American and Chinese flag pair on desk over defocused background. Horizontal composition with copy space and selective focus.

Factsheet: Bilateral Relations between China and USA

Since the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the U.S. – China relations have been in a roller coaster. It have had several rifts and have evolved from edgy standoffs to an uncommon accelerating diplomacy, surging international enmity, and progressively entangled economies.

In this fact sheet some key events in the Sino – U.S. relationship roller coaster will be discussed mainly focusing on the military, economic, political and social sectors.


1949 – October

Establishment People’s Republic of China.


In late 1949 Mao Zedong the Chinese Communist Party leader established the PR of China in Beijing on 1st of October. The Communist defeated the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek and took hold of China. The ousted Kai-shek along with his thousands of troops fled to Taiwan. The US that had helped the Chiang Kai-shek government against the invading Japanese forces during the WWII helped the exiled Chiang government in Taipei, this set the stage for decades long limited Sino – U.S. relations with mainland China.


1950 – June

Breakout of the Korean War


Soviet-backed North Korean People’s Army annexes South Korea on 25th of June. In the meanwhile United Nations, and United States arrive to South Korea’s defense. China with the support of communist North hits back when the U.S., UN and the South Korean troops approached the Chinese Border. In this 3 years long conflict as many as four million people died. This stopped with the signing of armistice agreement in 1953 by the United Nations, People Republic of China, and North Korea.


1954 – August

First Taiwan Strait Crisis


U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower takes off the U.S. Navy blockade of Taiwan in 1953 enabling Chiang Kai-shek in August 1954 to deploy troops in the Quemoy and Matsu islands in the Taiwan Strait. The mainland China’s Army responded by shelling the islands. Washington and the nationalists led by Chiang sign mutual defense treaty. In early 1955 U.S. threatened China of nuclear attacks. China in the following April after claiming limited victory agreed to negotiate. China held the Dachen Island back. The crises erupted again in 1956 and 1996.


1959 – March

The Uprising in Taiwan


In late 1950’s the Central Intelligence Agency assists sources in Tibetan resistance in the U.S. joined UN in reproving Beijing for human rights abuses in Tibet. Nine years after the People’s Republic of China’s assertion of control over Tibet, an extensive uprising ensued Lhasa. Several died in crackdowns by the Chinese forces, and Dali Lama fled to India.


1964 – October

Nuke Tests Conducted by China


China marked itself as Nuclear power in October 1964 when it tested its atomic bomb in Gobi desert. The tests were conducted amidst the Sino – U.S. escalation in Vietnam, in the meanwhile China was amassing its troops along the Vietnam border.


1969 – March

The Russian – Chinese Border Conflict


Differences in security, ideology and development models rinse Sino – Soviet relations. The radical industrialization policies by the People Republic of China, commonly referred to as the Great Leap Forward, made the Soviets withdraw advisors in the late 1960’s. China and Russia’s disagreements over borders erupted in March 1969. Moscow replaced Washington as the biggest threat to China. Eventually the Sino – Soviet split caused China’s rapprochement with the U.S


1971 – April

Ping-Pong Diplomacy


As a first gesture of warming relations between the U.S. and China, the Chinese ping-pong team invites the U.S. team to China in 1971 on April 6th. The U.S. players accompanied with journalists were the first Americans who were allowed to enter Chinese mainland since the formation of People Republic of China in the 1949. In July the same year the secretary of state Henry Kissinger makes an undisclosed trip to China. In a span of sometime the People’s Republic of China gets recognition from the United Nations and is endowed with a permanent seat in the Security Council. The said seat had been held by the Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China on Taiwan Since 1945.


1972 – February

Nixon’s Visit to China


U.S. president Richard Nixon stays in China for eight days in February 1972. During his stay in China Mr. Nixon met Chairman Mao and signed the Shanghai Communique with Zhou Enlai the Premier of China. The said communique gives pace to the Sino – U.S. relations by embarking them on a path to discuss difficult issues such as that of Taiwan. Nonetheless, the pace of normalization of relations between both the countries made a slow progress for much of the decade.



