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Sino-US Relations Traverse Rough and Rugged Road

The mirror-like development history of Sino-US relations reflects from one aspect the change in the international situation over the past century. In the 21st century. a sustained, stable and sound development of Sino-US ties will make still greater contribution to world peace, prosperity and progress.

In the first half of the 20th century, beginning from the Eight-Power Allied Forces' intrusion into Beijing, the Chinese people had suffered, to the fullest extent, the bully by Western powers, including the United States. After the Pacific War broke out in 1941, the United States and China formed themselves into an anti-fascist alliance. The successful cooperation between China and the United States in the anti-fascist war indicated for the first time in history that Sino-US relations played an important role in safeguarding regional and world peace.

After victory was won in the war, the United States pushed through an anti-Communist strategy by supporting the Chiang Kai-shek in fighting the civil war. Over a period of 20 years after the birth of New China, the United States clung to its containment policy of hostility toward China, practiced military encirclement and economic blockade against China, and supported the Taiwan authorities in their usurpation of China's seat in the United Nations. In the 50s, China and the United States had a life-and-death trial of strength in the Korean battlefield, the Chinese people won great victory in the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.

In 1968, after he was elected president, Nixon began to gradually adjust relations with China in order to get the United States out of the Vietnam War mire and cope with the Soviet Union's expansion. In 1971, the Sino-US "ping pong diplomacy" and Henry Kissinger's secret visit to China opened the prelude to the new relations between the two countries. In 1972, President Nixon successfully realized his China visit, during which China and the United States signed the Shanghai Communiqué.

After President Jimmy Carter's assumption of office, the two countries signed the Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between China and the United States in December 1978. On January 1, 1979, China and the United States formally realized normalization of relations, and thus opened a new chapter in the annals of relations between the two countries. Between January 25 and February 4 that same year, Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of China's reform and opening up, paid a visit to the United States, which evoked a great stir among both the rulers and the people, an unprecedented "China heat" swept the vast land of the United States.

The normalization of Sino-US relations, which started in steps with China's reform and opening drive, added a tremendous impetus to boosting Sino-US ties. In the 1980s, along with the expansion of China's opening to the outside world, the exchanges between China and the United States in the fields of politics, economy, science and technology and culture became increasingly active.

However, Sino-US relations were none too calm and smooth during this period, and unceasing struggles were fought between both sides over such questions as Taiwan, trade, intellectual property rights. In March 1979 shortly after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, US Congress passed the "Taiwan Relations Act" which violates the spirit of the communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations and interferes in China's internal affairs. Since then, taking this as the basis, the US side has continued to sell large quantities of arms to Taiwan. After resolute struggles waged by the Chinese side, the two governments published, on August 17, 1982, a joint communiqué on the step-by-step solution of the problem regarding US arms sales to Taiwan. The August 17 Communiqué, the Shanghai Communiqué and the Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between China and the United States together laid a solid foundation for the long-term, stable and sound development of Sino-US relations.

Between the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the international situation had experienced the most radical turbulence and most profound changes since the end of World War II. With the radical change in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States and other Western countries' anti-Communist and anti-China forces became very rife and rampant for a while. In 1989, the US government declared imposition of economic sanctions against China and suspension of exchange of high-level visits between the two countries. In 1993, Clinton entered and hosted the White House, he again connected the question of human rights with the most-favored-nation (MFN) status to China, thus causing radical deterioration of the Sino-US relations.

The opportunity for Sino-US relations to get out of the slump was provided by the unofficial conference of APEC leaders held in Seattle, USA in November 1993. During the meeting, President Jiang Zemin and President Bill Clinton held the first bilateral meeting. President Jiang stressed that the two countries should have the world in mind, look to the future and bring a sound and stable Sino-US relationship and a world of peace, stability and security into the 21st century. President Clinton also indicated that the United States was willing to improve relations with China.

Driven by Sino-US top level meeting in Seattle, in 1994 the Clinton administration put forward its policy of contact with China. That same year, high-level government officials of the two countries restored mutual visiting activities that had been unilaterally terminated for more than three years by the United States; the US government declared separating the human right issue from the MNF status.

However, the development of Sino-US relations again suffered setback in 1995. In May, the US government, ignoring the Chinese government's repeated oppositions, flagrantly agreed Lee Teng-hui's visit to the United States, which caused Sino-US relations to fall to the lowest point over a period of 16 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries. The Chinese government therefore lodged strong protest with the US side.

