rightFollowing two preliminary visits by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, President Richard M. Nixon visited China on February 21, 1972. The two countries took major steps toward normalizing relations built on their mutual distrust of Soviet intentions. Although U.S. support of Taiwan remained a sensitive issue, the visit resulted in a joint agreement to work toward peace in Asia and to develop closer economic, cultural, and diplomatic ties. In the period following the Nixon visit, US-China trade accelerated and cultural exchanges were arranged. In May 1973, the two countries established liaison offices in each other's capital and full diplomatic relations were established by 1979.[Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press; Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

At the time of the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s trip, David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post: “Richard Nixon is hardly a role model, overall; he was a devious president who encouraged illegal actions by his subordinates. But he was a clever strategist — never more so than in the opening to China...Nixon arguably was the only U.S. politician who could have gotten away with such a bold move. He had the right-wing credentials, as an anti-communist and advocate of Taiwan. A typical Nixon blast was his 1964 comment during a trip to Asia that “it would be disastrous to the cause of freedom” for the U.S. to recognize Red China, which is precisely what he ended up doing. [Source: David Ignatius, Washington Post, February 10, 2012]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In 1972 United States President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to the People’s Republic of China. The two nations had not had diplomatic relations or trade relations since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. The United States had regarded China as part of the Communist bloc and thus a target of containment. The People’s Republic had regarded the United States as an aggressive enemy power. Beginning in the late 1960s, however, both sides showed interest in opening relations. Sporadic contacts developed into a more serious dialogue in late 1970 and early 1971, and by 1972, both sides were seriously interested in opening up relations. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“President Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, viewed opening relations with China as a part of the strategy for withdrawing the United States from the Vietnam War. They also saw a strategic advantage to “playing the China card” in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. In China, Mao Zedong and his advisers were equally interested in achieving balance in their foreign relations by playing the United States against the Soviet Union, which they regarded as a threatening “hegemonist” and “revisionist” practicer of “social imperialism.” The “Shanghai Communiqué” established the framework within which relations between the two countries could develop further and remains one of the fundamental bases of the U.S..China relationship.

Good Websites and Sources: Nixon’s Visit to China ; The New Yorker ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia

China at the Time of Nixon's Visit

In the early 1970s, toward the end of Mao's regime, Zhou Enlai, an influential politician, worked to restore relations between China and the outside world, from which it had been largely cut off during the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966 and was its most intense in 1967 and 1968 but continued in a more toned down mode until 1976 when Mao died .[Source: Eleanor Stanford, Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Virtually no one from the West visited China in the 1950s. The first Western journalists allowed into China in the early 1960s were often accompanied by fifteen guides each, all expounding the Communist Party line at every turn. Photographers were restricted to taking pictures of model factories and happy collective farm workers. The usual tour, one journalist said, consisted of visits to perhaps a dozen factories, a half dozen hospitals and clinics, five factory kindergartens and eight communes.

In the years when China was closed off to the outside world, Hong Kong-based journalists tried to get a handle of what was going on by interviewing travelers and immigrants, and carefully reading Chinese newspapers and transcripts from radio broadcasts for hidden messages.

Nixon and the United States Begin Warming Up to China

Nixon Greeted by Zhou Enlai

In 1967, the year before he was elected president, Nixon wrote in Foreign Affairs, “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.” In a speech in 1971, Nixon referred to China as the “People’s Republic of China” rather than Red China.

David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post: “Nixon was struggling abroad as he contemplated the China move: He was bogged down in a deeply unpopular Vietnam War and looking for new ways to contain the Soviet Union. Working with his brilliant and ambitious national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, Nixon let himself think the unthinkable. [Source: David Ignatius, Washington Post, February 10, 2012]

