The History Background of Nixon visit to China

This year is 40’s anniversary of Nixon visit to China. My colleague Christina has recently presented in this blog some amazing stories of Nixon’s experiences in China. I am voluntarily giving a little history background to her works.

The United States of America did not formally recognize People’s Republic of China for 30 years after its founding. And Sino-American relations could only be described as hostile during its first two decades. At those days, the People’s Republic of China and the United States considered the other side “the common enemy of people throughout the world.”

Most young people today in both China and America may not able to picture the hostility tensions once existed between the two nations. After World War II, United State and Soviet Union were gradually forging the world into two sides. It did not turn into another world war only because both sides have numerous nuclear weapons. This deadly weapon not only shortened a proceeding war, but also prevented another war of millions death.

But the peace brought by this weapon is not a pleasant one. Senior citizens in the coastal cities of America may still remember the sleepless nights worrying about the potential nuclear attack from the other side of the Ocean. A few American scholars produced a theory of how the nuclear war should be engaged, such as starting from bombing Soviet Controlled German. (This plan did not work out because the U.S. military leaders were so worried about that the leaders of Soviet Union might not know this theory.LOL)

As a matter of fact, China and the United States of America had engaged in a war in Korea, and stood for the opponents in the next two wars in Asia – the Sino-India War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. However, the dramatic improvement of the Sino-American relations also thanks to wars.

The Sino-American relations have been softened when China began to withdraw from Vietnam in Nov. 1968. Four months later the territorial dispute between China and Soviet Union occurred in Zhenbao Island (Treasure Island). Battles were fought over Zhenbao Island between China and Soviet Union with a considerable loss of life. China was gradually being isolated in a world of enemies. When the doctrinal divergence between China and Soviet Union finally turned these two nations into enemies in 1960s, the iceberg of Sino-American hostility was no longer invulnerable.

Meanwhile the anti-war movement was gaining strength in the United States, the Vietnam became a burden which was more expensive than its strategic value for the U.S. government. Moreover the threat of Soviet Union in the East Europe was growing through its military achievement such as the invasion of Czechoslovakia in Aug. 1968.

But in the anarchy international relation system, even the potential of improved Sino-American relations is not clear, not to mention the opportunity of high level Sino-American dialog. The mutual hatred of decades and the ideological dispute are not easy to put aside.

Nixon is the one with Icebreaker. As a doctrine commonly used in foreign policy, the old saying “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” worked out this time. One of the most remarkable episodes of Nixon’s visit to China was Kissinger’s top secret intelligence briefing to the Chinese on Soviet military forces arrayed against China.  

A few years later, in 1979, China officially announced the termination of Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance (expired), and the Sino-Vietnamese War broke out. The official cause of this war was the occupation of Spratly Islands by Vietnamese. However millions of Chinese troops were mobilized along the China-Soviet border during this War. This war is also a demonstration that China might and is ready for engaging with Soviet Union in a war of full scare, since Vietnam and Soviet Union has signed a mutual defense treaty in Nov. 1978..

The following U.S. foreign policy is highly motivated by this demonstration, and Sino-American relations entered its first golden age. The embassies in Beijing and D.C. are formally established when China was still at war with Vietnam (1 Mar. 1979). Within the same year, outstanding private claims were resolved, and a bilateral trade agreement was completed. Agreements were achieved on maritime affairs, civil aviation links, and textile matters, as well as a bilateral consular convention the next year.

And all these achievements started from the Nixon’s spring visit to China in 1972. It sounds even more proper when Nixon said in Shanghai that “this was the week that changed the world.”

Forty years ago China and America bounded together by one common enemy, but today the two nations walk together for one common interest. We are now the two largest economic bodies of the world, and China and America is now the world’s largest market of the other. We have biannual high level talks about economic issues and other mutual concerns. Actually Vice Chairman of Republic of China Xijinping just finished his welcomed visit to the United State. Moreover, according to the 2010 censuses of America and China, there are approximated 3.8 million Chinese American in the United States, and an estimated number of 1.3 million American lives in China.


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