The Inquiry Project – Nixon’s visit to China
Have you ever tried to live your life without “Made in China”? Well, for most people this thought is absolutely crazy. However, one woman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, wanted to find out. In 2005, she and her family pledged to spend one year without buying anything from China (Adams). The result could be both a success and failure: they went through the whole year without buying any products made in China, but this experiment completely turned a daily life upside down. They had to spend much more time and money to find substitute products. For some of the goods, they simply couldn’t find a non-Chinese alternative one, which made their life even tougher (Adams). This experiment clearly proves the close relationship, especially in the field of economic and trade, between the United States and China. But how did this relationship establish? Well, it all started with Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.
After the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union had been involved in a deep geopolitical conflict known as the Cold War. The United States’ main allies were Western Europe and Japan, while the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe and had supported the Communist China. To counter the threat from the Soviet Union, the U.S. had conducted the anti-Communist foreign policy towards the Eastern Bloc, including China. The deep confrontation between mainland China and the United States continued for 20 years. However, by the late 1960s the international situation was beginning to change regardless of these antagonisms. After the death of Stalin in 1953, “Soviet Communism and the Chinese version began to diverge,” (Gordon) and a crack developed in Sino-Soviet relations. As border fighting broke out between Chinese and Soviet troops in 1969, the alliance between China and the Soviet Union completely collapsed. China found itself against its old ally and still being isolated from the Western world by the American policy of containment. At the same time, the United States government began to rethink their impractical foreign strategy in Asia. As the president, Nixon hoped to gain the support of China to put pressure on North Vietnam to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. He also sought, through China, to put pressure on Soviet to reconcile the conflicts and thus put America in the vantage in relations with the two communist powers (Gordon). In 1971, National Security Advisor and future Secretary of State Henry Kissinger took two trips to China – the first made in secret – to consult with Premier Zhou Enlai. After all these preparations, Nixon finally embarked on his trip to China in 1972. Over the course of this visit, the two governments negotiated the Shanghai Communiqué, an important step toward improving relations between the United States and the China after many years of hostility.
Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 was a very important event in U.S.-China history. It was the first time a United States president had visited the People’s Republic of China. This trip ended over two decades of estrangement and confrontation between these two countries and marked the normalization of U.S.-China relations.This trip altered the relations with Soviet Union and the balance of the Cold War, kept the world peace and laid the groundwork for the future development of U.S.-China relations. Furthermore, this event greatly changed the American’s perception of China as well as their lifestyle.
The relationship between the United States and Soviet Union was the most important relation before the disintegration of USSR. During the Cold War, the hostility among these two countries and their allies shaped the main character of international environment, both nations devoted themselves to promote economic and political ideologies and competed for international influence along these lines.
Two decades after the Second World War, Soviet-American tension had become a way of life. However, between the late 1960s and the late 1970s, there was a thawing of the ongoing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. As the nuclear arms race was incredibly expensive, and both nations faced domestic economic difficulties as a result of the huge expense on military research, both sides became in accommodations to create a more stable and predictable international systems (“Détente”). Actually Nixon’s visit to China also helped inaugurate the period of détente. By the early 1970s, the relationship between the Soviet Union and China showed signs of strain. Nixon decided to use the conflict to shift the balance of power towards the West in the Cold War. If the United States improved its relationship with China, the Soviets would have no choice but to cooperate with the U.S., or risk being isolated from both east and west. Clearly, the Soviet Union chose the first option. “With both sides willing to explore accommodation, the early 1970s saw a general warming of relations that was conducive to progress in arms control talks” (“Détente”).
