According to the Associated Press, the administration's new get-tough approach with China could involve filing trade charges against the Asian giant over auto parts and copyright piracy and branding the Chinese as currency manipulators.
But the betting is that the harder line won't have much impact, at least right away, on the soaring U.S. trade deficit, which hit an all-time high of $726 billion last year. It is that deficit that is getting a lot of attention in Washington, especially the one-fourth of the deficit that is accounted for by a single country - the $202 billion trade gap with China.
That figure prompted howls of protest in Congress. Lawmakers contended it showed President Bush is not doing enough to counter China's unfair trade practices, which they contend have contributed to the loss of nearly 3 million U.S. manufacturing jobs since mid-2000. Lawmakers rushed to introduce more bills to slam China with tough economic sanctions.
Hoping to head that off, the administration last week unveiled its own get-tough strategy, a 29-page "top-to-bottom review" of trade relations between the two nations. U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman announced the creation of a new China enforcement task force in his office.
He indicated that without progress soon in two areas of tension -- high Chinese tariffs imposed on American auto parts and continued widespread copyright piracy of American products -- the administration would probably file unfair trade cases against China before the World Trade Organization.