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia: “In 1971 long-standing objections to the admission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations were set aside by the United States; that October, Communist delegates were seated as the representatives of all China and, despite the opposition of the United States, which favored a "two-China" membership, the Nationalist delegation was expelled. The breakthrough to the hostile relations between the United States and Communist China came with Nixon’s visit to Beijing. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: The years of domestic upheaval in China brought profound changes in international alignments. In 1969, Chinese and Soviet forces clashed briefly along the Amur River frontier of eastern Heilongjiang Province. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, China played a major role in supporting the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) in the Vietnamese conflict. In November 1971, the PRC government replaced Taiwan's Nationalist government as China's representative at the UN and on the Security Council, following a General Assembly vote of 76–35, with 17 abstentions, on 25 October. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Tensions Between China and the Soviet Union

Despite common ideological roots and considerable Soviet assistance in over several decades, relations between China and the Soviet Union began to sour in the 1950s and got so tense that for a while China considered the Soviet Union to be its No. 1 enemy, presenting more of a threat than the United States. Tensions in relations between the two countries had began to escalate in the mid-1950s. The 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the buildup of Soviet forces in the Soviet Far East raised Chinese suspicions of Soviet intentions. Sharp border clashes between Soviet and Chinese troops occurred in 1969, roughly a decade after relations between the two countries had begun to deteriorate and some four years after a buildup of Soviet forces along China's northern border had begun. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Particularly heated border clashes occurred in the northeast along the Sino-Soviet border formed by the Heilong Jiang (Amur River) and the Wusuli Jiang (Ussuri River), on which China claimed the right to navigate. Border provocations occasionally recurred in later years — for example, in May 1978 when Soviet troops in boats and a helicopter intruded into Chinese territory — but major armed clashes were averted.

“In the late 1970s, China decried what it perceived as a Soviet attempt to encircle it as the military buildup continued in the Soviet Far East and the Soviet Union signed friendship treaties with Vietnam and Afghanistan. In April 1979 Beijing notified Moscow that the thirty-year Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance — under which the Soviets aided the PLA in its 1950s modernization — would not be renewed.

Mao Meets Nixon

“I voted for you during your election,” Mao told Nixon, somewhat facetiously. “I like rightists.” Sergey Radchenko wrote in China File: “ He later proposed to the Americans to establish what he called a “horizontal line” of nations opposed to Soviet expansion, which would include China and the United States – as close as the Chairman ever came to the idea of an alliance with the country he had spent his lifetime vilifying.” [Source: Sergey Radchenko, China File, Foreign Policy, September 8, 2016 ||*||]

Rana Mitter, a professor of the history and politics of modern China at the University of Oxford, wrote in The Guardian: “Historians would now argue that the Nixon visit to China in 1972 did not come out of the blue. During the 1960s, both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations discussed a warming of relations with China, but were frustrated by Chinese hostility, culminating in the cultural revolution, when it was hard to find anyone to pick up the phone in Beijing. Yet the decision of a Republican administration to reach out to an ideologically radical and xenophobic communist regime in the midst of a vicious land war in Asia still seems a bold one and, unlike many policy decisions of the cold war, one that has stood the test of time.

Nixon Comes to China

20111029-Wikicommons Nixon.jpg On February 21, 1972, Richard Nixon made history when out of the blue he arrived in Beijing with advisor Henry Kissinger for a visit that paved the way for the establishment of friendly relations between the United States and China. The visit was immortalized in an opera released in the 1980s called "Nixon in China" and has sometimes been compared with landing on the moon because nobody thought it was possible, especially with Nixon, who made his career being an anti-Communist, as a central figure.

Nixon’s visit was set up in 1971 when Henry Kissinger secretly met with Zhou Enlai. The White House reported that Kissinger was taking a day off during a trip to Pakistan and a decoy motorcade was even set up with wailing sirens to play up the bluff. The charade almost fell through when a British journalist saw Kissinger at the airport and was told he was heading for China. The reporter called his newspaper but the story was killed because it sounded too absurd to be true. [Source: New York Times]

It was Nixon’s idea to visit China. When Kissinger first heard of the plan he thought Nixon was nuts. Nixon enjoyed the clandestine nature of the plan, code-named Polo One. Kissinger liked the fact that Secretary of State William Rogers was not informed. Key allies were not informed either. Britain and Japan expressed their anger about it later. H.R. Handleman’the advertising man of Watergate fame — carefully scripted the trip for maximum P.R. value.

