Nixon and China
Last week we began to take a look at the historical relationship
between China and Taiwan in light of the tensions that exist
between the two today. Before we move on to the "Taiwan
Relations Act" of 1979, it''s important to examine, albeit briefly,
President Nixon''s historic opening of relations with Mainland
China after 22 years of darkness.
Opening the door to China was one of Nixon''s secret goals when
he was elected President in 1968. Upon taking office in ''69, he
began to formulate his plans with National Security Advisor
Henry Kissinger. The U.S. had essentially zero contact with the
Communists since they took over in 1949. In April of 1970,
some of you may recall ABC''s Wide World of Sports covering
the first overt diplomatic contact between the two, that being the
U.S. sending a ping-pong team over to Beijing. Hey, you gotta
By July of the following year, Henry Kissinger secretly went to
China (and it was truly amazing that the high profile Kissinger
was able to keep it secret). On July 15, 1971, President Nixon
went before the American people to announce the Kissinger visit
(which was July 9-11) as well as an invitation that had been
extended to Nixon to visit China the following year.
What brought the two enemies together? In his book, "In the
Arena," Richard Nixon wrote, "The real reason was our common
strategic interest in opposing Soviet domination in Asia. Like the
Soviet Union, China was a Communist country. The United
States was a capitalist nation. But we did not threaten them,
while the Soviet Union did. It was a classic case of a nation''s
security interest overriding ideology." Anatoly Dobrynin, long
time Soviet ambassador to the U.S., expounds on the issue in his
tome, "In Confidence."
According to Dobrynin''s sources, by 1971 there were two camps
among the U.S. foreign policy establishment. One leaned toward
giving priority to agreements with the U.S.S.R. because of the
role the two played in the world. The other camp gave
precedence to an opening to China. This latter side also felt that
by opening the door to China they may also find an end to the
It was a different world back then. The Cold War was still very
much in place. It had been only 3 years since the Soviet Union
had invaded Czechoslovakia, thereby proving once again how
brutal they could be. Plus, Soviet proxies were in place around
the world; in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.
At the same time, Nixon had finally come around to the feeling
that it was important to begin negotiating arms control with the
Soviets. But the Soviet Union and China were not getting along
and it was now possible to drive a wedge between the two.
The trip took place February 21-28, 1972. Nixon and Chinese
Premier Chou En-lai signed a communique that had been worked
out beforehand by Chou and Kissinger. A very important aspect
of this document was the issue of Taiwan. Nixon writes:
"Instead of trying to paper over differences with mushy,
meaningless, diplomatic gobbledygook, each side expressed its
position on the issues where we disagreed. On the neuralgic (ed.
"painful") issue of Taiwan, we stated the obvious fact that the
Chinese on the mainland and on Taiwan agreed that there was
one China. We expressed our position that the differences
between the two should be settled peacefully. And on the great
issue which made this historic rapprochement possible, the
communique stated that neither nation ''should seek hegemony in
the Asia-Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any
other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony.''"
Again, as Nixon pointed out, this document has stood the test of
time. The night before he left China that first visit, Nixon toasted
his hosts at the final banquet. "This was the week that changed
Well, that last statement is debatable. But back in 1972, Anatoly
Dobrynin said that the trip did have major implications in the way
Washington and Moscow dealt with each other. "No longer
would they regard themselves as the only two heavyweights at the
opposite ends of a tug-of-war. A third force had been added to
the equation offering the other two challenges and risks of greater
maneuver. China was also altogether too willing to play this
[Eventually Soviet leadership was worried that American
cooperation with China would lead to sales of military equipment
and Moscow wanted to prevent this. Leonid Brezhnev told
Nixon that China was trying to bring about a clash between the
Soviet Union and the U.S.]
Most historians would agree that Nixon''s recognition of China
was his finest hour. And Taiwan was not sacrificed as so far
Nixon has been proven right in his judgment that China wouldn''t
risk a new friendship to invade the island.
But even Nixon couldn''t complete the full normalization of U.S.
ties with China. That would have to wait until 1979 and Jimmy
Carter. And on October 25, 1971 Taiwan was expelled from the
U.N. as not one single NATO ally voted with the U.S. to have
two China''s in the U.N.
Next week we''ll look at Carter''s "Taiwan Relations Act," the
driving force between the relationship today.
*If you''re a politics junkie, Nixon''s "In the Arena" is a terrific
read. Say what you will about the man, but one can not deny the
fact he is a terrific writer.