BEIJING - A massive new US Embassy, the second-largest in the world after the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad, formally opens in the Chinese capital this week, a testament to the depth and breadth of the ties binding the trading partners and sometimes rivals.
President Bush, who will be attending the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies Friday, is to preside over the ribbon-cutting at the $434 million, 500,000-square-foot compound that same day.
The eight-story main building, wrapped in an outer envelope of freestanding transparent and opaque glass, was designed with traditional Chinese elements in mind. Narrow walkways lined with bamboo link diplomatic "neighborhoods."
"The scale and size of this embassy - set on 10 acres in a new diplomatic zone - symbolizes the future of the relationship as it expands in scope and breadth," said Victor Cha, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University and author of a forthcoming book, "Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia."
Under the Bush administration, the United States has had to engage a China in flux - a rapidly ascending power whose cooperation has become necessary in tackling numerous global issues such as nuclear nonproliferation and climate change, Cha said.
"The US acknowledges China's place in the world," he said. "It acknowledges that China's rise is not a zero-sum game. . . . That's not denying the competitive aspects to the relationship, but it is a broader template, which coincides with the building of the new embassy."
China unveiled its own imposing new embassy in Washington last week.
The 250,000-square-foot glass and limestone compound, designed by I.M. Pei's two sons, is the largest foreign embassy in the US capital.
"The completion of the two new embassies not only reflects the good shape of our relationship, but also signals broad prospects for its further growth," Foreign Minster Yang Jiechi said at the opening, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The broadening of the relationship has more to do with China's emergence as an economic and political force than with US policy, said Randall Schriver, who was deputy US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2003 to 2005.
"A decade ago, the bilateral issues were relatively well-known: Taiwan, human rights, trade. Now, [China's interests] literally span the globe," he said.