Nixon’s visit produced the 1972 Shanghai Communique, signed by Nixon and Zhou, in which the United States agreed to “make progress towards the normalization of relations,” committed to the notion of “one China,” and promised to withdraw it forces from Taiwan. Nixon described his visit to China as “the week that changed the world” in his parting toast in Shanghai. He also said the trip “confirms my belief that we must cultivate China during the next few decades while it is still learning to develop its national strength and potential. Otherwise we will one day be confronted with the most formidable enemy that ever existed in the history of the world.”

Book: "Nixon and Mao" by Margaret Macmillian (Random House, 2007)

China-U.S. Ties Improving, Zhou Hinted in 1971

Kyodo news service reported in December 2011: “Before U.S. President Richard Nixon's surprise announcement in 1971 that he would visit China, Beijing had hinted to Tokyo it was starting to have closer ties with Washington, declassified diplomatic documents showed. A delegation led by then Japanese Foreign Minister Aiichiro Fujiyama, who was in Beijing from February to March of that year, was told by Zhou Enlai, China's first premier, that the United States was quick to change its foreign policy regarding East Asia, according to the documents. [Source: Kyodo, December 22, 2011]

The so-called "Nixon Shock" announcement and Nixon's subsequent trip to Beijing in February 1972 marked important steps toward formally normalizing relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China. "Rather than the United States, Japan is getting involved deeply" in Taiwan, Zhou told Fujiyama during their meeting, according to one of the strictly confidential documents, which was created by a senior official of the Foreign Ministry on March 11, 1971, based on the former minister's account of the trip after his return to Tokyo.

Henry Kissingerhas said that the United States began to approach China behind the scenes after around the fall of 1970 in an effort to end the Vietnam War.

Details of Nixon’s Visit to China

Nixon stayed for a week in China accompanied by a huge entourage of aides, policy-makers, spies, reporters, technicians, security men, and cooks. He visited Shanghai, the Great Wall of China, Beijing and Hangzhou and met with Mao. Before a national television audience of millions, Nixon and Zhou Enlai toasted each other three times with cups of mao-t'ai (a sorghum-based liquor that tastes like lighter fluid) at a lavish banquet with all kinds of Chinese delicacies. Nixon wrote in his diary during his second night in China: "If we don’t “make our best effort, we will one day be confronted with the most formidable enemy that has ever existed in the history of the world.”

There were a number of faux pax. Nixon's wife Pat insisted on wearing a red coat on her arrival even tough she had been told that red was often associated with prostitutes. The gifts form the United States to China — a pair of musk oxen named Matilda and Milton — were a little odd. Even though Nixon was known to get tipsy from a glass of wine, and was warned not to overdo the toasting, he dismissed the advise and drank a number of toasts with high-alcohol mao-tai.

At the Great Wall Nixon famously said “This is a great wall.” At the Ming Tombs, Nixon was greeted by, in the words of Nixon biographer, Margaret Macmillian, “children with touches of rouge on their faces, skipping; families dressed in brought new clothes having picnics and listening to revolutionary songs on their transistor radios, groups of friends playing cards, apparently oblivious to the bitter cold.” After Nixon left Communist officials collected the radios in a bag.

Nixon was fascinated by the gymnastics and table tennis exhibition that was staged for him. In his diary he wrote, “The appearance of both the girls and the men, as well as, of course, the superb Ping Pong event, left an impression that was not only lasting, but also foreboding.” In his memoir he wrote, “the awesome sight of the of the disciplined but wildly —almost fanatically — enthusiastic audience at the gymnastic exhibition in Beijing, confirmed my belief that we must cultivate China.”