The One China Policy and Formal Sino – U.S. relations


Jimmy Carter the U.S. President granted full diplomatic recognition to China by acknowledging mainland China’s One China principle and undoing normal ties with Taiwan. The Chinese Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping, who led People’s Republic of China through major economic reforms, visited the United States soon thereafter. However, in April, Congress approved the Taiwan Relations Act, the act allowed continued trade and cultural relations between the U.S. and Taiwan. The act necessitates Washington to provide Taipei with defensive support, but does not legitimately violate the U.S.’s One China policy.


1982 – July

The Reagan Era and China


The “Six Assurances” were issued to Taiwan in the Reagan Era. This act included an American pledge to honor Taiwan Relations Act. Moreover, it would not mediate between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, and U.S. will have no set date to terminate sales of military equipment. Then later in August 1982 the Reagan administration signed third joint communique with the Chinese government to normalize relations this communique reassures the U.S. vow to its one China Policy. Although Ronald Reagan during his presidential campaign voiced support for stronger ties with Taiwan his administration worked to strengthen the Sino – U.S. relations at the height of Washington’s anxieties over Soviet expansionism. Mr. Reagan paid visits to China in April and June in 1984. The same year U.S. permitted Beijing to purchase U.S. military equipment.


1989 – June

Tiananmen Square Massacre


In the spring of the year 1989 a huge number of protestants most of them students held demonstrations in the Tiananmen Square of Beijing for the democratic reforms and eradication of corruption. Unfortunately on June 3 the Chinese government sent military to clear the Square off the Protestants. In a violent clash the troops ended up killing thousands of students (protesters). Responding to this human rights violation the U.S. suspended military sales to China and froze its bilateral relations.


1993 – September

Deportation of Prominent Dissidents


The Chinese government released a political prisoner Wei Jingsheng was imprisoned since 1979. President of that time of the U.S. Bill Clinton launched a “constructive Engagement” policy with China. Later in 2000 in bid to host Olympic Games the Chinese government failed and consequently it imprisoned Wei again. Clinton secured the release of Wei and Tiananmen Square protester Wang Dan. After the release Beijing deported both dissidents to the U.S.


1996 – March

First Free Presidential Vote in Taiwan


The Nationalist Party candidate Lee Teng-hui won the first ever free presidential elections of Taiwan with a great margin. China tried to sway Taiwanese voters to abstain from voting for pro independent candidate by testing missiles few days ahead of the elections. A year before the elections China had called its ambassador to U.S. back the reason being authorization of Lee’s visit to U.S. by Clinton revoking a fifteen years-old U.S. policy that abstains U.S. from granting visas to Taiwanese leaders. Both Beijing and U.S. agreed to exchange officials again in 1996.


1999 – May

Bombing of the Belgrade Embassy


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) haphazardly bombed Chinese embassy in Belgrade during its combat against the Serbian forces occupying Kosovo. This incident shook the Sino – U.S. relations. Although the United States and the NATO apologized to the Chinese government and people but the residents of China launched several protests and caused damage to U.S. official properties inside China.


2000 – October

Trade Relations Normalization


The U.S. – China Relations Act of 2000 was signed by Clinton granting Beijing normal trade relations with U.S. permanently and paved way for the Chinese government to join the World Trade Organization in 2001. States infer that between 1980 and 2004 the trade volume of U.S. and China increased to $231 Billion from $5 Billion. China had by then surpassed Mexicans as the second biggest trade partner of the U.S. after Canada.


2001 – April

Sino – U.S. Spy Plane Standoff


A U.S. exploratory plane gets into trouble after colliding with a Chinese fighter plane and had to take an emergency landing in the Chinese territory. The crew consisting of 24 members were detained by Chinese officials in the Hainan Island of China. After 12 days of intense stalemate the Chinese authorities release the crew. President of that time Mr. George W. Bush send condolence on the death of a Chinese pilot in the incident and landing of the U.S. plane.


