Spirit of 1972 will make partners of China and US
Today marks the 40th anniversary of US president Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China, a milestone in contemporary world history. The celebration is also an opportunity for the two countries to contemplate whether they can have another 40 years of peaceful co-operation.
Nixon's visit normalised US relations with China, enabling Beijing to begin its embrace of mainstream Western culture, thus laying the groundwork for its successful modernisation drive. Since then, bilateral ties have flourished beyond the wildest dreams of 1972.
But tensions have risen in recent years as China has emerged as a potential US rival. Last month, the Obama administration unveiled a new defence strategy that emphasises security threats from China and mandates a military pivot to Asia.
Beijing has levelled a barrage of criticism at the document, seeing it as the latest in a recent set of aggressive US moves encircling China in the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile, a more assertive China, with its heightened nationalistic fervour, is poised to take an even tougher stance in disputes over maritime territories that it traditionally claims in the South China Sea.
These developments have exposed a lack of mutual trust, and pose challenges to the long-term stability of relations. China fears the US will thwart its transition from a land power to a sea power, while the US fears China's unchecked maritime ambitions will further erode its sole superpower status.
In fact, the Chinese are not as enthusiastic as Americans in predicting the decline of the US. Last year, for instance, Beijing's leading scholars of American studies published a report foreseeing several more decades of unchallenged US global dominance while asserting that America's fate cannot be predicted by its temporary setbacks.
On the other hand, China's continued rise will necessitate two things: successful political reform and stable relations with the US. Since Nixon's visit, all of China's accomplishments have been achieved through reforms and opening up to the outside world, particularly through learning from the US.
Today, after four decades, the United States is still the most influential foreign country in China, politically, economically and culturally.
Since political reform will ultimately take place, typical American social mechanisms such as democracy and the rule of law will some day find their way to China.
Thus, the long-term outlook for US-China relations is as promising as before. If well managed, the current altercations cannot offset the maturity of the bilateral ties.
On February 21, 1972, the day of Nixon's arrival in Beijing, the US president said: 'There is no reason for us to be enemies ... This is the day for our two peoples to rise to the heights of greatness which can build a new and better world.' Recalling Nixon's visit in a ceremony last month, China's likely next president, Xi Jinping , pledged Beijing's unwavering 'commitment to developing the Sino-US co-operative partnership'.
He also visited the US last week, discussing bilateral ties with President Barack Obama in the White House and receiving a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon, unprecedented for a visiting vice-president.
Hence, Xi's visit to Washington served as a day for both sides to reaffirm that the US and China, two equally confident civilisations, will not be enemies.
At the same time, the long-term stability of relations demands concrete measures to tackle growing tensions on issues from trade to military postures in order to deepen mutual trust and avoid a potential crisis.
As the spirit of 1972 echoes, new generations of American and Chinese leaders ought to demonstrate the same wisdom and courage that Nixon displayed so that the two countries may work together in building a new and better world for at least another 40 years.
Yun Tang is a member of the World Affairs Council of Washington DC