Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Beijing Meeting (21–27 February 1972)

Summit meeting in Beijing, China, during 21–27 February 1972 between U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and People's Republic of China (PRC) leader Mao Zedong. This important meeting ended more than twenty years' of Sino-American confrontation and opened the way toward the normalization of relations between the two nations. The establishment of the PRC in October 1949 had deepened the Cold War in East Asia. At that time Mao announced to the world that he would adopt the lean-to-one-side policy, which signaled his alliance with the Soviet bloc. The United States responded with its nonrecognition policy and by refusing to allow the PRC to be seated in the United Nations (UN). This deep divide was greatly exacerbated by the Korean War, in which American forces directly battled PRC forces when China intervened in the war. The two Taiwan Strait crises and the Vietnam War also hindered Sino-American relations throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

By the late 1960s, however, both nations understood the need to reconcile their differences and normalize their relationship. America's ongoing quagmire in Vietnam prompted Nixon to reduce his country's global military commitments. Thus, détente with the communist bloc, promulgated in the Nixon Doctrine, was deemed the most effective means by which to reduce military costs and to preserve world peace. The PRC's border disputes with the Soviet Union, which resulted in armed confrontation in March 1969, rendered it a potentially new and ready American ally that U.S. policymakers hoped might counter Soviet influence in Asia. The PRC in turn was eager to improve Sino-American relations to diminish its isolation after the Sino-Soviet split and the Cultural Revolution.

Shortly after Nixon's 1968 election, the PRC proposed resumption of the Sino-American Ambassadorial Talks, which had begun in 1955 but were suspended during Mao's Cultural Revolution. The desire of both nations to achieve rapprochement helped pave the way for Nixon's visit to Beijing. Throughout 1970, working with the assistance of Pakistan and Romania, the PRC and the United States secretly opened a dialogue on issues of common interest, so as to set a mutually acceptable agenda for future discussion. In December 1970, both sides agreed to a high-level meeting in Beijing between their leaders.

On 6 April 1971, the PRC invited an American table tennis team to play exhibition matches in China in what came to be called ping-pong diplomacy. On 27 April 1971, the PRC signaled that it was ready to receive Nixon's special envoy to prepare for the forthcoming summit. Nixon responded by promising to visit Beijing to resolve contentious issues such as Taiwan and Vietnam. U.S. National Security Advisor Henry A. Kissinger, Nixon's envoy, made a clandestine visit to Beijing in early July 1971 to discuss with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai Nixon's pending visit. On 15 July, Nixon announced publicly that he would make a historic trip to Beijing, the first high-level visit since 1949.

On 21 February 1972, Nixon, accompanied by Kissinger, arrived in Beijing, where he received a warm welcome by Mao and Zhou. Their seven-day meeting covered a number of issues, in particular Taiwan and Vietnam. On 27 February 1972, upon the meeting's conclusion, both sides issued a joint communiqué in Shanghai stating that it was in the best interest of all nations to normalize the Sino-American relationship, it was mutually desirable to reduce military conflicts, and it was mutually desirable that neither country seek further hegemony in Asia. On the Taiwan issue, the communiqué restated Sino-American differences, suggesting that this might remain a stumbling block to full Sino-American reconciliation. The meeting was nonetheless a triumph for both sides, as it marked a true breakthrough in Sino-American relations.

After the Beijing meeting, both sides redoubled their efforts to establish a formal and full diplomatic relationship. Kissinger subsequently visited China with some frequency, resulting in the creation of liaison offices in Beijing and Washington in 1973. In February 1978, the PRC's new leader, Deng Xiaoping, visited Washington and announced that China was willing to peacefully resolve the Taiwan question. On 1 March 1978, the United States accorded full diplomatic status to the PRC; it also abandoned its nonadmission policy by supporting the PRC's seating in the UN Security Council.

Law Yuk-fun


Further Reading
Griffith, William E. Cold War and Coexistence: Russia, China and the United States. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1971.; Ross, Robert S., and Changbin Jiang, eds. Re-examining the Cold War: US-China Diplomacy, 1954–1973. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.
 

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