The Rising Economic Clout of China ; A Bid on a US Oil Company Has Raised Concerns over China's Expanding Reach

Article excerpt

In recent weeks Washington has become increasingly wary of one of the most powerful geopolitical trends in today's world - the emergence of China as an economic superpower.

The unsolicited Chinese bid to take over a US oil company has riled Congress in particular. Many lawmakers are calling for retaliation against a nation they believe has long flouted the rules of fair international trade.

The White House, for its part, has been reluctant to publicly criticize a deal that may never be consummated. And in general, say analysts, attempts to hobble China's economic rise would be as futile as using ropes to try to restrain a rocket. They would only earn the enmity of the nation that may be most likely to emerge as the world's next superpower.

"Perhaps because China is our strategic rival we are overreacting," says Gary Saxonhouse, an expert on Asian economies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Yet some moves are already being made. On Tuesday, the House voted to add to this year's foreign-aid bill a provision that would prohibit the US Export-Import Bank from approving loans to help US firms build nuclear power plants in China.

Backers of the move argued that US government agencies should not help finance China's rise, and that the Chinese should be prevented from obtaining sensitive American nuclear technology.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) of California went so far as to call China a "Frankenstein monster" threatening US interests.

Meanwhile, key members of Congress were increasing pressure on the White House to investigate the $18.5 billion bid of the Chinese energy company CNOOC for Unocal Corp. House leaders were hoping to pass as early as Thursday a nonbinding resolution urging a national- security review of the deal.

On Tuesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas sent President Bush a letter urging him to block the Unocal deal. Unocal's vital oil assets in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska shouldn't be under China's control, said Mr. Barton. In addition, Unocal's advanced oil- and gas-exploration and production techniques might have military applications, according to Barton and cosigner Rep. Ralph Hall (R) of Texas.

Furthermore, China now has the third largest military budget in the world, and its buildup of troops and weapons worries the Pentagon.

"The Chinese are great economic and political rivals, not friendly competitors or allies in democracy," the letter said.

That China is now the economic engine of Asia is indisputable. …

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