Nixon tapes recorded between January and June 1972 offer insights into Nixon's trip to China in February of that year — and the mating habits of two pandas he received as a gift. "The only way they learn how is to watch other pandas mate, you see," Nixon said in a phone conversation with a columnist for The Washington Star. [Source: Associated Press, February 28, 2002]

Discussions Between Mao and Nixon

Nixon’s visit to China took place while the United States was still at war with China's ally North Vietnam and the United States and China had sharp disagreements over Taiwan. The initial objective of the visit was for the Nixon to seek China’s help in ending the Vietnam War and for China to get some support for it aim of reclaiming Taiwan. Both goals it soon became clear were unrealizable because China was unwilling to pressure Vietnam and the United States could not end its support of Taiwan.

The shared interest that the United States and China pursued was their suspicion and worry about the Soviet Union and their desire to put the screws on the Soviets and make them worry. Nixon told Zhou Enlai on the visit that he knew he sounded like a cold warrior when he defended American military presence in the Pacific as a means of keeping the Soviet from moving in "but it is the world as I see it, and when I analyze it, it is what brings us, China and America, together."

Both Mao and Nixon were surprisingly open in regard to matters on which they agreed and those in which they differed. Nixon often had more difficulty convincing Kissinger and the U.S. State Department of his objectives and goals than he did Mao. Nixon told a member of the White House staff, Mao "sees strategic concepts with great vision.” On Nixon, Mao said, “I like to deal with rightists. They say what they really think — not like the leftists, who say one thing and mean another.”

Nixon and Mao agreed they both had an interest in thwarting Soviet expansion. Mao also said the Taiwan issue was not important and agreed not to assist Vietnam, adding that the support of Vietnam was historical not ideological. "You want to withdraw some of your troops back to your soil; ours do not go abroad." Mao said.

Zhou En Lai and Nixon

Kissinger on Nixon in China

On the 1971 meeting Kissinger wrote in "On China": "Mao dominated any gathering, [premier] Zhou [Enlai] suffused it," he notes. "Mao was sardonic; Zhou penetrating." He also gives us details of the one occasion when he (and possibly any westerner) saw the unflappable Zhou Enlai lose his temper: when Kissinger suggested that Chinese Marxism had adapted the tenets of traditional Confucianism. Zhou may have been particularly incensed since the insight was in many ways quite accurate."

On why Nixon visited China, Kissinger wrote in Newsweek, "Nixon was driven by the desire to extricate the United States from Vietnam, to create a counterweight to Soviet expansionism and to draw the sting from militant peace movements by unveiling a grand design. Mao shared Nixon's concern over Soviet expansionism."

Kissinger said that the meeting in China were organized with great speed and came off “due to the ability of the leaders of both sides to transcend ideology and cooperate on the basis of mutual interests." On the negotiations between Nixon and leaders in China, Kissinger wrote in Newsweek, "The United States and China stated opposing views on a whole series of issues but came together on some agreed principals. The most notable ones were common resistance to hegemony — a code word for Soviet expansionism.”

Explaining the Kissinger approach on China, Chinese-born CIA officer James Lilley said, "You embrace them, you make all the right statements about building strong and genuine relations, and all the while you run espionage operations."

On Kissinger Mao said, he is “just a funny little man. He is shuddering all over with nerves every time he comes to see me.” After Kissinger said, "The good thing about our relationship is that we want nothing from each other," Mao replied, "If I had wanted nothing from you, I would not have invited you. And if you wanted nothing from us, you should not have come."

Huang Hua

Huang Hua, an eminent diplomat and statesman who died in 2011 at age of 97, played a pivotal role in communist China's relations with the international community and key in reopening relations between the United States and China. In 1971 Huang was sent to meet Henry Kissinger. , the US secretary of state, who had been mandated by President Richard Nixon to take the lead on these exploratory talks. Transcripts released by the US several decades later showed Huang to be an effective, sharp operator, more than able to hold his own with the clever and devious Kissinger.[Source: Kerry Brown The Guardian, November 25, 2010]

By late 1971, a deal for the re-establishment of relations had been struck, leading to Nixon's groundbreaking visit to Beijing in 1972. Huang's reward for this work was to be appointed the first People's Republic of China representative to the in when the country took up its seat there, supplanting the Republic of China on Taiwan.

