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1971 - Only Nixon Could Go To China

Beginning in 1954 and continuing until 1970, the United States and China held 136 meetings at the ambassadorial level, first in Geneva and later in Warsaw. In the late 1960s, U.S. and Chinese political leaders decided that improved bilateral relations were in their common interest. In 1969, the United States initiated measures to relax trade restrictions and other impediments to bilateral contact. On July 15, 1971, President Nixon announced that his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, had made a secret trip to Beijing to initiate direct contact with the Chinese leadership and that he, the President, had been invited to visit China.

In February 1972, President Nixon traveled to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. At the conclusion of his trip, the U.S. and Chinese Governments issued the "Shanghai Communique," a statement of their foreign policy views. Few leaders have inspired a proverb, but Richard Nixon did: "Only Nixon could go to China." In his case, that meant only a fervent anti-Communist could become the first American president to visit what was known as Red China, and forge a working relationship. Nixon had his greatest achievements in foreign policy, although he is still better remembered for the Watergate scandal that made him the only president to resign.

In the Communique, both nations pledged to work toward the full normalization of diplomatic relations. The United States acknowledged the Chinese position that all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The statement enabled the United States and China to temporarily set aside the "crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations"--Taiwan--and to open trade and other contacts.

In May 1973, in an effort to build toward the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, the United States and China established the United States Liaison Office (USLO) in Beijing and a counterpart Chinese office in Washington, DC. In the years between 1973 and 1978, such distinguished Americans as David Bruce, George H.W. Bush, Thomas Gates, and Leonard Woodcock served as chiefs of the USLO with the personal rank of Ambassador.

President Ford visited China in 1975 and reaffirmed the U.S. interest in normalizing relations with Beijing. Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Carter again reaffirmed the interest expressed in the Shanghai Communique. The United States and China announced on December 15, 1978, that the two governments would establish diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979.

In the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations dated January 1, 1979, the United States transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The United States reiterated the Shanghai Communique's acknowledgment of the Chinese position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China; Beijing acknowledged that the American people would continue to carry on commercial, cultural, and other unofficial contacts with the people of Taiwan. The Taiwan Relations Act made the necessary changes in U.S. domestic law to permit such unofficial relations with Taiwan to flourish.

Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping's January 1979 visit to Washington, DC, initiated a series of important, high-level exchanges, which continued until the spring of 1989. This resulted in many bilateral agreements--especially in the fields of scientific, technological, and cultural interchange and trade relations. Since early 1979, the United States and China have initiated hundreds of joint research projects and cooperative programs under the Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology, the largest bilateral program.

On March 1, 1979, the United States and China formally established embassies in Beijing and Washington, DC. During 1979, a bilateral trade agreement was concluded. Vice President Walter Mondale reciprocated Vice Premier Deng's visit with an August 1979 trip to China. This visit led to agreements in September 1980 on maritime affairs, civil aviation links, and textile matters, as well as a bilateral consular convention.

As a consequence of high-level and working-level contacts initiated in 1980, U.S.-China dialogue broadened to cover a wide range of issues, including global and regional strategic problems, political-military questions, arms control, UN and other multilateral organization affairs, and international narcotics matters.

The expanding relationship was threatened in 1981 by Chinese objections to the level of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Secretary of State Alexander Haig visited China in June 1981 in an effort to resolve Chinese questions about America's unofficial relations with Taiwan. Eight months of negotiations produced the U.S.-China joint communique of August 17, 1982. In this third communique, the United States stated its intention, if conditions were conducive, to reduce gradually the level of arms sales to Taiwan, and the Chinese described as a fundamental policy their effort to strive for a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan question. Meanwhile, Vice President George H.W. Bush visited China in May 1982.

High-level exchanges continued to be a significant means for developing U.S.-China relations in the 1980s. President Reagan and Premier Zhao Ziyang made reciprocal visits in 1984. In July 1985, President Li Xiannian traveled to the United States, the first such visit by a Chinese head of state. Vice President Bush visited China in October 1985 and opened the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu, the fourth U.S. consular post in China. Further exchanges of cabinet-level officials occurred between 1985 and 1989, capped by President George H.W. Bush's visit to Beijing in February 1989.



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Page last modified: 14-02-2014 18:12:01 ZULU