By: Richard M. Nixon
Date: July 15, 1971
Source: Nixon, Richard M. "Presidential Speech Announcing Acceptance of an Invitation to Visit the People's Republic of China," July 15, 1971, delivered in Los Angeles, California. Public Papers of President Richard M. Nixon, courtesy of Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace.
About the Author: Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) became the thirty-seventh president of the United States (served 1969–1974) in 1968, and he won re-election in 1972. Among his most important accomplishments was opening of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, severed since the communist takeover in 1949. Nixon was forced to resign from office in 1974 during the Watergate scandal, however, before full diplomatic relations could be restored. Although his reputation never recovered, Nixon regained a measure of respect as an elder statesman in his final years, particularly for his continued willingness to broker ties with China.
One of the longest stalemates of the Cold War took place between the United States—the world's wealthiest and most powerful country—and the People's Republic of China, its most populous. The United States severed ties with mainland China after its takeover by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong in 1949, after a bitter civil war. When the defeated, pro-western faction under Chiang Kai-shek set up rule on the neighboring island of Taiwan, the United States recognized it as the legitimate Chinese government. The refusal of the United States to recognize the legitimacy of the People's Republic of China under the communists intensified during the Korean War (1950–1953). After China aided North Korean forces invading South Korea, United Nations forces, with a predominantly American presence, pushed them back. The war dragged on for three years, with the United Nation forces stopping just short of entering Chinese soil, before it ended with a ceasefire.
Southeast Asia witnessed another major Cold War conflict between communist and western forces during the Vietnam War (1964–1975), which escalated throughout the 1960s. Once again, the two nations seemed to be locked in a military stalemate as diplomatic negotiations floundered. In contrast to the Korean conflict, however, the American public gradually turned away from supporting the United States' involvement in Vietnam. As antiwarprotests swept college campuses in the late 1960s, polls showed that a growing majority of Americans favored a resolution to the war, even if it meant withdrawing from the region. Carefully reading public opinion on the war, presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon announced that he would end U.S. involvement in Vietnam if elected in 1968. In Nixon's view, however, it would first be necessary to reestablish official ties with the People's Republic of China, then the dominant power in Asia.
After the Nixon administration took office in 1969, it began a lengthy, and often secretive, series of diplomatic efforts to establish relations with the People's Republic of China. As anti-communism remained the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, Nixon did not want to appear soft on the issue. Nor did he want to abandon the United States' alliance with Taiwan, where U.S. forces remained as a deterrent to a possible invasion from the Chinese mainland. Against this backdrop, administration officials laid the groundwork for diplomatic talks beginning in January 1970. Within months, however, the talks broke down after the Chinese government protested the U.S. invasion of Cambodia as part of its strategy to bring the Vietnam War to a conclusion. While President Nixon publicly expressed his desire to continue negotiations, they resumed in secret in October 1970. The second round of talks also foundered after the United States supported the South Vietnamese invasion of Laos in February 1971.
As the Nixon administration worked to reopen negotiations, the Chinese government offered a surprising invitation to the U.S. Ping-Pong team to play at a tournament in China in April 1971. It was the first official visit of any American delegation to the People's Republic of China since 1949. Seizing on the momentum generated by the "ping-pong diplomacy" offered by the Chinese, Nixon delivered a televised speech on July 15, 1971, announcing his acceptance of an invitation to visit China. During the delegation's eight-day visit in February 1972, President and Mrs. Nixon made headlines by appearing at some of the country's most famous attractions, including the Great Wall and the Great Hall of the People. During this period, the Nixon administration also eased many of the trade and travel restrictions that had been enforced against China and dropped U.S. opposition to granting China a place on the United Nations Security Council.
Ironically, although the resumption of diplomatic relations with China stood as perhaps Nixon's greatest foreign policy triumph, he was forced to resign in 1974, before full diplomatic ties were restored between the two countries. That event took place on January 1, 1979, under the administration of President Jimmy Carter (served 1977–1981).
Primary Source: "Presidential Speech Announcing Acceptance of an Invitation to Visit the People's Republic of China"
SYNOPSIS: As Nixon notes in this brief speech, one of his priorities in office was to resume diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. Not only was China the most populous nation on earth, it also played a key role in the regional security of East Asia, including the countries of North and South Korea and Vietnam, then also divided between North and South.
I have requested this television time tonight to announce a major development in our efforts to build a lasting peace in the world.
As I have pointed out on a number of occasions over the past 3 years, there can be no stable and enduring peace without the participation of the People's Republic of China and its 750 million people. That is why I have undertaken initiatives in several areas to open the door for more normal relations between our two countries.
In pursuance of that goal, I sent Dr. Kissinger, my Assistant for National Security Affairs, to Peking during his recent world tour for the purpose of having talks with Premier Chou En-lai.
The announcement I shall now read is being issued simultaneously in Peking and in the United States:
Premier Chou En-lai and Dr. Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's Assistant for National Security Affairs, held talks in Peking from July 9 to 11, 1971. Knowing of President Nixon's expressed desire to visit the People's Republic of China, Premier Chou En-lai, on behalf of the Government of the People's Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure.
The meeting between the leaders of China and the United States is to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and also to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides.
In anticipation of the inevitable speculation which will follow this announcement, I want to put our policy in the clearest possible context.
Our action in seeking a new relationship with the People's Republic of China will not be at the expense of our old friends. It is not directed against any other nation. We seek friendly relations with all nations. Any nation can be our friend without being any other nation's enemy.
I have taken this action because of my profound conviction that all nations will gain from a reduction of tensions and a better relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China.
It is in this spirit that I will undertake what I deeply hope will become a journey for peace, peace not just for our generation but for future generations on this earth we share together.
Thank you and good night.
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"Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace." Available online at http://www.nixonfoundation.org (accessed May 25, 2003).