"China is rising, and it's not going away," said the senator, "They're neither our enemy nor our friend. They're competitors."
More than a year before the November 2008 U.S. election, China — occasionally as partner, more often as adversary and potential vote-getter — is also rising as an issue among the candidates for president.
Iraq is, and will be, the top foreign policy issue among the people jockeying for the White House. But as detractors increasingly shine a critical spotlight on China in the buildup to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the contenders will likely ratchet up their rhetoric on China's ability to help and to hinder American interests around the world.
"It's impossible to avoid China as a policy issue," Doug Holtz-Eakin, a policy adviser to the campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain, said in an interview. "Anybody who is interested in being the next president of the United States has to think consciously about how ... to have China emerge as a responsible stakeholder."
Candidates have been raising, in debates and campaign stops, what they see as China's failure to live up to its duties as an emerging global superpower.
But they also recognize that the U.S. needs China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, to secure punishment for Iran's nuclear program and to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
As Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said: "If I'm lucky enough to be president, making China a partner for stability in the world will be one of my highest priorities. China is really key, in many respects, as they become a very large economy."
Many of the comments, however, have been complaints, as candidates work to connect with voters increasingly worried about China's huge military buildup, its flood of goods into the U.S., its ability to influence violence in Sudan's Darfur region, and its repression of minorities, dissidents and journalists.