Nixon’s China visit - History of Business in the U.S.The Event: A visit by the U.S. president to the People’s Republic of China that signaled an end to China’s isolation and opened a new era of Sino- American relations.
Date: February 21-27, 1972
Place: People’s Republic of China
Significance: Nixon’s visit was one of the defining moments of the Cold War, signifying a tremendous shift in relations between the United States and China as part of a grand strategy of Nixon and his national security adviser to use China as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. Although undertaken for diplomatic and geopolitical purposes, Nixon’s trip opened China to greater contact with the United States and provided greater opportunities for Americans to engage in business with China, especially exporting products, technology, and services to China’s vast population.
Shortly after taking office in January, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon indicated to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger that he sought to improve relations with the People’s Republic of China. At roughly the same time, China was seeking to move closer to the United States because of its tensions with its huge neighbor, the Soviet Union. Nixon feared opposition from the U.S. State Department and kept the role of Secretary of State William Rogers to a minimum. The first significant contact between the two nations was made via the U.S. ambassador to Poland, Walter Stoessel, who expressed to Chinese diplomats Nixon’s desire for talks with China. Backchannel negotiations were also conducted through Romania and Pakistan, with the Pakistani contacts yielding an indication from Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai) that China would accept a visit from a high-level American official.
Kissinger made a secret trip to China from July 9 to 11, 1971, met with Zhou, and arranged for a formal invitation to be extended to the president. In a televised statement on July 15, 1971, Nixon announced that he would visit China in 1972. U.S. policy shifted to support admission of China to the United Nations and its Security Council. Subsequent visits by Kissinger and other American officials finalized the details for Nixon’s visit to China, which took place in February of 1972.
President Richard Nixon shakes hands with Mao Zedong during his 1972 visit to China. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Seeking maximum publicity for his historic journey, Nixon insisted on prominent television coverage. He met several times with Zhou and once with the ailing chair of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong. Kissinger had numerous discussions with Zhou and other Chinese officials. The visit also included sightseeing and several state banquets. Although Kissinger played down trade issues, the official communiqué presented on February 27, 1972, did note that both countries sought to “facilitate” trade. However, the main points of the communiqué focused on “normalization” of relations between China and the United States. It stipulated that there was one China and Taiwan was part of it, and that the United States would withdraw troops from Taiwan.
Although Taiwan was furious and felt betrayed, Nixon’s efforts were hailed elsewhere as a tremendous breakthrough. In April, 1972, the Chinese table-tennis team visited the United States, and the nations exchanged animals: The United States received pandas, and China received musk oxen. Further progress between China and the United States was hindered by the Watergate crisis and Mao’s deteriorating health. Real advances came subsequent to President Jimmy Carter’s decision to accord diplomatic recognition to China in 1979 and to leadership changes in China.
Mark C. Herman
Dallek, Robert. Nixon and Kissinger. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.
MacMillan, Margaret. Nixon and Mao. New York: Random House, 2007.
See also: Asian financial crisis of 1997; Asian trade with the United States; Chinese trade with the United States; International economics and trade; Japanese trade with the United States; Taiwanese trade with the United States.