The Gulf War, for example, had distracted the U.S. enough from its relations with Beijing to warm back up after the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, he said, and following the jet collision incident in 2001 near Hainan Island in the South China Sea, the two countries repaired ties through joint anti-terrorism efforts. Rather than compete in the region, Wu suggested, China's recent history with managing a turbulent low-wage economy may help countries where the U.S. simply cannot.
"The Middle East's economy, unlike U.S.'high-technology and innovation-driven economy, is more akin to China's," said Wu. "In terms of dealing with its massive unemployment and driving a large economy, it needs China's experience."
Both Wang and Wu believe that close Sino-American contact will promote stability rather than competition. And nowhere have the two countries come in closer contact than Afghanistan, where American government officials helped Kabul negotiate with Chinese companies over major development contracts.
Philip Vasquez was one of those Americans, a lawyer specializing in oil and gas deals who advised the Afghan government as a contractor for both the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Pentagon. He and other lawyers helped Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines write laws and regulations to encourage foreign investment in the energy sector. One of the biggest energy contracts, for Afghanistan's oil, went to the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) in 2011.
"The greatest beneficiary of our work, other than the Afghan people, is China," said Vasquez.
Some Americans, particularly in business, protested the idea that Chinese businesses could take advantage of the security bought by NATO dollars and soldiers. The stability touted by experts like Wang, they argued, was little more than Chinese free riding. But Vasquez said that he and his fellow lawyers, along with officials they worked with, had no objections to watching Chinese companies move in. Their impressions of the Chinese they dealt with were of businessmen conducting a straightforward deal, not State-Owned Enterprises advancing national strategy.
Their accounts confirm the ideas of observers more versed in China's affairs with its western neighbors. Raffaello Pantucci, a researcher at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, interpreted Wang's proposal simply as a call to craft a foreign policy that better reflects the country's overall needs.
"The Chinese have long been worried about the far-western province of Xinjiang and developing that has been an issue they've been trying to tackle for a long time," he said. "So the logic of trying developing the links to the west, to countries on the western borders, makes sense in that context."
But even if China's westward expansion is not designed to counterbalance the United States, it still carries some strategic weight. Long before Wang's article, China began looking west for reasons not only of commerce, but security and energy independence. In the early 1990s, the government recognized China's need for energy and allowed state-owned enterprises like CNPC and Sinopec to rush into in resource-rich Central Asian nations like Kazakhstan. Then, in 1994, China made an early attempt at refining its security policy in the region. In a rare moment of cooperation, China and Russia invited Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to join together to form what was eventually called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).