2005 – September

Responsible Stakeholder


In a speech the Deputy Secretary of State, Robert B. Zoellick introduced a strategic dialogue with China. In his speech he recognized China as an emerging power and iterated that China must serve as a “responsible stakeholder” and use the influence it has got to bring nations such as Sudan, North Korea and Iran into the international system. In this particular year North Korea walks off the Six-Party Talks which were aimed at cutting Pyongyang’s nuclear spirits. North Korea conducted first nuclear test in October 2006 and later China served as a mediator to bring-back the Pyongyang to the table talks.


2007 – March

Increment in the Chinese Military Spending


China announced 18% increase in the budget for defense spending taking it $45 Billion. China on average spent 15% on its military from 1990 to 2005. During his tour to Asia, Vice President Dick Cheney said that Chinese military buildup is contrary to its stated goal of “peaceful rise” however, the Chinese government said that it increased the expenditure to insure provision of better training and higher salaries to its soldiers to protect the “national security” and “national integrity” of China.


2008 – September

China – the Largest U.S. Foreign Creditor


China overthrows Japan as holder of maximum amount of U.S. debt – or treasuries – estimated at $600 Billion. This growing interdependence of the two large economies threatened of a financial crisis across the globe creating concerns over the Sino – U.S. economic imbalance.


2010 – August

World’s Second Largest Economy – China


The People’s Republic of China surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. Chinese economy was valued at $1.33 Trillion as compared to $1.28 of Japan in the second quarter of 2010. Chinese will be overtaking U.S. as the largest economy of the world by 2027 as said by Jim O’Neill the chief economist at Goldman Sach. The GDP of China at start of 2011 was $5.88 Trillion as compared to $5.47 Trillion of Japan.


2011 – November

U.S. ‘Pivots’ Towards Asia


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton In an essay for Foreign Policy, sketches a U.S. “pivot” to Asia. The plea of Clinton for “increased investment – diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise – in the Asia-Pacific region” is perceived as a strategy to contain China’s growing clout in the particular region. U.S. President Barack Obama that month, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, publicized the United States and eight other nations have grasped an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a multinational free trade agreement. President Obama after some time announces the U.S. plans to deploy 2,500 marines in Australia, this act prompted huge criticism from Beijing.


2012 – February

Amassing Trade Tensions


The U.S. trade deficit with China rises to an all-time high of $295.5 Billion in 2011. The trade deficit was $273.1 Billion in 2010. All this increase happened in 3 quarters for the US. In the following month US along with EU and Japan filed a “request for consultation” with China at the World Trade Organization over the restriction of China on export of rare earth metals. U.S. along with its allies in a bid to contend China’s share violate international trade norms by forcing multinational companies using those metals to relocate to China. The Chinese term this as “rash and unfair” while defending its rights in trade disputes.



A flee to U.S. Embassy


Chen Guangcheng a blind Chinese dissident elopes a house arrest in the Shandong province and flees to the U.S. embassy in Beijing along with his wife. The embassy staff negotiate an agreement with the Chinese officials and mend ways to allow Chen to say in China and study Law. Later Chen changes his mind and asks for shelter in the U.S. these developments threatened the Sino – U.S. relations but however a deal was made to let Chen to live in the U.S. on study visa rather an asylum seeker.



The New Chinese Leadership


The 18th National Party Congress completed with substantial leadership turnover in decades. About 70% of the country’s major leadership bodies changed including the Politburo Standing Committee, the Central Military Commission, the State Council etc., the role of the Premier was assumed by Li Keqiang, while Xi Jinping replaced Hu Jintao as President, the General Secretary of Communist Party, and the Central Military Commission’s Chairman. A series of speeches were delivered by Xi on the “rejuvenation” of China.


2013 – June

Sunnylands Summit


Obama hosted Xi in a “shirt-sleeves summit” at the sunnylands Estate, California in pursuit of building personal rapport with the counterpart and to ease tense U.S. – China relations. Both the presidents agreed to cooperate more efficiently on demanding issues. Obama and Xi pledged to establish a “new model” of relations.


2014 – May

Indication of Chinese Nationals by the U.S.


