weapons and military goods that the Taiwanese could use against an attack from the Chinese mainland.
Relations between the United States and China took a serious downward turn with U. S.-led intervention in Yugoslavia by forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999. China opposed the intervention, which was intended to stop Yugoslavian aggression against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. On May 7, 1999, NATO airplanes accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in the Yugoslavian capital of Belgrade, killing three Chinese diplomats and provoking anti-American outrage among many people in China.
Anti-American feeling grew once again in China when, on April 1,2001, an American surveillance plane collided with a Chinese military jet. The American plane was forced to land on Hainan Island, where the crew remained for eleven days until the Chinese returned crew members and the disassembled plane.
Within the United States, several events led to anti-Chinese attitudes. Reports that the Chinese had engaged in spying on the U. S. nuclear program in 1999 received widespread publicity. The arrest in China of two academic researchers from the United States in 2001 underscored the continuing repressive nature of the Chinese political system. Nevertheless, the Chinese and American governments viewed each other as important partners and official relations did make some progress, in spite of the crises. One of the high points in relations between the two nations was achieved in 2000, when the U. S. Congress finally approved the granting of permanent normal trade relations to China.
Richard L. Wilson Updated by the Editors