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The small increase in the value of the yuan since June is about on track to bring the 2 percent to 3 percent gain predicted by many economists in the first year. That will do very little to erase the trade gap, economists point out.

Even a 21 percent rise in the Chinese currency between 2005 and 2008, when Beijing pursued a more flexible policy, failed to lower the yawning U.S. deficit with China, which is by far the largest worldwide at more than $230 billion a year.

The trade gap stems from more fundamental differences between China and the U.S., economists say: The U.S. generally spends more than it produces, while Chinese consumers and businesses produce and save more than they consume — creating the trade gap.

But Mr. Sohn pointed out that China is helping U.S. consumers and the economy by reinvesting much of its trade earnings in U.S. government debt, holding down U.S. interest rates and helping the economy recover.

While change has been painfully slow, Yukon Huang, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the heated debate over currency issues has overshadowed other important steps China is taking to gradually correct its huge trade imbalance with the U.S.

Those steps include rising wages and broadening income gains throughout China, which hit at the core of China’s cheap labor advantage and allow Chinese consumers to increase spending on imports from the U.S. and other countries. That eventually will put a lid on the trade gap.

“The excessive focus on China’s exchange rate is not helpful in moving China’s policies in the right direction,” Mr. Huang said. “Other factors matter more.”