Nixon announces visit to communist China 1971
During a live television and radio broadcast, President Richard Nixon stuns the nation by announcing that he will visit communist China the following year. The statement marked a dramatic turning point in U.S.-China relations, as well as a major shift in American foreign policy.
Nixon was not always so eager to reach out to China. Since the Communists came to power in China in 1949, Nixon had been one of the most vociferous critics of American efforts to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese. His political reputation was built on being strongly anti-communist, and he was a major figure in the post-World War II Red Scare, during which the U.S. government launched massive investigations into possible communist subversion in America.
By 1971, a number of factors pushed Nixon to reverse his stance on China. First and foremost was the Vietnam War. Two years after promising the American people “peace with honor,” Nixon was as entrenched in Vietnam as ever. His national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, saw a way out: Since China’s break with the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s, the Chinese were desperate for new allies and trade partners. Kissinger aimed to use the promise of closer relations and increased trade possibilities with China as a way to put increased pressure on North Vietnam–a Chinese ally–to reach an acceptable peace settlement. Also, more importantly in the long run, Kissinger thought the Chinese might become a powerful ally against the Soviet Union, America’s Cold War enemy. Kissinger called such foreign policy ‘realpolitik,’ or politics that favored dealing with other powerful nations in a practical manner rather than on the basis of political doctrine or ethics.
Nixon undertook his historic “journey for peace” in 1972, beginning a long and gradual process of normalizing relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States. Though this move helped revive Nixon’s sagging popularity, and contributed to his win in the 1972 election, it did not produce the short-term results for which Kissinger had hoped. The Chinese seemed to have little influence on North Vietnam’s negotiating stance, and the Vietnam War continued to drag on until U.S. withdrawal in 1973. Further, the budding U.S.-China alliance had no measurable impact on U.S.-Soviet relations. But, Nixon’s visit did prove to be a watershed moment in American foreign policy–it paved the way for future U.S. presidents to apply the principle of realpolitik to their own international dealings.
(More Events on This Day in History)
- 1789 Lafayette selected colonel-general of the National Guard of Paris
- 1903 Ford Motor Company takes its first order
- 1862 CSS Arkansas attacks Union ships
- 1971 Nixon announces trip to China
- 1953 A notorious English killer is executed
- 2002 John Walker Lindh accepts plea bargain
- 1888 Volcano buries victims in fiery mud
- 1606 Rembrandt born
- 1806 Pike expedition sets out
- 1965 Mariner 4 studies Martian surface
- 1997 Versace murdered in Cunanan killing spree
- 1988 Die Hard debuts, makes Bruce Willis a movie star
- 1919 Iris Murdoch is born
- 1986 Columbia Records drops country legend Johnny Cash after 26 years
- 1904 The Mad Trapper of Rat River heads for U.S.
- 1979 Jimmy Carter speaks about a national “crisis in confidence”
- 2003 Tex Schramm dies
- 1964 Goldwater nominated for president
- 1971 Nixon announces a visit to China
World War I
- 1918 Second Battle of the Marne begins with final German offensive
World War II
- 1941 Garbo makes an appearance