Despite trade signing, disputes abound between US, China

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US President Donald Trump, shakes hands with China's Vice Premier Liu He, the country's top trade negotiator, before they sign a trade agreement

US President Donald Trump, shakes hands with China's Vice Premier Liu He, the country's top trade negotiator, before they sign a trade agreement (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

Washington (AFP) - The United States and China on Wednesday signed a long-awaited, if partial, deal to ease trade frictions but other disputes abound between the Pacific powers.

President Donald Trump thanked his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for the "incredible breakthrough" on trade and promised to visit China soon.

But for some US officials, the clearing of the trade row could offer an opportunity to press harder on other disputes.

Here is a look at some of the key disagreements between the two countries:

- 'Brutal' repression of Uighurs -

The Trump administration rarely presses on human rights with allies, but on China it has been outspoken over the detention of more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described the incarceration as "brutal" and likened it to the crimes of Nazi Germany, describing China as engaging in a war on faith.

Uighur activists and witnesses say China is trying forcibly to assimilate the minority group by punishing basic Islamic practices.

China insists that it is providing vocational training to discourage extremism.

- Democracy in Hong Kong -

Trump, after complaining about the impact on trade talks, in November signed a law approved nearly unanimously by Congress that aims to preserve Hong Kong's special status in China.

Lawmakers are pushing the Trump administration to follow through on the legislation's threat to strip Hong Kong of its favorable trading status if China is found not to respect its autonomous status.

Major protests broke out in the former British colony demanding democratic freedoms after an attempt by Beijing to allow extraditions to mainland China.

- Tibetan rights -

The United States has increasingly insisted on Tibetans' freedom to follow their rituals in choosing the next Dalai Lama, amid fears that China will seek a compliant successor to the Himalayan people's charismatic 14th spiritual leader.

Congress is expected soon to pass legislation that would seek sanctions on any Chinese officials who try to interfere in the reincarnation process and would block China from opening new consulates in the United States until Washington can open one in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

- Chinese expansion -

The United States has for several years stepped up the tone on China's assertive efforts to claim disputed areas of the South China and the East China Sea.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently calling Beijing's moves "destabilizing" and pledged to work closely with US allies in Asia.

The United States has also been encouraging developing countries to be wary of China's "Belt and Road Initiative" in which Beijing is promising billions in infrastructure spending, with Washington warning that governments could wind up saddled with debt.

The United States has also called on China to discuss its growing nuclear arsenal as part of a broader successor to the New START treaty with Russia, but Beijing has refused.

- Crackdown on Huawei -

It is unclear if the trade accord will ease US charges of unfair trading practices by China, but it is highly unlikely that Washington will ease pressure on Huawei.

The United States has effectively banned the Chinese telecom giant and is pressing its allies, including in Europe, to do likewise amid fear of security risks if Beijing dominates the growing market for 5G technology.