Five Chinese hackers were indicated by a U.S. court, they were alleged with ties to the Chia’s People’s Liberation Army, the hackers were charged for the stealing of trade technology from U.S. companies. In a reaction the Chinese government suspends its cooperation in the Sino – U.S. cyber security working group. U.S. authorities in 2015 signaled for evidences that Chinese hackers are behind the major online breach of the Office of Personal Management and the loot of data 22 million present and former federal employees.


2015 – May

South China Sea and Sino – U.S.


The U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in the 14th annual Shangri-La Dialogues on Asian Security calls on China to halt their controversial land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. The Secretary said that the U.S. opposes any further militarization of the disputed territory. U.S. naval surveillance provided evidence of placement of military equipment on the artificial islands that were made by Chinese government for civilian purposes.


2017 – February

Trumps Affirmation with the One China Policy


U.S. President Donald J. Trump urged that he will honor the One China Policy in a call with the Chinese counterpart Xi after the presidential elections victory. Trump also called the Taiwanese President breaking the established customs and questioning the U.S. commitment of One China policy. For the past four decades the U.S. policy had been there is but one China, under this policy U.S. was entitled to have formal ties with the Chinese government but they also maintained informal ties with Taiwanese government, U.S. also provided the Taiwan with defense aid. Rex Tillerson the Secretary of State visited Beijing and termed the Sino – U.S. relations as “built on non-confrontation” that iterates no conflict, mutual respect and abiding with win – win situations.



Trump hosts Xi at Mar-a-Logo


Chinese President Xi visits U.S. for a 2-day summit at the Mar-a-Logo estate, Florida. Both Trump and Xi discuss bilateral trade and the North Korea as the top agenda of the meeting. Both Trump and Xi had termed the summit as a success. A ten-part agreement was latter unveiled by the secretary of Commerce in U.S. between Washington and Beijing to expand trade.


2018 – March

Trump Tariffs


Trump administration announces bizarre tariffs on Chinese imports, hitting almost all sectors of the Chinese export items to U.S. the tariffs totaled about $50 Billion. These tariffs were imposed in response to the White House’s alleged Chinese theft of U.S. technologies and intellectual property. In a retaliatory step China also imposed tariffs on range of American products.



Sino – U.S. Trade War Escalation


The Trump administration enforced fresh tariffs totaling $34 billion worth of Chinese goods. More than eight hundred Chinese products faced a 25 percent import tax, the industrial and transport sectors, as well as goods such as televisions and medical devices were targeted. China hit back with its own tariffs on more than five hundred U.S. products. The retaliation, also valued around $34 billion, marked commodities such as beef, dairy, seafood, and soybeans. The Trump and co. believed that China is “ripping off” the United States, camouflaging of free trade rules to the detriment of U.S. firms operating in China. Beijing criticized the Trump administration’s moves as “trade bullying” and cautioned that tariffs could trigger global market unrest.



Pence’s Speech – Signaling Hard-Line Approach


Mike Pence, U.S. Vice President delivered a speech manifesting the Trump administration’s policy toward China and a substantial toughening of the United States’ position. Pence emphasizes that the U.S. will prioritize competition over cooperation by using tariffs to contest “economic aggression.” Pence condemns growing Chinese military aggression in his opinion, especially in the South China Sea, critiques increased censorship and religious torment by the Chinese government, and alleges China of stealing American intellectual property and meddling in U.S. elections. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounces Pence’s speech as “baseless accusations” and cautions that such actions could hurt U.S.-China relations.



Arrest of Huawei’s Executive by Canada


Chief Financial Officer of Huawei a Chinese telecom and electronics company, Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the request of the U.S. according to a U.S. court Meng and Huawei violated trade sanctions against Iran and also committed fraud, the U.S. wanted Meng extradited. In response the Chinese government alleges two Canadian citizens of undermining China’s national Security and arrest them. China term arrest of Meng as a “serious political incident”. In Sept 2021 Meng reaches a deal with the US authorities and was allowed to travel to China, the Canadian citizens were also released.


