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 star-studded event.
Jimmy Carter, who was president when Washington normalized relations with China in 1979, was among those gathered.
The 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.
China has considered and still considers Taiwan a part of Chinese territory. Beijing has vowed to use force, if necessary, to keep the island from declaring independence.
Brzezinski, who was President Carter's national security adviser, says the Taiwan issue is no longer a sharp thorn in the bilateral relationship.
"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.
The former 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 ties.
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.
"The relationship 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.