Nixon’s landmark visit to China


1972 not only put its mark on the history of nations but it also started a new geopolitical competition for an emerging superpower. February 21stis the 50th anniversary of President Nixon’s landmark visit to Beijing (Peoples Republic of China; PRC) and has added a new chapter in the history of both these nations. The visit paved the way for putting the foundation for mutual respect and cooperation in the years to come. The premise behind the visit was an ever-present need to include China into the global village of nations and this quote by the president eloquently describes its sentiments. “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angryisolation.” After getting into the Whitehouse, President Nixon pushed this premise further and made it as one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy to build better relations with China (PRC), despite long hostility and propaganda against each other.
In addition to the fact that Nixon’s visit to China was strategic for establishing relationships with China, other objectives were of geopolitical in nature. One of them was to use the US-China engagement (China card) as a leverage to getting Soviet’s attention. Another was to give Hanoi impression that the US-China and the US-Soviet relations were stronger than North Vietnam’s with them. This paradigm was used as a leverage to persuade North Vietnam to put an end to the war with the USA. Later, the USA invited both, China & Russia, in the final negotiations to settle the war.
A long before the visit, a lot of work was done in secrecy, starting with Henry Kissinger’s 1971 very first secret trip to China (through Pakistan) and behind the scenes dialogues by both nations’ policy makers and advisors. Even though, Kissinger was not the Secretary of State at that time, but he played the pivotal role in the entire process of the visit from the beginning during the Nixon’s administration and many administrations, thereafter and until today, that includedboth, Republicans and Democrats. Kessinger was liked, respected and the point man for both, Chairman Mao, and President Nixon. This historic event will be the major legacy of his diplomatic career.
It was the very first visit by any US President to China after more than two decades of hostility against each other. As the Presidential plane took off from the Andrews Air Force Base, it was televised live on the ground and inside the plane. It was a momentous event for President Nixon and his entire entourage, particularly Henry Kissinger who was National Security Advisor at that time and later became Secretary of State and Winston Lord, top China advisor to Nixon and later Ambassador to China, followed by becoming Assistant Secretary of State.
Within the couple of hours after arrival in Beijing the first meeting between President Nixon (accompanied with Kissinger & Lord) and Chairman Mao Zedong (along with Premier Zhou Enlai) took place in his modest study room filled with books. Total time spent with Chairman Mao during the entire meeting was of about an hour. It was a very friendly meeting and proved to be of paramount importance and the foundation for building relationships and trust between the two nations and opening doors for the global participation. On return to Washington, DC, the trip was regarded as a groundbreaking event for the President Nixon. In China, it was also heralded as the landmark agreement under the leadership of Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai.
Even though the relationship between the USA and China was initiated by President Nixon, a Republican, in February 1972 but the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) was recognized by President Carter (a Democrat) on December 15, 1978,as the sole legitimate government representing Chinese people. As part of the US’ “ONE China policy” proclamation, the same day, the US withdrew its recognition ofthe Republic of China (ROC, known as Taiwan) and terminated its diplomatic relations. This shows that it was the bipartisan efforts that brought China into the world community. And this bipartisanship has continued since then as part of the US national China policy.
Since opening the relationship doorswith China by President Nixonon February 21st, 1972, to date seven more US Presidents have visited China. The last President who visited China was Donald Trump in November 2017.
There are three distinct periods of China’s outreach to the USAthat stands out and are directly associated with its three maverick leaders. Chairman Mao who put the foundation, President Deng Xiaoping, also known as Xixian (??),whoturbocharged the relations and the current President Xi Jinping, who offered his support to move the bilateral relations to its next level of success.
The relationship foundation laid down by Chairman Mao and President Nixonwas the greatest hallmark event of that era and beginning of mutual respect, cooperation & trust building between the two great nations that continued to grow and strengthened with time. The most important aspect of building the relationship was to discuss all the sensitive issues openly, including Taiwan. During the visit, it was not identified as the center piece of the agenda and since then it has remained as an unresolved issue, even under the “one China policy” proclamation.