2019 – March

Huawei Sues the U.S.


Alongside the legal proceedings against Meng by the U.S. authorities, the Huawei sues U.S. in a separate lawsuit caliming for a ban on U.S. federal agencies from using any of the telecom giants’ equipment. In wake of this technological battle Trump administration start an aggressive campaign warning other countries of abstaining from using Huawei’s equipment for building 5G networks, they claimed that Chinese government can spy using the company.



Trade War intensifies


Trump administration raised tariffs from 10 to 25 percent on $200 Billion worth of Chinese Goods. China hits back by imposing tariffs on $60 Billion worth of American goods. Trump believed high tariffs will force China to make a deal that is favorable for the U.S. but the Chinese government termed them as “extravagant expectations”. U.S. banned companies from consuming foreign made telecommunications equipment believing they could be threat to national security, this move was believed to be aimed at Huawei. Huawei was added to foreign entity blacklist by U.S. Commerce Department.



Currency Manipulator China – U.S. Labels


The Chinese central bank lets the yuan weaken considerably the Trump administration steps up to term China as a currency manipulator. China was termed a manipulator for the first time after 1994. The yuan gets weaker a week after U.S. imposes tariffs on goods worth $300 Billion.



Bill supporting Hong Kong Protestors


Donald Trump in an unpopular move signs the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act which was passed from the U.S. Congress with overwhelming majority. This Act entitled U.S. to sanction Human Rights violators in Hong Kong and to analyze the degree of freedom Hong Kong enjoys from Beijing. The passage of this bill was celebrated by pro-democracy protestors who were demonstrating since June 2019. The move was condemned by China, several U.S. based organizations were sanctioned and U.S. warship visit to Hong Kong was suspended.


2020 – January

Trade Deal Signed ‘Phase I”


President Trump and Chinese vice Premier Liu He signed an agreement. This was a breakthrough in last 2 years among the two biggest economies of the world. The deal relaxed U.S. tariffs on Chinese products. China was obliged to buy additional $200 Billion worth of America products. The Chinese also vowed to enforce intellectual property protections. Days before the signing U.S. revoked the title of currency manipulator off China.



Coronavirus Pandemic Crisis


Ban on entry of non-U.S. citizens amid the outbreak of Coronavirus. WHO declared this virus that was first reported in Wuhan city of U.S. as pandemic by March. Both U.S. and Chinese officials blamed each other for the eruption of the virus. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson claimed without any evidence that this was bought to China by the U.S. military. However Trump referred to Coronavirus as “Chinese Virus”.by April they both change their tones and searched for avenues to cooperate on. Although Trump blamed WHO for being biased towards China and even halted the U.S. funding to WHO amidst a pandemic.



American Journalists Expelled by China


Thirteen U.S. journalists belonging to Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post were expelled by China, their press credentials were set to expire in 2020. The Chinese government also demanded all those outlets including Times and Voice of America to share information with the Chinese government regarding their operations in the China. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry this move was a response to the previous year’s limiting o Chinese Journalists from 5 state run media outlets. U.S. laid off several employees who belonged to China decreasing the number to 100 from 160. Later in November 2021, U.S. and China agreed to ease the restrictions on journalists.



Revocation of Hong Kong’s Special Status


Beijing passed a new national security law for Hong Kong, two weeks later President Trump signed an executive order terminating the city’s special trade status with the U.S. He also signed bill to sanction officials and businesses that destabilize Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy. Chinese officials threatened to impose revengeful sanctions on U.S. individuals and entities. They condemned what they call U.S. interference in China’s internal matters, including Washington’s declaration a day earlier asserting most of Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea illegal.



Closure of Consulates in wake of Diplomatic Escalation


U.S. summoned China to close consulates in Houston and Texas with allegations that these properties were hub of espionage and intellectual property theft. China bounces back by closing U.S. consulate in Chengdu. Furthermore in the same week U.S. indicts 2 Chinese hackers for stealing Coronavirus vaccine researches and also sanctions 11 Chinese companies for alleged involvement in Human Rights violations in Xinjiang. The Chinese Foreign Minister accuses U.S. of the tensions.




