SINO-AMERICAN relations are set to improve over the next month, former US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger said yesterday, reversing his earlier assessment of a 'free fall'.
He now believes a continued improvement in ties will follow the meeting of presidents Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin on the fringes of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Osaka this month.
The positive signal comes from the architect of closer links between Washington and Beijing in the early 1970s which ended decades of estrangement.
He warned the US Senate in July that the two nations were on a 'collision course' after a meeting with premier Li Peng while relations were strained over Taiwan and the arrest of human rights activist Harry Wu Hongda.
Dr Kissinger said yesterday he had believed tensions, which followed the American decision to allow Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui to visit, could have caused relations to become 'very dangerous'.
But he told a conference in Hong Kong: 'Relations should be improving over the next month.' Dr Kissinger, whose secret visit to Beijing in 1971 led to president Richard Nixon signing accords which recognised China instead of Taiwan, said those Shanghai communiques must remain the basis for relations.
He said it remained to be seen whether other nations which had an influence on the relationship, such as Taiwan, would show restraint.
Mr Clinton's reaffirmation of the one-China policy had helped calm tensions, he said.
Warning against the movement within the US for containing China, Dr Kissinger said it would cause Asian nations to move away from alliances and friendships with Washington.
While a policy of containment would undoubtedly damage China, it would also harm the US.
'I believe that all the nations of Asia would then move into a position equally distant from China and the United States,' he said.
It would then be impossible to establish an equilibrium with which to conduct effective foreign policy in Asia, said Dr Kissinger.
The US could not afford to interfere in issues which China considered to be internal matters such as Taiwan and Hong Kong.
'We also have to understand the sensitivities of a society which thought of itself for thousands of years as the centre of the universe and was profoundly humiliated through a century of colonialism,' Dr Kissinger said at a forum on Hong Kong in the 21st Century.
But that did not mean basic issues involving Taiwan and Hong Kong could not be raised, he said.