In practical terms, détente led to formal agreements on arms control and the security of Europe. In May 1972, just three months after the trip to China, Nixon visited Moscow, two governments signed the Antiballistic Missile Treaty during the first round of Strategic Arms Limitations Talks, which set limits on the production and deployment of ballistic missiles and antiballistic missiles (“Treaty”). In 1975, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe met and produced the Helsinki Final Act, which recognized political borders, established military confidence building measures, created opportunities for trade and cultural exchange, and promoted human rights (“Conference”). In the late 1970s, the relationship between United States and Soviet Union went down again due to their difference visions at détente, but a series of positive treaties achieved during this time eased the tension between East and West, and avoided conflicts or wars among both side. (“Détente”).
“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.”
-Richard Nixon, February, 1972, in Shanghai
Diplomatic estrangement between the United States and China went back to the 1940s. After the Chinese civil war ended in 1949, the Communists established the People’s Republic of China on the Chinese mainland while soldiers and officials of the defeated Republic of China fled to Taiwan. For the 30 years that followed, the United States continued to recognize the Republic of China as the only legitimate government of the entire country (Gordon). Since then, the Taiwan issue became one of the main obstacle that lies between the United States and China.
A mutually acceptable accommodation on the Taiwan issue was indispensable for the U.S.-China rapprochement. When Nixon visited Communist China in 1972, the two governments issued the Shanghai Communiqué. In this Communiqué, the People’s Republic of China affirmed that Taiwan was a part of China, and that it opposed all attempts to create two Chinas. The United States declared that it “acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China,” and that it did not challenge that position (“Joint”). The United States also noted the importance of finding a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan issue and that it intended to withdraw remaining U.S. troops from Taiwan (“Joint”). Despite persistent differences over Taiwan, the Communiqué indicated that the two sides, had agreed to subordinate the issue to the pursuit of common interests. The principles established in the Shanghai Communiqué laid the foundation for future cooperation between the two countries even while acknowledging continuing disagreements on the subject of Taiwan, and provided the basis for the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1979.
James Smith, a businessman dealing with apparel trade, has lived a life that probably would have been much different if Nixon hadn’t made his historic visit to China in 1972.
As He recalled the path America and China have taken to arrive at today’s close ties. “When I was young, all I learned from school and media was that China had a huge population. Their people were so poor, they relied on bicycles in the city and primitive plows in the country,” James told our reporter (Torry). “I knew there was a conflict between the United States and China.”
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, China was commonly known as Red China, or Communist China, among Americans. However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, relations between China, the United States, and the Soviet Union changed. Ideological divergences between China and the Soviet Union and tensions along the Sino-Russian border, led China and the United States to consider the strategic value of the normalization between two countries.
In 1971, a breaking news was broadcasted by the U.S. media: the American table tennis team was invited to visit Beijing. This event opened the door to friendly contacts between the people of the two countries and it brought to the vast changes in popular opinion – with a majority of Americans came to favor the recognition of the People’s Republic of China for the first time as well as P. R. China’s entry into the United Nations (Kusnitz, 135). The Ping-Pong diplomacy marked a thaw in Sino-U.S. relations that lay the foundation of President Nixon’s visit the following year.
On February 21, 1972, Air Force One landed in Beijing, President Richard Nixon, accompanied by a large delegation of officials and journalists, showed his citizen that he was a bold leader by being the first U.S. president to meet with Chinese officers in more than twenty years. Indeed, Nixon’s China visit, which was shown on TV and featured on the cover of virtually every newspaper and magazines in the U.S., created tremendous repercussions among American society (“Knocking”). “It was like this big news. It was kind of like an explosion – who would have expected that?” said James. “This was a phenomenal diplomatic coup, and there is not a simple word that captures the nature of this relationship,’’ (Torry). But, to some, the trip was due to happen. Mary Smith, wife of James Smith believed the visit was a natural correction of hostile relations. “I wasn’t surprise about this actually. How can you deal with international affairs without the participation of such a big country? I didn’t think China as our enemies, we just share different ideology. I was glad Nixon made this move.” said Mary. Nixon’s actions appear to have been well received by most of the press and public. This trip even have led to an increase of the favorability that Americans viewed China. One of the poll held in Minnesota in April 1972 showed that thirty-one percent of people reported their impressions of the mainland China had changed, with twenty-nine percent now responded that they were more favorability inclined toward China than before Nixon’s visit (Kusnitz, 139).