Mao's Reaction to Nixon's Visit

Three weeks before Nixon’s arrival Mao was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and a severe lung infection. After treating him, Mao's doctor Dr. Li Zhisui later wrote: "His edema was better, but he was still so bloated that he had to be fitted with a new suit and shoes. His throat was still swollen and he had difficulty talking. His muscles had atrophied from weeks of immobility, so we put him on an exercise routine a week before Nixon's arrival."

The day of Nixon's visit, Li wrote, "Mao was as excited as I had ever seen him. He woke up early and immediately began asking when the president was scheduled to arrive. He had a shave and a haircut — his first in more than five months...The medical team had made extensive preparations for the meeting. The emergency medical equipment — including oxygen tanks and a respirator that Henry Kissinger had sent after his secret visit the previous July — had to be removed from Mao's room. We dismantled Mao's hospital bed and moved the rest of the equipment into the corridor connecting Mao's study and bedroom. We put the oxygen tanks in a huge lacquered trunk and hid the rest of the equipment behind potted plants. [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]

"Mao was delighted with Nixon's visit," Li said. "As soon as the president left, he changed back into his customary bathrobe. I took his pulse, which was steady and strong. Mao liked Nixon. 'He speaks forthrightly — no beating around the bush'...Nixon had told Mao that the United States wanted to improve relations with China for the benefit of the United States. 'Isn't it for the benefit of China that we want to improve relations with the United States?' Mao laughed out loud at the thought."

Thawing of Relations Between China and the United States

In March 1971, the United States revoked its ban on travel to China. In July, Nixon ended a 21-year trade embargo with China. In October, China became a member of the United Nations. In 1973, the United States shared intelligence information on the Soviet Union with China. U.S. President Gerald Ford also met with Mao in China, in 1975. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visited the United States in February 1979.

In May 1973, "liaison offices" were opened in Beijing and Washington. On January 2, 1979, under Jimmy Carter, China and the United States normalized diplomatic relations. Shortly afterwards Deng visited Carter in the United States. Embassies replaced the liaison offices in March and China received "most-favored nation" status in July. U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited China in April 1984. George Bush visited in February 1989. Bill Clinton visited in June 1998.

In 1979, China fought a border war with Vietnam to protest Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia.

Chinese 'Take' on "Nixon in China"

"Nixon in China", an opera by John Adams, was first performed by the Brooklyn Academy of Music and premiered in Houston in 1987. It is censored in China. Those who have seen it are unimpressed. "I tried to watch the video, but couldn't finish it," Zhou Long, whose opera "Madame White Snake" premiered last year in Boston and Beijing told the Wall Street Journal. "My impression is that 'Nixon in China' is a story in China for an American audience." [Source: Nick Frisch, Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2011]

"I can't recall that any of us ever discussed the opera," says Chou Wen-chung, a retired Columbia University professor widely considered the dean of Chinese composers. Younger Chinese musicians are, if anything, even less aware. "There is an opera?" asks a bewildered Zhang Sixu, a sixth-year musicology student at Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music visiting Columbia. "I'm . . . I'm not sure many Chinese are aware of this."

On the opera violinist Li Jue, the widow of Mao Zedong's top conductor Li Delun, told the Wall Street Journal, "When Delun and I joined the Communists in Yan'an, we never imagined that Mao would meet a U.S. president. When Mao met Nixon, we never imagined it would become an opera."

The fact that his work isn't on the Chinese radar screen doesn't bother the composer at all. "This is an American opera, about American mythology" Adams said in an interview at the Juilliard School, across from the Met. "The worst thing I could do would be to parody Chinese music. It makes 'Turandot' unbearable," Mr. Adams insists. "I wanted to maintain an integrity of the musical palate. I knew that they played music for Nixon on his visit, but had no interest in that at all."

