Ten years ago today, when the United States and China formally ended three decades of enmity and normalized diplomatic relations, they made headlines on both sides of the Pacific. In Washington, then-President Jimmy Carter summoned the White House press corps for the unexpected announcement. In Beijing, the usually solemn People's Daily marked the occasion with a rare special edition, bordered in red.
The two nations have made plenty of news since, too, as communiques, trade pacts and cultural exchanges have brought them closer together. Deng Xiaoping has mugged for Texas photographers in a cowboy hat. President Reagan, whose loyalties once lay with the Nationalists on Taiwan, became so enamored of the mainland after glimpsing the Great Wall that he couldn't believe that the Chinese were real Communists; he referred to them as "so-called Communists."
Initially the one-time enemies were united only in their mutual distrust of the Soviet Union. But the relationship has flourished because the people of the two nations have found other common ground. Normalization coincided with China's ambitious modernization drive and its economic experimentation. The United States has advanced China's efforts with inputs of technology and capital; now it is the second-biggest foreign investor in China, after Hong Kong. And two-way trade ballooned to $10.4 billion last year, 10 times the level of 1978; interestingly, China exports to the United States about twice what it imports--a twist on the 19th-Century American dream of making a fortune selling oil for the lamps of China.
Strategically the relationship has changed.While the Chinese now buy defensive weapons from the United States, the heady suggestions of a "strategic alliance" against Moscow are heardno more. Mikhail S. Gorbachev, now wooing Deng as ardently as he once wooed Reagan, has been invited to Beijing for a summit next spring. China seems to be striving for an equidistant relationship with both superpowers. Its \o7 rapprochement \f7 with Washington also has given it the confidence to mend other fences--with Mongolia, India and even South Korea. The United States cannot help but be pleased; Asia has never before been so stable.
To be sure, there are irritants between Beijing and Washington. The Chinese distrust Washington's promises to curtail arms sales to Taiwan, and they regard any move to protect U.S. manufacturers from foreign goods, especially their textiles, as a threat. The Americans have legitimate grievances, too; China's sales of missiles to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria are mischievous, if not downright dangerous. And China's suppression of proindependence demonstrations in Tibet and of democracy-minded dissidents elsewhere rankles all Americans who care about human rights.
Despite these strains, Sino-U.S. relations are sound. Some Americans, in fact, labor under the misconception that the Chinese somehow are becoming more and more Americanized. Actually, as China struggles to lift 1 billion people out of poverty, it is attempting something unprecedented in human history. And, while it borrows ideas and money from the United States, China wants to modernize without sacrificing its own cultural identity. For that, on this anniversary, the Chinese deserve Americans' deepest respect.