Engagement Failed – Pompeo


The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declares that the era of engagement with Chinese Communist party have come to an end. Pompeo was delivering a speech on the topic “Communist China and the Free world’s Future”. Pompeo criticized China for unfair trade, intellectual property theft, human rights abuses and aggressive moves in the South and East China Sea’s. Pompeo insisted Chinese citizens around the world to pressurize the government in China to abide by international laws.



Trump Ramps up Pressure


Trump further cemented being tough on China in his last few weeks in the office, Commerce department added dozens of Chinese firms to its trade blacklist, State Department tightened Visa rules for about 90 million members of Communist party, sanctioned Chinese officials including 14 members of legislative body, White house banned U.S. investments in Chinese companies.


2021 – January

Genocide – Uyghurs


On Trumps last day in office Pompeo termed the crimes committed against humanity in Xinjiang against Uyghurs a genocide. Uyghurs are a Muslim ethnic community group from Xinjiang region. U.S. was first country to term the abuses committed by Chinese government as Genocide. The Chinese government however denies all such claims.



Sanctions on Pompeo and 28 others


China declares sanctions against 28 Trump administration officials including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing them of meddling with the internal matters of China, the sanctions would ban them and their families from entering China.



Xi – Biden Phone Call


On the eve of lunar new year both the counterparts talked on a phone call, extended festival greetings and emphasized on broadening the horizons of relations and normalization.



Tariff Exclusion on Medical Products


Biden administration acquitted about 99 categories of medical products from China until September 2021 to tackle Covid19. The exclusion covers variety of products including face masks, gloves, blood pressure cuffs sleeves, X-ray tables.



US – Japan Pledge


Biden and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga vowed to work together to counter the China Challenge and to contain Chinese expansion in the region especially in the Asia-Pacific.



First Trade Talks Since Biden Took Office


Chinese vice Premier Liu He spoke with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, making it the first such conversation on trade between the two sides since President Joe Biden took office. “In a spirit of mutual equality and mutual respect, the two sides piloted candid, pragmatic, and constructive exchanges,” China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement, “The two sides agreed that the development of bilateral trade is very important.”



Extension of Ban


Trump extended the ban of U.S. investment in Chinese firms that was imposed in the Trump Era.



NATO Watch


NATO shifts its focus towards China in a bid declaring it a global security challenge followed by the G7 summit that criticized China for the abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The newly passed NATO 2030 strategy stresses that the alliance member states employ more resources on dealing with China’s growing global influence. As a response, China cautioned NATO that it will not sit back in the face of any challenges.


2022 – February

Russia Ukraine War and China


The Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi spoke on the Chinese stance on Russia – Ukraine War in the Munich Security Conference. Speaking via a video link to the 58th Munich Security Conference Wang Yi said that China supports the national sovereignty of all countries including Ukraine. “Every Country’s sovereignty independence and territorial integrity must be safeguarded because these are the basic principles in international relations established through the United Nations Constitution” said Wang Yi. He also criticized NATO and said that if NATO keeps pushing eastwards and expending it will grow insecurities and will be conducive to maintaining peace and stability in Europe. Wang insisted on diplomacy, he said “All parties should work for the comprehensive resolution of the Ukraine crisis through dialogue and negotiation.” China has blamed U.S. and the west for escalating the situation in a press conference the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said that “the US has been playing up the threat of war and creating an air of tension” and that “persistent hyping and dissemination of disinformation by some in the US and the West that has added more turbulence and uncertainty to the world” it is inferred that besides the warming relations between China and Russia amid the tensions with U.S. China will not support the Ukraine invasion of Russia.

Published in Global Affairs May Edition 2022












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Haseen Alam Riza

Written by Haseen Alam Riza

Haseen Alam Riza is working as an intern at Global Affairs. She is pursuing her studies in the field of Peace & Conflict Studies from National Defence University Islamabad. She was also a participant in the Sister2sister Exchange Program where she was placed at Georgetown University Washington in 2021.

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