Poet Alice Goodman, the librettist, is likewise quite clear: "It requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Mao is not only singing, but he's singing in English, using political and poetic allusions which would mean more to an American," she says by phone from Cambridge University. "That's one reason we didn't call it 'Mao Meets Nixon.' It's 'Nixon in China,'" concurs Peter Sellars, director and longtime Adams collaborator, in a phone interview from Chicago. "It's about Americans encountering China, there is no presumption to state these things for a Chinese person."

Some Chinese do enjoy the opera once they encounter it. "I can't believe I've never seen this," enthuses Zhang Kemin after the curtain falls at Met premier. Mr. Zhang, raised in Toronto and a resident of Beijing, is the grandson of Mrs. Li and Li Delun, who served as music director for many of Jiang Qing's model operas and ballets — including "The Red Detachment of Women," so artfully reimagined in Act II.

Perhaps memories of those works are the real reason Chinese are so reluctant to accept putting recent events on the stage. Mr. Zhang explains that his grandfather saw the propaganda operas as a "last resort" to save the symphony orchestra from the Cultural Revolution. But once that nightmare was over, many Chinese artists were determined to prevent the arts from becoming the tool of politics again. To see Americans blithely mixing them together is almost as strange as Mao singing in English.

Aftermath of Nixon’s Visit to China

Sergey Radchenko wrote in China File: After losing Nixon to Watergate (something Mao never did understand), he was left with Henry Kissinger. “A bad man,” Mao said of Kissinger in 1975 in a conversation with his old soulmate, the longtime North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung. Kim agreed, calling Kissinger “wily,” according to records obtained by the Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project. [Source: Sergey Radchenko, China File, Foreign Policy, September 8, 2016 ||*||]

“The problem, Mao thought, was that Kissinger was trying to play the China card in courting the Soviet Union. “We see that what you are doing is leaping to Moscow by way of our shoulders,” he told Kissinger, who vehemently denied such intent. Mao felt that it was all too similar to Munich: the West was appeasing the Russians as they had appeased Adolf Hitler in 1938. The result, he feared, would be war. ||*||

“As he approached death, Mao was worried. He was never able choose between dismantling the international order and finding China’s place within it. His many revolutions failed. His efforts to build up a relationship of equals with the United States delivered much less than he expected. “When the rain comes from the mountain, wind fills up the pavilion,” Mao would say, citing a Tang dynasty poem by Xu Hun, “Ascending the East Tower.” In those final months Mao felt like Xu, standing atop that tower, feeling the wind, sensing the coming of the inevitable storm. ||*||

But there was no war after Mao’s death. Instead, the new generation of the Chinese leaders set out to repair the misery that that the Chairman had inflicted on his country during his lengthy reign. In his crystal casket in Tiananmen Square, Mao remained oblivious to the changes around him as China embraced capitalism with gusto. Beijing turned into a glittering metropolis and China into the world’s economic powerhouse, something Mao had failed to achieve through his reckless economic experiments.” ||*||

Taiwan and U.S.-China Relations As Impacted by Nixon's Visit

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “On January 1, 1979, the United States and the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC) established diplomatic relations, almost thirty years after the Communist government came to power in 1949. The process of establishing diplomatic ties with the United States began in February of 1972 when President Nixon visited China. That visit produced "The Shanghai Communiqué," which was an acknowledgement by Beijing (the capital of the PRC) and Washington that the two countries faced obstacles to establishing diplomatic relations, but also that they would work toward "normalizing" their relations. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“"It was clear," writes one historian, "that the principal obstacle to regular diplomatic relations, to 'normalization' with China, was not the American role in Vietnam but rather Taiwan." Simply put, the problem centered on the fact that both China and Taiwan claimed that there is only one China, and that Taiwan is a part of China, but each side also claimed to be the legitimate government of China. The PRC objected to the United States having diplomatic relations with both the PRC and Taiwan, because it would mean that the United States believed there were "two Chinas," and not just one China. Further, Beijing demanded that the United States withdraw its troops stationed in Taiwan, but refused to promise that the PRC would not use force to "reunite" Taiwan with the mainland, which the United States asked the PRC to promise.

