Thirty-three years ago, when George W. Bush rode a bicycle around Beijing during his father's term as chief of U.S. liaison office in the city, neither of them expected they would together dedicate their country's new embassy here.
"This has got to be a historic moment. Father and son. Two presidents are opening up an embassy," the younger Bush said at the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing that started at 8:08 a.m. Friday.
Sitting next to him was his 84-year-old father George H.W. Bush who served as U.S. president from 1989 to 1993.
"This is an impressive complex. It speaks of the importance of our relations with China,"the younger Bush said, referring to the 434-million-U.S. dollar compound that includes five buildings.
He said the complex "reflects the solid foundation underpinning bilateral relations and is a commitment to strengthen that foundation in the years to come."
Built on 4 hectares in a new diplomatic zone in northeast Beijing, the 46,000-square meter compound is second in size only to its embassy in Baghdad.
The complex will house a staff of about 1,100 from 26 U.S. agencies who earlier worked at 22 locations in Beijing. "For the first time, we will be working together in one consolidated and secure operating site," U.S. Ambassador in Beijing Clark Randt said.
"Two presidents' presence at this ceremony is of great significance," State Councilor Dai Bingguo said. "The relocation of U.S. embassies, from a small one in Beijing Hotel to a separate compound in downtown to the massive new one, symbolizes the growth of bilateral ties."
The younger Bush, who arrived here on Thursday and will attend the opening ceremony of the Games on Friday evening, became the first U.S. president to attend an Olympics on foreign soil.
"Tonight the Olympic torch will light the home of an ancient civilization with a grand history," he said.
"Thousands of years ago, the Chinese people developed a common language and unified a great nation. China become the center for literature, commerce, arts and philosophy. China advanced the frontiers of knowledge in medicine, astronomy, navigation, engineering and many other fields," he said.
Bush is scheduled to watch a China-U.S. Olympic basketball game on Sunday.
"I'm looking forward to cheering our athletes on," Bush said. "I'm not making any predictions about medal counts, but I can tell you that the U.S. athletes are ready to come and compete in the spirit of friendship."
Bush also recalled his mountain biking experience during his last Beijing visit in 2005. "I had the opportunity to break in the mountain biking course. I am so proud of my efforts."
He joked that he even thought of entering the competition himself. But his wife Laura reminded him "they don't give any medals for last place."
Saying this was his 19th or 20th visit to China since leaving the White House, the older Bush reminisced about his days in the Chinese capital."In the 34 years since I first came to China, change has been one of the constants.
"The bicycles that used to dominate the roads now give way to more cars. When you come to the magnificent Bird's Nest and other architectural features that dominate the landscape, there can be no question that China has achieved something truly special and readied itself to host the Games," the former president said.
Also among attendees was Henry Kissinger, secretary of state during the Nixon administration who paved the way for his president's historic visit to China in 1972.
"We all remember very clearly the year when President Nixon came to Beijing to begin a new dialogue with China," the younger Bush said while reviewing the U.S.-China relationship, which he described as "constructive, cooperative and candid."
"We will continue to be candid about our mutual global responsibilities," he said. "We will work together to protect the environment and help people in the developing world."
Bush said candor is most effective when nations are building relations that respect each others' interest. "I appreciate that the Chinese leadership has worked hard to build respect and trust."
China is the final leg of Bush's last Asian tour as U.S. president before his term ends next January. He will hold discussions with Chinese leaders before leaving Beijing on Monday.