During Chairman Mao’s lifetime, there were frequent exchange of visits by the policy makers from both sides and regular discussions were held for promoting the goodwill and supporting mutual trust & respect for each other’s cultures and values. After more than two decades of isolation, hostility, and mistrust between the two nations, it was a very daunting job. Like with any beginning, there are always challenges associated with it. From this perspective, the beginning of this journey was not an exception either. The journey experienced few short-stops but overall logged substantial progress in many areas by overcoming challenges placed by their own constituents and hawkish policy makers on both sides.
Subsequently, numerous meetings have taken place to continue to strengthen the bilateral relations by finding areas for cooperation and support. During President Deng Xiaoping’s period, China made tremendous amount of progress. In December 1978, as part of the structural economic reforms, he announced to pursue the “Open Door Policy” whereby foreign investments were allowed in China. He formulated strategy for the FDI by making technology as its core, which attracted multinationals to open their factories in partnerships with the SOEs. And this was the beginning of the economic reforms and success that brought China out of the traditional agriculture dependent economy and widespread poverty. Additionally, by offering generous incentives to the Chinese expat talents, China attracted hundreds of thousands of Chineseexpatriates(entrepreneurs, industrialists, engineers, scientists, IT professionals, and academia)from the USA, Canada, and Europe in a noticeably brief time. This landmark decision turbocharged Chinese transformation into a manufacturing nation of consumer items and the electronics.
Later, on December 11, 2001, China joined the WTO and soon became the dominant player in the global trade & commerce by importing raw materials from around the world and exporting finished goods across the oceans. As the trade and the exports of its finished goods increased, so did its raw material imports from Africa and South-Central Americas. To transport the massive amounts of the raw materials from these nations back home, it needed reliable infrastructure which was nonexistence in many of these nations. And this challenge transformed into an opportunity for building the infrastructure in those nations to have a sustainable supply chain.
After its entry into the WTO, China reinforced its position further in the global trade and became the champion and dominant player of the globalization. By now, its products (made in China) can be found not only in the developing countries but also equally adorned by the consumers of the advanced economies, like the USA and Europe.
After President Xi Jinping assuming the power, he pushed for the innovation, self-reliance and building national pride as the main architects of its national policy. He started forging alliances with the trading partners and later under his visionary idea of reviving the “ancient silk road” through the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) to lay out global supply chain infrastructure through building roads, railroads, and the maritime routes across the world put China on notice. According to the World Bank’s analysis, the BRI could uplift up to seven (7) million people out of the absolute poverty and potentially increase about 6.2 percent of the global trade! This statement by the World Bank, eloquently speaks about the benefits of the BRI and its longer lasting impacts on the world economy. In other words, it will be a perpetual source for the poverty reduction, and transformation to a prosper and vibrant society where aspirations for quality of life will be an achievable dream for every citizen on the planet.
Under President Xi’s self-reliance policy initiative, China is leapfrogging innovations in communication (5G), IoTs, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), High Speed Rail (Maglev), Robots, FinTech, Digital Transformation through smart payment systems, digital currency (d-Yuan), digital wallet, e-commerce, ride sharing, cloud computing, semi-conductors, space exploration, long-life batteries, electric vehicles (EVs), semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles (Driverless cars and trucks), to name the most common ones clearly shows it has turbocharged its journey of transformation and in many areas China has already established its leadership position. These marvels of technology speak by themselves how advanced Chinese society has become in a truly brief period. In fact, this is the first time in human history that this remarkable transformation has been taking place in a single generationof any society! China, that was once completely isolated from rest of the world has become a beacon of hope and”NorthStar” for many nations on the planet. Although,Pakistan playeda smallrolein bringing China and the USAtogether,but it proved to be apivotal moment in China’sjourney to its remakingand its emergence as anemerging superpower. Since then, Pakistan and China, both cherish their friendship and have continued strengthening their relations, cooperation and supports on bilateral as well as geopolitical and global issues. In true sense it is a “win-win” example and CPEC is its living testimony.

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