“The PRC government believed that the issue of Taiwan was an "internal" problem; it concerned only the Chinese on Taiwan and the Chinese on the Mainland, and the United States should not interfere. In the "Shanghai Communiqué" the United States said that it did not challenge the claim that there was one China, and while restating its wish for a peaceful resolution to the issue, also agreed to reduce U.S. forces on Taiwan.

“Despite U.S. opposition, but very much in response to U.S.-China détente, the United Nations in 1971 voted for Beijing to replace Taiwan in the China seat. Finally in 1979, official U.S. ties with Taiwan were cut, in keeping with the U.S. acknowledgement that there could only be one legitimate government in China.

“Many Americans were upset at what they felt was the "abandonment" of Taiwan, and soon after diplomatic relations were established with the PRC, the U.S. Congress passed the "Taiwan Relations Act." This Act sought to grant Taiwan the same privileges as a sovereign nation, though it was no longer recognized as one, and it promised to make available "such defense articles and defense services as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability." Some Americans and members of Congress felt that without a promise by the PRC not to use force against Taiwan, the United States had a moral obligation to help Taiwan protect itself, and also that the credibility of the American strategic position as the guarantor of peace in Asia required this. The PRC government was extremely angry. The issue of Taiwan has continued to be a major obstacle in the PRC's relations with the United States.

“In 1982, the United States and the PRC again signed a "joint communiqué" (sometimes referred to as the "the 2nd Shanghai Communiqué") making explicit that the United States would not sell Taiwan a greater number of weapons than it did before 1979, and that they would not be more sophisticated. But, the United States refused to commit itself to a date on which it would stop selling weapons to Taiwan, while stating, however, that the United States was not pursuing a policy to create "two Chinas." And indeed, arms sales to Taiwan have continued at a robust or even increasing level.

"Shanghai Communiqué" (1972)

The Joint Communiqué of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China ("Shanghai Communiqué," February 28, 1972) established the framework within which relations between China China and the U.S. could develop further and remains one of the fundamental bases of the U.S..China relationship. It reads: “President Richard Nixon of the United States of America visited the People’s Republic of China at the invitation of Premier Chou En-lai of the People’s Republic of China from February 21 to February 28, 1972. Accompanying the President were Mrs. Nixon, U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers, Assistant to the President Dr. Henry Kissinger, and other American officials.

“President Nixon met with Chairman Mao Tse-tung of the Communist Party of China on February 21. The two leaders had a serious and frank exchange of views on Sino-U.S. relations and world affairs. During the visit, extensive, earnest and frank discussions were held between President Nixon and Premier Chou En-lai on the normalization of relations between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, as well as on other matters of interest to both sides.

“There are essential differences between China and the United States in their social systems and foreign policies. However, the two sides agreed that countries, regardless of their social systems, should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

“International disputes should be settled on this basis, without resorting to the use or threat of force. The United States and the People’s Republic of China are prepared to apply these principles to their mutual relations. With these principles of international relations in mind the two sides stated that: progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interests of all countries; both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict; neither 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; and neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at other states.

“The two sides reviewed the long.standing serious disputes between China and the United States. The Chinese side reaffirmed its position: The Taiwan question is the crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations between China and the United States; the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China; Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned to the motherland; the liberation of Taiwan is China’s internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere; and all U.S. forces and military installations must be withdrawn from Taiwan. The Chinese Government firmly opposes any activities which aim at the creation of “one China, one Taiwan,” “one China, two governments,” “two Chinas,” and “independent Taiwan” or advocate that “the status of Taiwan remains to be determined.” The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.

“The two sides expressed the hope that the gains achieved during this visit would open up new prospects for the relations between the two countries. They believe that the normalization of relations between the two countries is not only in the interest of the Chinese and American peoples but also contributes to the relaxation of tension in Asia and the world.”

Image Sources: National Archives, Time, YouTube

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University ; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2021

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