At a special session of the China Development Forum in Beijing on September 7, participants reviewed the history of China-U.S. relations and drew lessons for the two countries to conquer current difficulties and move the relationship forward. Edited excerpts of their views follow:
Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor: China and the United States are the two countries with the greatest capacity in terms of their technology, political experience and history to influence the progress and peace of the world. They have a different history and a different culture so that the challenge of cooperating is very great. Having had the opportunity to participate in the Sino-American relationship for 40 years, I believe strongly that both countries have a duty to the peace and progress of the world, to find means of cooperation to solve the important problems they have before them.
Neil Bush, founder and Chairman of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations: The dynamic of China's impressive rise is clearly fueling American discomfort. Central to the current low point in Sino-U.S. relations is the American question of whether China is a natural friend or foe of the U.S.
From my understanding of history, China has never used military or economic power to impose its will on another country, and I think it's useful to look at history as a predictor of future behavior.
The U.S. should embrace a George H.W. Bush style of leadership. This is an approach that wants to create and maintain multiple levels of frequent dialogue; seeks to build trust; puts the parties in the other guy's shoes; looks for the best in others; is respectful; and accounts for cultural differences.
The fear of China's growth posing a threat to the U.S., rising nationalism shown in [U.S. President Donald] Trump's "anti-immigrant, anti-Chinese, pro-America-First" rhetoric and the false premise that only a Western-style democracy can be a civilized player on the global stage are the three main contributors to the demonization of China in the U.S. The bottom line is that our system of government, our democracy, doesn't work for China, just as China's system doesn't work for the U.S.
Mark Brzezinski, former U.S. Ambassador to Sweden: The normalization [in relations] was achieved because a balance was struck between American and Chinese imperatives.
I worry there is in the U.S. an industry around demonizing China, scaring U.S. business people away from a normal business environment.
However, in spite of the current trade dispute, Sino-U.S. relations will not break down in the short term given the growing interdependence between the two countries.
If the two sides embrace this interdependence, both will benefit. A failure to do so, however, will damage both China and the U.S.
Wang Boming, Editor in Chief of Caijing magazine: The People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United States made their first contacts during the Geneva Con-ference in 1954, when the two countries, along with the Soviet Union, France and the UK, gathered for discussions on issues relating to Viet Nam and the Korean Peninsula. China and the U.S. conceived a mechanism for ambassador-level negotiations, which took place from 1955 to 1969 in Warsaw, Poland.
The 136 rounds of talks focused on just a handful of issues including the repatriation of prisoners of war during the Korean War and the Taiwan Straits.
When the Richard Nixon administration came to power in 1969, Nixon wanted to adjust U.S. policy toward China. During the 135th round, the United States expressed its intention to pursue a relaxation in bilateral relations. In the following round, China sent a formal invitation to the United States, which eventually led to Kissinger's 1971 secret visit and the 1972 signing of the Shanghai Communiqué.
Several observations can be made from this history. It was a great thing that China and the United States held 15 years of negotiations while their relations remained hostile. It is therefore imperative that they keep in touch and not give up communicating. Also, the 1955-69 talks played a key role in ending hostilities. It shows that all issues are open to negotiations.
Talks help avoid misjudgments and clarify each other's intentions. The Warsaw negotiations are an indication that China and the United States can find solutions through talks. I believe the two countries have the wisdom to deal with current problems.
Zhang Baijia, former deputy head of the Party History Research Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee: The establishment of diplomatic relations between the PRC and the United States in 1979 was an exciting and world-changing event. Despite twists and turns over the past 40 years, bilateral relations have grown closer than ever.
The China-U.S. relationship has a long history. It has been 235 years since the U.S. merchant ship Empress of China arrived in China for direct trade. But for most of the time up to 150 years, the two countries have been estranged. However, they became allies after the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941. Their relations grew closer and both were highly confident and enthusiastic about the alliance. But the fact was it was plagued by many problems and lasted only five years. Confrontation and isolation ensued, followed by a détente from 1971 to 1978 and then 40 years of development. In fact, a study of the evolution of China-U.S. relations from estrangement to normalization and growth over the years may offer inspiration for us to overcome current difficulties.
Visionaries in China and the United States are willing to make efforts to improve bilateral relations. China for its part advocates continued cooperation with the United States and does not intend to challenge the U.S. status in the world. The decline in China-U.S. relations is to a large extent due to factors such as theU.S.-provoked trade friction. Future developments will convince an increasing number of people in the United States that China is not to blame for the various problems facing the United States and that mounting pressure on China is not conducive to solving U.S. problems but can only make them worse.
When there are major changes in circumstances, and conflicts arise in China-U.S. relations, the two countries should keep calm, exercise restraint and look forward. They should try their best to avoid escalation of tensions and in particular, prevent confrontation. More importantly, they should leave room for a turnaround regardless of the state of their relations. In a sense, the two countries got to know each other better through confrontation and maneuvering. The most crucial thing is to understand the limits of each other's power so that the two can do away with fears and build mutual confidence. Sound China-U.S. relations call for wisdom, creativity and, more importantly, courage to think outside the box.