China and the United States have contributed to the stability and prosperity of the region and the world over the past four decades, according to Odd Arne Westad, S.T. Lee professor of US-Asia Relations at Harvard University, who spoke to Xinhua News Agency in a recent interview.
On Jan 1, 1979, Beijing and Washington established formal diplomatic relations. From then on, the relationship has served not only the interests of the two countries and delivered benefits to the two peoples, but also created far-reaching effects in regional and global development.
Their relations since 1979 have been particularly crucial for the openness and freedom of the global trading system, providing development opportunities and dissemination of technology on a worldwide scale as well as stability in international affairs, Westad said.
"Ups and downs notwithstanding, the overall relationship between the United States and China has not been inherently unstable, which contributed enormously to the smoother period of international affairs in the last phase of the Cold War and after the Cold War ended," he said.
The overall healthy bilateral relationship between Washington and Beijing has also greatly contributed to the region, he added.
"Though difficulties still exist in the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere, East Asia, on the whole, has been a haven of stability and prosperity, and China-US cooperation is essential for that."
Westad, a fellow of the British Academy and an authoritative scholar in Cold War history and East Asian studies, was a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science before moving to Harvard. He is teaching a course at Harvard's Kennedy School about how to understand contemporary power shifts by using historical examples.
He said ongoing interactions between China and the United States have some similarities to previous power transitions, but also with significant differences.
China is not a "revisionist state" seeking to alter the current international system, since the current system serves China well and contributes to China's success with its reform and opening-up, Westad said.
Westad also said that comparing the competition between Washington and Beijing to "a new Cold War," a comparison that sometimes appears in headlines, is a false historical analogy and terminological laziness.
The competition between the two countries in trade, investment and technology is totally unlike the size and scope of the global rivalry between Washington and Moscow, and their proxies, in the Cold War era, Westad said.
"And instead of bipolarity between the United States and China, the world is heading toward a more multipolar structure," he added.
Westad also mentioned his Harvard colleague Graham Allison and his best-selling book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?
"Allison warns against the danger of wars and conflicts in power transitions. He is right about that," Westad said. "But wars and conflicts are not inevitable, and they all depend on the leadership's policy choice."
In ancient Greece, war came between Athens and Sparta because everyone was talking about war and thought that might be a possible solution. But both the United States and China fully understand the tremendous cost and disastrous consequences of a potential conflict between them, he said.
"Great powers do rival each other, and this is what we learned from history. But the issue is what kind of rivalry is it going to be, and in which areas can the two sides cooperate. That is most important," he added.
Westad said he is optimistic about the development of US-China relations. "The big picture is that there is still a lot of potential for the United States and China to work together on some key issues, and a continued engagement policy would serve both sides well," he said.
This was not because they agreed on everything at that time, but because they talked about practical issues and cooperation using a pragmatic approach, he said.