In late 1978, China’s new leader Deng Xiaoping decided to open the country up and take economic reforms. As a business man, James Smith saw the great opportunity behind this act. “It was like an untapped goldmine, it had a vast pool of cheap labor and a huge consumer market. You can never find a better place to invest.” Not long after, he set up a small clothing factory in Guangzhou, and sold its product to China or back to America. The story that followed is the rapid growth of China’s economy for three decades, in which the United States played a major role, both as a key trading partner and investor. Now, the former small clothing factory James Smith found has turned into a big company, “It was like a dream, I never thought I could go this far.” James said.
Today, the U.S. and China are locked into a relationship of economic interdependence. For those who lives in America, their perceptions of China have changed dramatically as China’s economy has grown and the economic relationship between U.S. and China gets closer. “There was a lot of appreciation of China’s rising economic role and the opportunities that presented. Now, when you walk into a store, it’s just hard to find something that is not made in China. I cannot imagine what would happen if Nixon didn’t go to China in 1972, maybe our life could be completely different.” Mary said.
As two of the major powers in the world, every action of United States and China can have great impact on our history and our society. Nixon’s visit to China was the beginning of U.S.-China relations and the turning point of the Cold War, no one can deny the importance of this event in our history.
As a matter of fact, this part of history was easily ignored by most people in America, but if there wasn’t this event, the world would be completely different: China might not be the second-largest economy and world’s largest trading nation. America might still face the conflict with the Soviet Union. As for ordinary Americans, without Nixon’s visit that formed the basis of U.S. – China economic relations, our life could be inconceivable: When you walk in a market, you just cannot find any product not “Made in China”, would those things be replaced by goods produced by other countries? Or like the case in the introduction part, people just find an alternative one, and had to live a harder life?
We must admit that nowadays, U.S. and China are so interdependent that both countries cannot live without each other. The cooperation under the globalization shaped the main character of U.S.-China relations. It brought prosperity and peace for both countries, which are cannot be acquired by conflicts, wars or confrontation.
History is the guidance that lead people towards the future. It can give us a lot of experience to help people solve the problem and make the right decision. Nixon’s visit to China is a very good example, it contributed to the development of international relations and showed people the fact that cooperation is better than confrontation.
However, peace usually doesn’t come easy, it need countries and their people to put aside the differences, prejudice, maybe even the hostility that have been accumulated for a long time. The accommodation between the United States and China was not accomplished by only Nixon’s visit, it was reached by a series of negotiation and compromises. As for now, although the Taiwan issue remains a problem between America and China, both countries still work hard to maintain a close relations and work together to create a peaceful world. Peace is one of the most precious things in the world, we should cherish the hard-earned peacetime our ancestors provided, and help to create a better world for the entire world and all of our human beings.
Adams, Gordon. “Seven Questions: Can You Live Without China?” Foreignpolicy. Graham Holdings Company. 11 Jul. 2007. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.
Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. 1975. Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe: Final Act. Helsinki: Secretary of State for External Affairs. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
“Détente and Arms Control, 1969–1979.” Office of the Historian. United States Department of State, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2014
Gordon, John Steele. “Nixon in China.” American. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.
Kusnitz, Leonard A. Public Opinion and Foreign Policy. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984. Print.
United States of America. U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Public Affairs. “Treaty between the United States Of America and the Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems.” U.S. Department of State. 26 May. 1972 Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
United States of America. United States State Department. Bureau of Public Affairs. “Joint Statement Following Discussions with Leaders of the People’s Republic of China.” Office of the Historian. 27 Feb. 1972. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
United States of America. United States State Department. Bureau of Public Affairs. Memorandum of Conversation. Office of the Historian. 12 Apr. 1971. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
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