For former US president George H. W. Bush, Deng Xiaoping was not just a great Chinese leader, he was also a "laopengyou," or an old friend.
In a written interview with Xinhua on the occasion of Deng's 100th birthday which falls on Sunday, Bush said he believes the transformation of China initiated by Deng will ensure him "a very important place in the history of China and in the history of the world."
Bush has eyewitnessed the dramatic change in China in the past two decades since Deng initiated the reform and opening-up policy.
He used to tour Beijing by bicycle along with his wife Barbara when he acted as chief of the US Liaison Office in China.
"The closed China I lived in and knew in 1974-1975 is dramatically different than the open, booming and freer China of today; and I give Deng Xiaoping a lot of credit for this dramatic change," Bush said in the interview.
"His willingness to move China forward towards a market economy, thus unleashing the creativity of Chinese entrepreneurs large and small, brought more freedom to the Chinese people and more prosperity as well," Bush said.
"I believe Deng will have a very important place in the history of China and in the history of the world."
Bush had met Deng several times since the mid-1970s. Both of them saw the importance of keeping a sound China-US relationship and therefore made great efforts to preserve and strengthen the ties when the relationship suffered setbacks.
"It was not easy, but I think history will show, we both acted properly," Bush said.
"Chairman Deng could be very strong or rigid on certain matters, but he was also flexible enough to see that compromise was necessary at times. He was able to sublimate his personal views on one matter or another provided he felt the overall relationship could remain strong or move forward," Bush added.
He also said that he has "a very positive view" of China's new leadership team after Deng. "In modern China, the China of today, the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping are going forward," said Bush.
"Every Chinese citizen has much more individual freedom than they had back when I served in China in the mid seventies. In my view this positive trend will continue, with more political openness, more individual freedoms and human rights. That means a better life for more and more Chinese citizens," he said.
On the development of US-China relations, Bush said, "China's leaders have all told me that US-China relations are going along very well. I know our president feels that way, too."
"It is important that close contact between our leaders and China's leaders be maintained and strengthened," he stressed.
Seen as the architect of China's reform and opening-up policy, Deng died in February 1997 at the age of 93.