U.S. Grows More Dependent on China

Nevertheless, as the world saw in September, trouble can easily erupt between the two countries. To protect US manufacturers against cheap Chinese tire imports, the otherwise docile Obama approved the imposition of punitive duties of up to 35 percent.

The Chinese promptly threatened to impose retaliatory duties on imported American chickens and auto parts. They recently imposed punitive duties against certain synthetic fiber imports from the United States and Europe. In return, Uncle Sam imposed provisional anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese steel.

Danger of Friction

Obama and his host, President Hu Jintao, who is also the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party's central committee, are determined not to allow such friction to overshadow their summit. The United States is hoping to exact concessions from the Chinese on issues like climate change. Conversely, it will take China years to disconnect itself from the American consumer market.

In the spring, Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the Chinese central bank, forcefully argued that the US dollar be replaced as the dominant reserve currency in the long term by a new, artificial world currency. But as long as their yuan is not even freely convertible, the Chinese have no choice but to invest in the dollar.

At the same time, public pressure is building on both sides to demonstrate strength on trade issues. In the United States, generous government bailouts for half-defunct Wall Street firms turned into an acid test. Many became bitter over the fact that the bankers responsible for the crisis were being bailed out, while millions of Americans have lost their jobs, houses and retirement savings. The funds from Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package are only gradually trickling down into local projects to stimulate growth.

The shopping spree the Chinese have planned could also trigger resentment, as they prepare to buy up American high-tech companies in a big way. To ensure that everything goes smoothly, Beijing's Ministry of Commerce posted a guide to Chinese investment in the United States on the Internet this summer.

Don't Slurp

In the more than 100-page document, the Chinese bureaucrats advise would-be investors to make tactical adjustments to conform to practices in capitalist America. They even include tips on how to behave, suggesting, for example, that women should wear skirts to work, rather than jeans. Chinese buyers are also advised to brace themselves for objections coming from the unions, to take things slowly, pay regular visits to the offices of relevant members of Congress and maintain good relationships with journalists -- and not to slurp while eating soup.

But not everything that leads to economic success can be planned and decreed from above. The People's Republic has yet to produce brilliant entrepreneurs like Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, nor has it come up with any global brands. The West, particularly the United States, is still ahead of China when it comes to creativity.

Besides, it is not at all certain that China's upward progression to the top will be as inexorable as it seems today. Indeed, there is a long list of possible setbacks. Economists see recent developments as a "China bubble" that could burst very soon, and Beijing could also face intensified ethnic conflicts such as those involving the Uighurs and Tibetans, while social unrest could shake the country to its core.

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