THE SINO-US relationship has gone through many ups and downs in the past three decades. Once again, it will be in the spotlight this week when President Jiang Zemin meets US President George W. Bush. The South China Morning Post Editor-at-Large Chris Yeung talks to former US official James Steinberg, who is now the head of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. Mr Steinberg served as a deputy national security adviser during the Clinton administration. The conversation took place on the margins of a regional forum jointly hosted by the Brookings' Centre for Northeast Asian Policy Studies and Peking University. Q: How would you describe the Sino-US relationship now? A: It is quite stable. That comes from a pragmatic recognition that there are a number of interests that the US and China have in common, and that we have differences that need to be managed, rather than aggravated. Q: What marked the change towards a more positive development? A: During President Bush's election campaign, the relationship with China was not a major issue. It is precisely because of the crisis relationship over the EP3 [spy plane] incident that the administration quickly realised the relationship was too important to be allowed to get out of control. Q: Do you think there is a danger that tensions over Taiwan will get out of control? A: In the short term, it is being managed reasonably well. On all three sides of this triangle, there are pressures that could destabilise that situation. It is important for us to address it directly. There needs to be a better mutual understanding on all dimensions in the US-Taiwan relationship . . . on how to handle a divergency of views. Q: Is Taiwan still the wild card in Sino-US relations? A: Taiwan is the most difficult challenge that we face. The second great challenge is China's own internal evolution. As China moves forward with change, there will be a lot of tension and difficulties. How China handles those things will have a big impact on external relations. This could potentially put strains on US-China relations, on issues ranging from World Trade Organisation implementation to issues of human rights and democratisation. All those issues are still out there. Q: How far will the US go in getting involved in the Taiwan issue? Will the US go to war with China over Taiwan? A: The US position is that this is a problem that should be resolved peacefully by both sides, and that both sides should bring their best efforts towards that direction. We [the US] will not support those efforts that tend to create conflict. Q: Has there been enough done in recent decades to forge a better relationship? A: I do not think enough is being done on either side because it takes political leadership on both sides to say: 'Yes, we have some real differences, but we will deal with these differences in the context of a broader relationship, that we are willing to stand up and be candid about the differences and defend the value of relationship'. Q: To what extent does this reflect socio-cultural differences or is it a question of leadership? A: The public is not aware of the upside of the relationship. When something bad happens, they quickly become aware of the downside. It will be interesting to see, when Mr Bush meets Mr Jiang, whether he takes the opportunity to address American people on why he has invited the Chinese president, why it is important to have this kind of dialogue. It is also important for President Jiang to tell Chinese people why he thinks it is important to go to Texas. Q: Are there strong US sentiments against a cordial and intimate relationship with China? A: American people want a very candid relationship with China. They are prepared to accept the philosophy that we have differences but they should not preclude us from working together. Q: To what extent is the image that Americans have of China still dominated by Tiananmen Square? A: No doubt Tiananmen remains a very important touchstone . . . there is a feeling that government needs to be able to be honest about the difficulties that they face. Just as Bill Clinton went to China and spoke about human rights, Americans need to talk to China and the Chinese need to understand why Americans care about it. Q: Will the summit be a success? A: I hope they will use this not only to enhance their personal dialogue, but also to use it as an occasion to speak to the American and Chinese people about what is at stake in their relationship, to be candid about their relationship, also to speak out for why we need to deal with it constructively.