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Richard Nixon meets with Mao Zedong in 1972.

U.S. President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to the People's Republic of China was an important step in formally normalizing relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China. It marked the first time a U.S. president had visited the PRC, who at that time considered the U.S. one of its staunchest foes. The visit has become a metaphor for an unexpected or uncharacteristic action by a politician.


The visit


Historical background

Improved relations with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China are often cited as the most successful diplomatic achievements of Nixon’s presidency.[1] After World War II, Americans saw relations between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorating, Russians consolidating communist puppet states over much of Eastern Europe, and China teetering on the edge of communism. Many Americans felt concern communists might cause the downfall of schools or labor unions. One of the main reasons Richard Nixon became the 1952 Vice-president candidate on the Eisenhower ticket was his strong anti-communism stance. Despite this, in 1972 Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China.[2]

Richard Nixon and Zhou Enlai speaking at a banquet


In July 1971, President Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger secretly visited Beijing during a trip to Pakistan, and laid the groundwork for Nixon's visit to China.

Pat Nixon in the People's Republic of China

The meeting

From February 21-28, 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon traveled to Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai.. Almost as soon as the American president arrived in the Chinese capital he was summoned for a meeting with Chairman Mao who, unknown to the Americans, had been ill nine days earlier but was at that point feeling strong enough to meet Nixon. Secretary of State William P. Rogers was excluded from this meeting and the only other American present was National Security Council staffer (and later U.S. Ambassador to China) Winston Lord. To avoid embarrassing Rogers, Lord was cropped out of all the official photographs of the meeting.[3] Although Nixon was in China for a week, this would be his sole meeting with the top Chinese leader.

Upon their meeting, Mao's first words to Nixon were: "Our common old friend, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, doesn't approve of this."[4]

Nixon held many meetings with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during the trip, which included visits to the Great Wall, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. At the conclusion of his trip, the United States and the PRC Governments issued the Shanghai Communiqué, a statement of their foreign policy views and a document that would remain the basis of Sino-American bilateral relations for many years. Kissinger stated that the U.S. also intended to pull all its forces out of the island of Taiwan.[5] In the communiqué, both nations pledged to work toward the full normalization of diplomatic relations.

The results

The U.S. acknowledged the notion that all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is only one China. Nixon and the U.S. government reaffirmed their interests in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question agreed by the Chinese themselves. The statement enabled the U.S. and PRC to temporarily set aside the "crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations"[6] concerning the political status of Taiwan and to open trade and other contacts. However, the United States continued to maintain official relations with the government of the Republic of China in Taiwan until 1979 when the U.S. broke off relations with the Republic of China and established full diplomatic relations with the P.R.C.

After Nixon's visit he spoke about what this meant for the two countries in the future:

"This was the week that changed the world, as what we have said in that Communique is not nearly as important as what we will do in the years ahead to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past. And what we have said today is that we shall build that bridge."[5]

Richard Nixon wrote many books about his international contributions and accomplishments. Beyond Peace is the last of his post-career volumes, addressing the need for the United States to beat the competition in a world transformed by the collapse of the Communist bloc.


Max Frankel of The New York Times received the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his coverage of the event.

The visit inspired John Adams' 1987 opera Nixon in China.

See also


  1. ^ Joan Hoff. Nixon reconsidered (New York, NY: BasicBooks, 1994) : 182.
  2. ^ Stephen E. Ambrose. Nixon, the triumph of a politician 1962-1972 (New York, NY:Simon and Schuster, 1989): 439.
  3. ^ Kissinger Years of Upheaval p. 65
  4. ^ Richard M. Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Warner Books, 1978), p. 1060
  5. ^ a b "Nixon Goes to China". Accessed 2009-04-15. Archived 2009-05-05.
  6. ^ Nixon's China's Visit and "Sino-U.S. Joint Communiqué"

Further reading

  • Burr, William (1999) The Kissinger Transcripts, New Press
  • Ladley, Eric (2002) Nixon's China Trip, Writer's Club Press; (2007) Balancing Act: How Nixon Went to China and Remained a Conservative.
  • MacMillan, Margaret (2007) Nixon & Mao: The Week that Changed the World, Random House
  • Mann, James (1999)About Face, Knopf
  • Nixon, Richard (1978) RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Grosset & Dunlap
  • Tyler, Patrick (1999) A Great Wall, Public Affairs
  • Dallek, Robert (2007). Nixon and Kissinger : partners in power. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060722304. 
  • Drew, Elizabeth (2007). Richard M. Nixon. New York: Times Books. ISBN 0805069631. 
  • Kadaré, Ismail (1989) The Concert

External links


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