BEIJING, Jan 8 – Relations between the United States and China are at their warmest ever, a senior US diplomat said here Thursday as he hailed the improved ties as one of President George W. Bush’s important legacies.,
"The United States-China relationship has never been better," Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said on the second and final day of a visit to celebrate the establishment of formal bilateral ties on January 1, 1979.
"I would venture to predict that when historians look at the record of the Bush administration, surely one of the highlights will be the progress that has been achieved in the United States-China bilateral relationship."
Bush entered office eight years ago calling China a "strategic competitor," but analysts said he soon changed strategy, forced by the need to accommodate the emerging Asian giant in the post-September 11 global turmoil.
Negroponte is the last member of the Bush administration to pay a scheduled visit here before president-elect Barack Obama takes over on January 20.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition to communist-ruled China 30 years ago, ending decades of support for the Nationalist Chinese government of Taiwan.
Since then, political and particularly trade ties have grown closer, although many tensions remain.
Continued US military sales to Taiwan, which China firmly opposes, have been the biggest cause of strain.
Taiwan and China have been estranged since the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war to the communists.
Although the United States switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, it continued to help the island build its military against a possible invasion from the mainland.
Negroponte said he had discussed Taiwan with his Chinese counterparts on Wednesday and welcomed a recent warming of ties between the island and the mainland, qualifying it as a "hopeful period" for the two sides.
Trade also remains a source of tension, with the United States accusing China of unfairly keeping its currency’s value low for the benefit of its exporters. Differences over human rights have also caused problems.
But Negroponte on Thursday credited China and the United States under Bush as having left a legacy of increased collaboration and dialogue in economics and politics — which he said was crucial at a time of financial turmoil.
"Another legacy of this administration and our two governments is going to be the fact that we established the six-party mechanism (talks) to deal with the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula," he said.
The negotiations, which include China, the United States, Japan, Russia, and North and South Korea, were established in 2003 and eventually saw Pyongyang agree to shut down its nuclear facilities in exchange for aid.
The negotiations are still ongoing, but recently reached a stalemate.
Negroponte urged the incoming Obama administration to keep the collaboration mechanisms set up by Bush, singling out the Strategic Economic Dialogue — twice-yearly high-level economic talks between the two countries.
He said his Chinese counterparts had expressed eagerness to deal with Obama and his team.
"The government of the People’s Republic of China certainly looks forward to working with the next administration and it is eager to undertake dialogue with our new government as soon as possible."