WASHINGTON — Tensions between China and the United States have ebbed significantly in recent days, with the countries now working together to confront Iran over its nuclear ambitions and with the Obama administration backing off a politically charged clash over China’s currency.
The warming trend was evident in the Chinese government’s announcement Thursday that President Hu Jintao will attend a nuclear security summit meeting in Washington later this month. American officials had feared that Hu would skip the talks to express China’s anger over recent diplomatic clashes, including a White House decision to sell arms to Taiwan and President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.
But this week, the drumbeat of bad news — and an underlying narrative of a rising China flexing its muscles against a debt-laden United States — has suddenly given way to talk of collaboration.
The United States is also setting aside for now potentially the most divisive issue in the relationship, deferring a decision on whether to accuse China of manipulating its currency, the renminbi, until well after Hu’s visit, according to a senior administration official. That decision, the official said, reflects a judgment that threatening China is not the best way to persuade it to allow the renminbi to appreciate against the dollar.
Many economists expect China to act on its own to loosen the tight link of the renminbi to the dollar — a policy that keeps the currency’s value depressed and makes China’s exports more competitive in global markets.
Still, the administration’s decision not to force the currency issue now could carry political risks at home. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have introduced legislation calling for broad trade sanctions against China if it does not change its currency policy. And unions and manufacturing firms cite the undervalued Chinese currency as a major culprit for lost American jobs.
The White House would not comment on the currency issue, but an official said that if China did not take action on its own, the administration could raise the issue again at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Toronto in June. The White House welcomed Hu’s visit as proof that its policy of engaging with China on strategic issues of common interest had paid off.
“We have an important relationship with China, one in which there are many issues of mutual concern that we work on together,” a White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said to reporters on Thursday. “But there also will be times where we disagree. I think this proves the point that despite those disagreements, we can work together on issues like nuclear proliferation.”
Relations appeared to hit a low point last week when Google, citing Chinese censorship, began redirecting users in China to its uncensored Internet search engine in Hong Kong.