China's strong reaction made the US government begin to understand the severity and sensitiveness of the Taiwan issue. In October 1995, Jiang Zemin held a formal meeting with Clinton in New York during the conference marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Jiang Zemin put forward the basic policy for handling Sino-US relations by stressing the need to "increase trust, reduce trouble, develop cooperation and repudiate confrontation" and once again expounded China's stand on the Taiwan issue. Clinton emphasized the importance of carrying out "constructive contacts" with China, and reaffirming the one-China policy. The meeting played an important role in bringing Sino-US relations back to the normal track.

After Clinton was re-elected as president in 1996, the Chinese and US governments made an important decision that heads of State of the two countries conducted official mutual visits. Between October 26 and November 3, 1997, President Jiang Zemin paid a state visit to the United States, the first official one ever paid by China's head of State over a period of 12 years. During the visit, both sides published the Sino-US Joint Statement, defining the goal, principle and guideline for the development of Sino-US relations geared to the 21st century. Between June 25 and July 3, 1988, President Clinton visited China, during which both sides further clearly defined the direction and framework for the development of Sino-US relations oriented toward the 21st century. During Clinton's visit, he for the first time openly defined his "three-no commitment" (no contact, no talks and no compromise) policy toward Taiwan. The successful mutual visits between heads of State of China and the United States injected fresh vigor into improvement of ties between the two countries.

At the time when the 20th century is drawing to its end, the US "new interventionism" has raised its head which has brought new severe test to Sino-US ties. In May 1999, US Congress dished out the "Cox report" which charged China with "stealing nuclear secret"; particularly the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during US-led NATO's Kosovo War again plunged Sino-US relations into a crisis. In October the same year, the meeting between Jiang Zemin and Clinton in Auckland, New Zealand began to bring bilateral ties out of the shadow of "bombing the embassy incident". In November, China and the United States finally reached an agreement on China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In 2000, Sino-US relations were further repaired and developed steadily. During the UN Millenium Summit Meeting and the unofficial conference of APEC leaders, heads of State of the two countries held successive meetings; the two countries restored dialogs on security and military exchange. US Congress passed the bill on granting China permanent normal trade relation status (PNTR). At the turn of the century, Sino-US relations continue to keep a good momentum of steady development amidst twists and turns.

A look at history reveals that Sino-US relationship has developed through a rough and rugged course. During the 40-year period of Cold War, China and the United States had moved from hostility and stalemate to normalization of relations; During the early, middle and late 90s, Sino-US relationship again experienced three major ups and downs, nevertheless, the relationship still moved ahead steadily amid ups and downs. The development of Sino-US ties in the past 50 years has given people the following important aspects of enlightenment:

First, China's political independence, economic growth, the unceasing elevation of its international status and the enhancement of its strategic role in its relations with big powers are the important reasons for the turn in Sino-US relations, while China's reform and opening policy has provided a historic opportunity for the all-round development of the relations between the two countries.

Second, the Cold War mentality featuring the use of ideology to decide friend and foe can only lead to confrontation and even conflict. China and the United States have many intersection points of interests, realization of bilateral friendship, cooperation and common development will not only benefit the two peoples, but will facilitate stability, peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and the world as a whole.

Third, the Taiwan issue has witnessed the most disputes and the fiercest struggle between China and the United States after completing the course from Cold War confrontation and negotiations on the establishment of diplomatic ties to the normalization of relations. Whether or not the Taiwan issue can be properly handled in accordance with the principles of the three communiqués has a direct bearing on the stability, improvement and development of Sino-US relations in the new century.

Fourth, bilateral divergences must be resolved in the spirit of mutual respect, consultation on an equal footing, and seeking common grounds while reserving differences. Any containment and sanction, any threat and intimidation, any attempt to use force cannot solve differences between the two countries, but rather can only lead to antagonism and even conflict, impair the national interests of the two countries and bring danger on regional and even global security.

Having experienced century-long twists and turns, Sino-US relationship has finally marched into the new century in a gentle posture. The election of George W. Bush as the US president indicates that US Republicans are again to lead US policy toward China after the conclusion of the Cold War. US policy toward China has always reflected the common view of the two Parties, therefore people have every reason to expect that the new US government can continue to push Sino-US relations forward. Of course, in the future, Sino-US ties may still face storms, however, so long as leaders of the two countries can grasp the pulse of the development of China-US relations from the height of history and strategy, bilateral ties can definitely develop healthily, thereby making new contributions to world peace and development.

(People’s Daily 01/19/2001)

In This Series

Sino-US Relations to See New Development

Chinese Diplomat on Sino-US Ties



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