A host of American dignitaries joined with their Chinese counterparts in
Beijing for a high-level meeting to mark this year's 30th anniversary of
Sino-American ties. The two-day session ended Tuesday, as leaders and former
leaders on both sides agreed on the need to continue strengthening what many
speakers called the most important bilateral relationship in the world.
For followers of modern U.S.-China history, the gathering was a
Jimmy Carter, who was president when Washington
normalized relations with China in 1979, was among those gathered.
American political luminaries included former National Security advisers Henry
Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Kissinger went on an ice-breaking trip to
China in 1971, at a time when Washington and Beijing were estranged. He says the
absence of broad ties allowed then-President Nixon to focus on the fundamentals
of a long-term relationship in his meeting with Chinese leader Mao Zedong in
Beijing in 1972.
"When we met, when Nixon met Mao and I met [then Chinese
Premier] Zhou Enlai, there were no urgent, day to day problems. There were only
big, strategic problems," he said.
The biggest Sino-American issue at the
time was Taiwan. The Nationalist Chinese government fled to the island in 1949,
after losing a civil war to the Communists. Washington recognized the Taipei
government as representing all of China. To normalize relations with China,
Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing.
considered and still considers Taiwan a part of Chinese territory. Beijing has
vowed to use force, if necessary, to keep the island from declaring
Brzezinski, who was President Carter's national security
adviser, says the Taiwan issue is no longer a sharp thorn in the bilateral
"The better the American-Chinese relationship, the less
salient is the Taiwan issue, and the easier it is for Taiwan and the mainland to
establish an increasingly organic relationship," he said.
American officials were treated as political celebrities. Television news
programs featured footage of Chinese President Hu Jintao meeting them Monday at
the Great Hall of the People.
President Hu says
all the guests are "old friends of China." He says they all witnessed the
establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries and played an
important role in promoting the establishment of Sino-American
President Carter told President Hu he is impressed with what he
describes as the "great changes" that have occurred within China, and in
Sino-American relations, in the last three decades.
between China and the United States has now developed into the most significant
diplomatic relationship in the world," said Mr. Carter.
He says, before
coming to China, he talked with American President-elect Barack Obama, who takes
office January 20. He extended Mr. Obama's personal greetings and commitment to
continue the partnership in a spirit of mutual respect.