Last weekend, President Bush met Chinese leader Hu Jintao in Santiago, Chile, on the periphery of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent Andr?de Nesnera looks at some of the key issues that may shape Chinese-American relations in the months ahead.
Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell offered a brief, but upbeat assessment of Sino-American relations.
"We've got good relations with China; the best, perhaps, in decades."
While analysts may quibble with Mr. Powell's optimistic viewpoint, they agree that on the whole, relations between Washington and Beijing are good.
As President Bush prepares to begin his second term in office, experts say two issues will continue to dominate relations between the United States and China in the months and years ahead: the curtailment of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and Taiwan.
Lee Hamilton, former chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, sees China using its influence on North Korea on the issue of nuclear weapons.
"China certainly can play a role and has to be part of it, for sure, because they have as much influence as any country with North Korea. That's not necessarily saying it has a huge amount of influence, but they certainly have more than we do. So any negotiation with North Korea is going to require not only the participation of South Korea, but of China and probably some other countries as well. "
The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are part of the six-party talks with North Korea aimed at resolving the nuclear crisis with Pyongyang. Several years ago (2002) North Korea withdrew from a 1994 agreement with the United States, and said it was re-starting its plutonium re-processing operations. Experts say Pyongyang may now be able to produce at least six nuclear weapons.
Just a few days ago, President Bush met Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Santiago, Chile. Both men agreed to work together to increase pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.
David Lampton is a China Scholar with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He says the U.S. and China have different priorities when it comes to North Korea.
"The American priority is to: first, second and third priorities are to get rid of nuclear weapons, get rid of nuclear weapons and get rid of nuclear weapons - that is the U.S. agenda there. The Chinese's first priority is to maintain stability in North Korea, because if the regime imploded, China would get a large number - presumably as would South Korea - of refugees, and neither society wants that. Also a war there could involve them and in any case, China is hoping to get investments into its northeast, which borders on North Korea, and instability there would hurt that. So I think the Chinese value stability in North Korea more highly than the U.S. The United States, sometimes, talks with a little bit of abandon, in the Chinese view, about regime change in North Korea. I don't think the Chinese want that."
Former U.S. Ambassador to China (1989-91) James Lilley sees other Chinese concerns when it comes to North Korea.
"They've got this common border; they've got this socialist neighbor; they've got this Korean minority in Manchuria that they're worried about; they've got the Korean refugees flooding in; they're pumping money into, food into North Korea to get it to survive. But they are very concerned about the weapons of mass destruction; perhaps not as concerned as we are, but it seems to me they could do more in getting the North Koreans to curb their weapons of mass destruction and using their economic leverage to achieve this."
Ambassador Lilley says China has been the driving force behind the six-party talks.
Taiwan is considered to be the most sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations. The U.S. position remains the same: Washington does not support Taiwan independence. The U.S. "one China" policy says both Taiwan and the Mainland are part of China - and Washington urges Taiwan and Beijing to resolve any differences in a peaceful manner.
But analysts say if the U.S. should ever come into conflict with a nuclear power, the most likely place would be the Taiwan Straits.
Davidl Lampton from Johns Hopkins says the political leaders in Taiwan are playing with fire.
"Taiwan's people and its democratic political process are rewarding people in the Taiwan political system who are pushing for more autonomy and more identity of Taiwan as separate from China. China's bottom line is that it is not going to tolerate a de jure independent Taiwan, and exactly where the Chinese red line is, can be debated. But I do believe there is a red line and Taiwan is skirting very close to it. And if there were conflict in the Taiwan Straits between the People's Republic of China and Taipei, the United States would be in a very difficult position because we have some historic obligation to the security of Taiwan: that obligation is not absolutely clear. There is uncertainty about what the U.S. would do, but it would be very hard for the U.S. to stand on the sidelines.
Mr. Lampton says with U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terrorism, the Bush administration doesn't need a flare-up in the Taiwan Straits to complicate matters even more.
Economic Issues and China's Relations with Iran at Top of Washington-Beijing Agenda.
Analysts say U.S.-China relations will be a key component of President Bush's policy in his second term. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent Andr?de Nesnera looks at some of the main issues facing the two countries.
U.S. administration officials and China experts agree relations between Washington and Beijing are good.
Analysts say the two issues that will dominate Chinese-American relations in President Bush's second term will be how to curtail North Korea's nuclear weapons program and Taiwan.
But David Lampton, China Scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says other issues come to mind.
"There have been almost for decades now, intellectual property rights, counterfeit of U.S. trademarks and intellectual property violations of all sorts. That's an ongoing problem. In the human rights area, of course, there are ongoing problems with the nature of due process in China, so those issues persist."
Analysts point to two other matters that affect relations between the two countries: China's growing alliance with Iran and economic questions.
James Lilley, former U.S. ambassador to Beijing (1989-91), says economic issues have always been high on the agenda of U.S.-China talks.
"Trade is always a problem with China. They have a very large trade surplus with us, probably too large, and I think we have to talk to them about adjusting their exchange rate and perhaps opening their market more, rather than thinking about closing ours."
For Leon Fuerth, former national security adviser to Vice-President Al Gore, trade and financial imbalances between Washington and Beijing are a source of concern.
"China, along with Japan, holds most of the debt that it now takes to keep the United States running. So there is almost a relationship of mutual vulnerability building up between these two economies on a very large scale. We're connected now at the wallet and I think that that connection will be present in everybody's mind, both in Washington and Beijing, as they look at how to manage U.S.-China relations."
Analysts say another area of concern is China's growing cooperation with Iran. David Lampton from Johns Hopkins says that relationship is also driven by economic needs.
"China is absolutely desperate, given its high growth rate, for energy. Iran has very large reserves of natural gas and oil and China has recently talked to Iran and I believe concluded an agreement in the natural gas area with Iran that's important in sustaining China's growth. That's one area. Secondly, Iran is obviously a major country in central Asia and China has 19- million Muslims itself and is very concerned to have as good relations as it can with what you may call the revolutionary Muslim countries of central Asia and the Middle East, so those countries don't have an incentive to mobilize China's 19-million Muslims in a way that would be detrimental to China's government. So it wants to have relations with Iran, positive relations to avoid trouble, and it also has this energy interest."
Former U.S. Ambassador to Beijing James Lilley says while energy issues are bringing the two countries together, there are other considerations as well.
"There is, unfortunately, a conventional military component in there, where the Chinese are selling the Iranians arms. We hope they aren't weapons of mass destruction, but we're not 100 percent sure. So I think there is a force driving them together -- the whole business of U.S. hegemonism in central Asia, they are both concerned about that. They are both concerned about the expansion of NATO and they want to sort of chart an independent course. We have to watch it closely, but you have to realize a couple of things. First of all, Japan buys more oil from Iran than China does. Second of all, if China buys oil from Iran, they have to ship it by sea, there is no overland pipelines. Ergo, they have to ship it through our navy; therefore, we do have leverage, if you choose to use it at some point."
Analysts say the increasing cooperation between Tehran and Beijing could also undermine Washington's efforts to put pressure on Iran to end its attempts to produce nuclear weapons. These experts say China could play a key role if the Iran nuclear issue is debated at the United Nations Security Council: as one of the five permanent Security Council members, Beijing has a veto power and could use it.