China came in for harsh criticism in Congress Thursday because of economic policies that several lawmakers said harm America's workers.
Sen. Lindsey Graham charged that Beijing is a "government without a conscience," intent on manipulating its currency to the detriment of American producers. The South Carolina Republican, a persistent critic of China's policies, also asserted the country allows widespread piracy of copyrighted U.S. goods and abuses its citizens.
Graham, who travels to China on Sunday, said he will tell high-ranking leaders that "they make it exceedingly difficult" to encourage business and political ties with the United States.
Mentioning charges that China manipulates the Internet to suppress dissent, Graham asked, "How can you have a constructive, productive relationship with a government that fears its own people?"
Graham predicted "extreme action" in Congress if Beijing does not move soon toward economic reform. He has co-sponsored a bill that would impose a high tariff on Chinese goods to counter what he calls artificial currency exchange rates.
Strong congressional support of the bill, he said, reflects "a sea change in the relationship between Congress and China," which he said is at "a tenuous point."
As the White House prepares to welcome Chinese President Hu Jintao, U.S. officials are increasingly voicing concern over what they call unfair Chinese economic practices that they say make it impossible for American workers to compete.
Recent action in Congress also includes a bill that would revoke normal trade relations with China
Criticism from Congress last year forced China's state-controlled CNOOC Ltd. to give up an $18.5 billion (euro15.3 billion) takeover bid for the U.S. oil company Unocal Corp. Lawmakers said the deal could jeopardize U.S. security.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., said China's economic policies are part of a "deliberate strategy" to erode America's economy.
"Fundamentally, I don't believe that we can compete with a country that does not respect human rights," he said.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, chairman of a House panel that funds foreign programs, said he was worried about the rising anger toward China.
"There is an economic protectionism here in the United States the likes of which I don't think we've seen in quite a while," said Kolbe, R-Ariz.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez this week reflected the mood in Congress, saying in a speech that Beijing's failure to reform its economy plays into the hands of lawmakers who "want to build protectionist barriers around the U.S. market. That's the last thing we need."