One unintended consequence of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, 10 years ago this Sunday, is that the strikes marked the beginning of a turnaround in Sino-US ties. The attacks and the US-led 'war on terrorism' that followed also had a significant effect on Chinese diplomacy and changed the country's geopolitical position. Before the terrorist attacks, relations between the two Pacific powers had plunged into an adversarial abyss. Events that led to that state of affairs included the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Nato air war over Yugoslavia in 1999 and escalating confrontation over Taiwan issues towards the end of the 20th century. The tensions over Taiwan were fuelled by then US president George W. Bush's provocative comment that he would do 'whatever it takes' to help Taiwan defend itself, his offer of the biggest arms sales package to the island in 10 years and manoeuvres involving US carrier battle groups off the mainland Chinese coast. Things only got worse in April 2001 when a Chinese pilot died in a collision between a US reconnaissance plane and a Chinese jet fighter over Hainan Island . However, that hostility waned in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York when then president Jiang Zemin sent a message saying Beijing 'condemned and rejected all forms of terrorist violence' and expressing his 'deep sympathy and condolences' to the American people. 'Sino-US relations plummeted to freezing point in early 2001 in the wake of a host of unprecedented confrontations, but that acrimony was all but erased by co-operation between Washington and Beijing in the war on terrorism after September 11,' said Lin Chong-pin, professor of international relations at Taiwan's Tamkang University, who was then Taiwan's deputy defence minister. Tao Wenzhao, a senior research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' American Research Institute, said there were four reasons why Sino-US ties improved: America's sudden change of diplomatic priorities; Beijing's support of global counterterrorism efforts; Washington's need for Beijing's help in curbing arms proliferation; and Beijing's own concerns over the terrorist threat in its restive far-western region of Xinjiang . After the cold war ended in the early 1990s, China's importance in America's global strategy declined and Sino-US relations slid into a period that could best be described as adversarial. The rapid democratisation and rise of pro-independence forces in Taiwan and a US visit by the island's first independence-leaning leader Lee Teng-hui added salt to the wound, along with an escalation of Western pressure over China's human rights record and the US Congress' annual debate on extending most favoured nation status to China. All that acrimony prompted Bush to label China a 'strategic competitor' rather than a 'strategic partner', as Beijing desired. After the terrorist attacks, China mobilised diplomatically to come to the aid of the US. Jiang and Bush discussed terrorism at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Shanghai in late 2001 and agreed to work together on a range of issues, including intelligence sharing and a crackdown on money laundering. The Chinese allowed the US to establish a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Beijing and took part in the Container Security Initiative, a programme designed to prevent terrorists delivering weapons to the US in shipping containers. Within the UN, China sought to strengthen the coalition of states against terrorism, especially in supporting the early stages of the US 'war on terror'. At the same time, Washington was desperate to obtain Beijing's co-operation and support for its military campaign in the region, because China borders Afghanistan and Pakistan is a long-term Chinese ally. Then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf visited Beijing for urgent consultations before his decision to allow US forces to launch their military campaign from Pakistani territory. Before that, the pro-Beijing faction within the Pakistani military was reportedly prepared to join hands with the pro-Islamic fundamentalist faction opposed to a US military presence on Pakistan's soil. China watchers say Washington repaid its 'debt' to Beijing in the following years, with the Bush administration softening its pro- Taiwan stance and becoming less critical of the human rights situation in mainland China, despite the White House insisting shortly after September 11 that it would not engage in any quid pro quo deals with Beijing. As conflicts between the two were seemingly set aside, Bush revised his classification of China as a 'strategic competitor' to something closer to a partner when it came to fighting terrorism. There have been multiple high-level exchanges and more than a dozen ministerial-level discussions between the countries. 'The exchanges between China and the United States have seen dramatic advancement since September 11 in terms of their frequency and in terms of the hierarchy, from the top, the heads of state, down to the vice-minister level, and in terms of the various areas covered, from diplomacy to trade, culture and education, etcetera,' Lin said. He said significantly improved Sino-US relations had also helped reduce tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Summing up the state of Chinese diplomacy in 2001, then foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan said relations between 'big countries' were changing from tension to relaxation. 'In the first half of this year, the relations between big countries experienced some zigzagging, and contradictions were rather acute; in the second half of the year, especially after the September 11 incident, the various big countries were seeking consensus and enhancing co-operation,' he said. 'As a result, their relations improved and developed.' But Professor Mohan Malik, from the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies - a US Department of Defence academy in Honolulu, Hawaii - says Beijing has lost more than it has gained from the resulting geopolitical shifts. In a 2002 research paper, Dragon on Terrorism: Assessing China's tactical gains and strategic losses post-September 11, Malik said no other major power had been so affected by the geopolitical shifts unleashed by the US counteroffensive as China, which had seen previous foreign policy gains eroded, dealing a severe body blow to 'China's carefully cultivated image as Asia's only true great power'. 'The United States has emerged united and stronger from the war on terrorism and US military expansion and presence all around China's periphery in Central, South and Southeast Asia is seen as part of a strategy to 'encircle and contain China',' said Malik, who has testified to the US Congress' US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. China watchers say Beijing readjusted its diplomatic stance when the US went beyond Afghanistan and began seeking a regime change in Iraq, with pre-emptive warfare and interventionism directly challenging deeply held Chinese beliefs about state sovereignty. Since then, hopes that Washington would reverse the unilateralist trend in its recent foreign policy had eroded. After the Iraqi war, China attached more importance to multipolar diplomacy, expanding its relations with European nations, such as France and Germany, and regional neighbours in the hope of checking US unilateralism, analysts said. Beijing has also reached out to countries in Africa and Latin America. While the US was preoccupied with the 'war on terror', China was seeking to become more integrated in the global community, expanding the breadth and depth of its bilateral relations, joining many regional and international agreements and increasing the quality of its participation in multilateral organisations. 'In the past 10 years, China has expanded its diplomatic clout in line with its fast-rising economic strength,' Tao said.