Editor's Note: Before the turn of the century, it was considered a "no brainer" for U.S. businesses: you had to be in China. Fast forward ten years and you have to ask the question, "has China been good or bad for America?" This week in our original series "China Rising," we're assessing China's economic impact on the United States. Tomorrow on American Morning, Christine Romans examines how China has changed American businesses. One look at your dinner table will tell you everything you need to know.
By Christine Romans, CNN
(CNN) – The question nine years after China was admitted to the World Trade Organization and officially welcomed in to the world economy is this: Has China's rise been good or bad for America?
Meet Steve Udden. He is a husband, father of two daughters and a trade statistic.
"I felt like a baseball player that got traded from a team that he loved playing for and loved the fans. I loved my customers; my coworkers were like second family to me," he explains.
His job as a telecoms projects manager went overseas to China when his factory moved there. Classified by the U.S. government as a casualty of foreign trade qualifies him for a stipend and money for retraining. Unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance help fill the gap.
“We are keeping it level and steady and holding the line and right now we are ok.”
He's the face of the increasingly strained relations between the United States and China.
One think-tank estimates 2.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost between 2001-2008.
With China's explosive rise comes a nation that is now a key player in America's domestic and foreign policy. Take its currency: Anything made in China is cheaper than made in the USA. Why?
“They arbitrarily control the value of their currency and they do not allow it to float, like most other currencies in which supply and demand for the currency set the value of it,” explains Dan Slane of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
That means one dollar is always equal to roughly 6.83 Yuan.
“The manipulation of their currency gives them about a 40% advantage and it puts our exporters at an enormous disadvantage,” says Slane.
The Treasury secretary abruptly postponed releasing a report this week that could have listed China as a currency manipulator, opting for backroom diplomacy and a closed-door meeting in Beijing. This comes just before China's President Hu Jintao comes to Washington for nuclear talks.
“That's good. We're not going to hang him out to dry politically while he's here, which would be disastrous,” says Robert Kapp, a China trade and business consultant.
And then there's this: Pressuring China is tricky. China is America's banker, the world's factory floor. It’s building its military, buying more of the world's natural resources to fuel its growth and it doesn't like Americans telling it what to do.
“The Chinese [are] showing a new assertiveness and aggressiveness that took many Americans by surprise… I think it's partly because they're starting to listen to what we say about this being China's century and then they started to internalize it and say: Well if this is our century, then we should determine what goes on,” says Gordon Chang, author of "The Coming Collapse of China."
At the same time, the United States needs China's influence with emerging nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran.
“Thus far, the Chinese and U.S. have clearly not been of one mind. The Chinese have said over and over, oh, we're going to do it diplomatically, let's negotiate and the Americans have gotten more and more impatient and tried to move the world in the direction of difficult sanctions,” says Kapp.
As the temperature rises, the American people wonder: Is China an opportunity or a threat?
“It's going to be both. And the question is, on balance, is it better or is it worse,” says Chang.
It is a question that is unanswered for Steve Udden.
He is still out of work in Foxboro, Massachusetts. His job is now somewhere in China.
His outlook is quintessentially American.
“I'm completely optimistic and believe in the marrow of my bones that I am going to find something that is good for me and my wife and children.
Publicly, the Chinese dismiss the Obama administration’s calls to let its currency rise. Chinese officials insist the United States is using Beijing as a scapegoat for its own economic troubles.
Premier Wen Jiabao, in rare public comments, recently scolded the President Obama and called America's attitude "protectionist." He said the United States has too many of its own problems to interfere in how China chooses to do business.