The world was stunned on Jan. 1, 1979, when the United States of America and the People's Republic of China, after three decades of isolation and hostility, formally established their diplomatic relations.
Another three decades have elapsed, and a senior U.S. diplomat who played a key role in mending and normalizing the U.S.-China ties, sees what happened 30 years back as a blessing not only to both countries and their people, but also to Asia and the world at large.
The opening of the United States to China in the early 1970s and the ensuing establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979 "is one of the most significant and positive international events in the last 50 or 60 years," Winston Lord, former U.S. ambassador to China and also one of the main trailblazers in bilateral relationsa long with President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
"What you have is the most powerful nation on the planet and most populous nation on the planet even back then, getting together after decades of mutual isolation and hostility," he commented, with pride.
In 1971, Lord, then a top aide to U.S. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, accompanied his boss to make a highly confidential trip to China, which turned out to be a prelude to the landmark China visit by President Nixon in the next year.
"We fought a war with each other in Korea, we had no contact and we had...total break off of relations," said Lord while recalling the situation before the icebreaking visits. "This was not good for world stability and either country's interests."
Diplomatic ties with China have allowed the United States to be more flexible in its diplomacy to deal with one fifth or one quarter of the world's population, to bring great stability to Asia at the time, and to balance the Soviet Union during the Cold War era, he noted.
"It was of some help in ending the Vietnam War too," he added. "So it has greatly served our interests in the United States."
The forging of diplomatic relations with the U.S. has also been a "tremendous benefit" for China, which has since become "one of the most important countries not only in Asia but in the world," said Lord.
In fact, the economic reform and real opening to the outside world in China began at the same time almost exactly as the diplomatic relations were established with Washington, he said. "That in turn has led to China's tremendous economic growth domestically and its greater influence in the world diplomatically."
The U.S.-China ties also helped Lord, an undisputed expert on China and Asia, in his personal career. From 1973 to 1977, he was U.S. State Department's top policy adviser on China. He served as U.S. ambassador to China between 1985 and 1989. During the first term of President Bill Clinton, he was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Speaking of the current situation of bilateral ties, Lord pointed out that the two countries are "among each other's greatest markets and export interests as well as investment."
"Chinese goods give our consumers more choices in keeping inflation down and we've got to work closer in this current financial crisis to help both our economies but also the world financial system," he added.
The two countries have also been cooperating well on Korea, energy, environment, health, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and other issues, and in regional organizations and the United Nations as well, said Lord.
"We can see that this is an event that has not only huge importance for the two countries but has brought stability to Asia and allowed us two -- the most important countries in the world now -- to work together on many regional and global problems," he said, once again underlining the significance of the diplomatic relations forged 30 years ago.
In what may be called a personal bond to China, Lord was married to Bette Bao Lord, a Shanghai-born American-Chinese and also a noted writer whose first novel, Spring Moon, was an international bestseller and American Book Award nominee for best first novel.
"I love Chinese food so I always call the relationship sweet and sour," quipped the former ambassador.
"Right now it's in a quite positive phase," said Lord, whose sharp mind and witty words easily betray his background as a seasoned diplomat. "I would say it's 81.5 percent positive and 18.5 percent negative," he added, with a smile.
Interestingly, he had a similar judgment on the nation-to-nation relations.
"The positive elements greatly outnumber the negative elements," observed the 71-year-old, who will fly to Beijing next month along with President Jimmy Carter and some other retired officials and diplomats, for activities there marking the 30th anniversary of the Sino-U.S. diplomatic ties.
And with a government transition taking place in Washington also in the next month, Lord said he was "generally optimistic" about future bilateral relations, "both for the Obama administration and over the long run."
Though some sensitive issues remain in the U.S.-China relations, such as the Taiwan issue, Lord suggested that the two countries could sail through any difficulties with good communication and candid dialogue.
"The best way to handle this complex relationship is to have the broadest possible agenda of issues between us," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency December 19, 2008)