Sino-U.S. relations are set to receive another boost when U.S. President George W. Bush comes to China on November 19. He will meet with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao during his two-day visit, after attending the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) economic leaders' meeting in Pusan, South Korea.
It will be the fifth meeting between Chinese and U.S. heads of state this year. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan, the two presidents are expected to exchange views and reach consensus on bilateral relations'as well as international and regional issues of common concern. "It is believed that Chinese and U.S. leaders will make joint efforts to push forward a constructive relationship," he noted.
According to White House Spokesman Scott McClellan, the Beijing visit is the third leg of Bush's trip to East Asian countries, coming after a visit to Kyoto, Japan on November 15-16 and South Korea on November 17. After he leaves Beijing on November 20, the U.S. president will visit the State of Mongolia, his first trip to the country since taking office.
This is not the first time Bush will be taking the opportunity of an APEC summit for a trip to East Asian countries. In October 2001, Bush planned a visit to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing on the occasion of the Shanghai APEC summit meeting. However, the plan was postponed to February 2002 because of the war in Afghanistan.
Of late, many high-ranking U.S. officials have been visiting China in sequence, laying a good foundation for the two countries to better understand one another. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his first trip to China on October 18-20 since assuming the post in 2001. Days before, a group of U.S. financial heavyweights, including Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox, visited China and attended the Seventh G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors and the 17th Session of China-US. Joint Economic Committee in Beijing.
"Obviously, these officials' visits to China are just to pave the way and set the tone for Bush's visit," said Professor Zhang Liangui at the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China in an interview with Beijing Review. He added that by sending Rumsfeld, who holds a hawkish stance toward China in U.S. politics, to China before him, Bush was trying to balance the conflicting attitudes toward China in his cabinet to set the right tone for his China trip.
Observers say Rumsfeld's visit shows that he is willing to know China better. According to them, the visit had given Rumsfeld an opportunity to see the rapid development of China in recent years with his own eyes and to feel China's goodwill in person.
"China is an important country in the region; it's a country that's increasingly important in the world," Rumsfeld said in a speech in Beijing. Observers interpret the remarks as a sign of his softening stance.
Four years ago, Rumsfeld was invited by the Chinese side and had scheduled a visit to China. However, the plan was cancelled when a U.S. spy plane crashed into China's fighter over the South China Sea in April 2001, killing Chinese pilot Wang Wei. The accident also greatly worsened Sino-U.S. relations and Rumsfeld ordered the suspension of military exchanges between the two countries.
However, Rumsfeld allegedly was not willing to visit China at the time even before the midair collision accident. He asserted that China was a strategic opponent of the United States and adjusted U.S. military strategy by shifting the focus from Europe to Asia.
The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 changed this. Washington began to seek cooperation with China on antiterrorism, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and non-proliferation of nuclear technology. This gave a big boost to Sino-U.S. relations.
"China and the United States have a rich history together, and I greatly enjoyed my visit to Beijing," said Rumsfeld, in his Open Letter to the People of Beijing after the October visit.
According to a copy of the letter obtained from the U.S. Embassy in China, ?Rumsfeld expressed his thanks to the people of Beijing for their kind hospitality. "1 also had an opportunity to tour the beautiful Summer Palace which provided a glimpse of the extraordinary history of your country. I was most impressed to see literally hundreds of visitors from your country, but also from nations all across the globe, including the United States," he said.
"Rumsfeld's visit to China shows that U.S. politicians who regard China as a threat also hope to know more about China," said Professor Zhang at the Central Party School.
The upcoming visit of Bush to Beijing will strengthen mutual trust between the two powers, according to former U.S. Ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy. Roy. who was U.S. ambassador to China between 1991 and 1995, stressed that to develop sound U.S.-China relations requires cooperation between the two countries at the highest level.
"The meeting between President Hu and President Bush is important because if both leaders have no strategic mistrust, then both sides can deal with problems and strategic mistrust of both countries more effectively," he said. "If top leaders have strategic mistrust about each other, then bilateral relations will be very difficult to manage."
Roy predicted that the Bush-Hu meeting would help ease growing concern in both China and the United States about each other, and serve as an important factor in East Asian stability.
Observers believe denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be a focus during the talks between Chinese and U.S. presidents in their upcoming meeting, as China is playing a key mediatory role in this regard.
The fifth round of multilateral talks on Korean nuclear issue started on November 9 in Beijing, aiming at bringing the common statement released at the fourth round into practice.
The statement, released on September 19, is widely regarded as a great achievement made by the negotiations, involving the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan. According to the document, Pyongyang agrees in principle to abandon its nuclear weapons and current nuclear program, rejoin the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and accept an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Professor Zhang pointed out that the United States had a timetable and hoped to achieve a result before the end of this year. 'This issue will be an important topic during Bush's talks with President Hu," he said.
Beijing has also made full preparations in this regard. After a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman announced in Pyongyang on October 24 that his country would participate in the fifth round of nuclear talks, as scheduled in the fourth round, President Hu paid a goodwill visit to the country on October 28-30 and met with North Korean top leader Kim Jong Il and other officials.
"China has become a key country in solving the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula and is playing an increasingly larger role in international affairs," Zhang stressed.