Fact Box

Level: 13.733

Tokens: 948

Types: 393

TTR: 0.415

Object lesson


Fifty years ago, former US president Richard Nixon visited China to break the hostility and estrangement that had characterized relations between China and the United States since 1949. The visit was prompted by the strategic pattern of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union at that time and motivated by the desire of the US to suppress the Soviet Union.

By reconnecting the two countries as great civilizations, the two sides managed to transcend their ideological differences and kick start their cooperation. The Shanghai Communique signed during Nixon's visit represented the strategic vision and the consensus reached between the leaders of the two countries.

The visit was called by Nixon "the week that changed the world", and it undoubtedly had a great impact on the world in three ways.

First, China and the US transformed their previously hostile relations into friendly ties. Before the visit, China and the US had engaged in several military confrontations in the Korean Peninsula and Vietnam. But the leaders of the two countries, from a strategic point of view of living up to a changed strategic reality, found a pragmatic and conciliatory way to pivot to a cooperative relationship that has had a profound strategic implications to the world.

Second, it showed that major country diplomacy needs, in light of changes in national interests and new dynamics of power redistribution, to promote diplomatic realignment and ramp up the establishment of a new strategic perspective eventually favoring their interests. As a result, rivalry with the Soviet Union had pulled them closer, and furthermore, played a positive role in safeguarding world peace by jointly containing the Soviet Union's expansion in Asia. The visit powerfully showed, based on political wisdom and far-reaching strategic vision, China and the US could bridge the gap of geostrategic conflict, shoulder their responsibilities as major countries and advance global peace, development and stability.

Third, it demonstrated that it was possible to build a new relationship of reconciliation and cooperation between two countries against the background of domestic political propaganda and public opinion that had been mutually hostile for a long time. Nixon's visit embodied the basic principle of achieving great power cooperation, which is that China and the US must "respect each other" regardless of the differences in their historical traditions and ideologies. During his visit, Nixon climbed the Great Wall after a snowfall and looked out over the magnificent landscape, and it was very clear to him that China is an ancient country with a long history, and the US needs to understand and respect China more.

His visit was of great strategic and historical significance and is still of consequence today. As China-US relations face new challenges and shocks, the two countries need to learn the lessons of that week that changed the world and bring China-US relations back to the track of sound and steady development.

Sino-US relations went from hostility to normalization in 1979.Today, as the world's two largest economies, China and the US are also the world's largest trading partners. Exchanges between people and social organizations of the two countries used to be very active. Since the end of the Cold War, the stability and development of the world have been closely linked to the process of China-US cooperation.

In the face of the new and complicated situation that has emerged in China-US relations, US policymakers have come to view China as their biggest strategic rival, and they seek to contain China in a variety of ways.

The relationship between China and the US is the most important and complex bilateral relationship in the world. How to design, plan and promote the future development of this relationship is not only a test of the vision and responsibility of the leaders of the two countries, but most importantly, requires the active participation of the two societies and various political, economic, scientific and technological forces of both sides. Faced with new challenges, China and the US need to shoulder their due responsibilities as before.

First, the two sides should sum up the historical experience, because history is always the best teacher. When China and the US shook hands across the "vast ocean" between them, it was not only vision and responsibility, but also mutual respect that contributed to the historic talks between president Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong. No matter how many differences there may be between the two countries today, China and the US need to jointly find the wisdom of history and steer the two countries' relations toward building a community with a shared future. Mutual respect and win-win cooperation remain the most important principles guiding the future development of China-US relations.

Second, despite all the differences, China and the US still need to engage in communication to find ways to jointly deal with problems and disputes and manage potential risks in the bilateral relations. On the Taiwan question, the US must keep its word and stick to the one-China policy.

Third, China and the US should continue to maintain people-to-people exchanges. Ping-pong diplomacy exerted an important influence on the political relations between the two countries and the relationship between the two peoples has been an important foundation for breaking the deadlock and achieving a historic breakthrough in China-US relations over the past 50 years.

The author is executive dean of the School of International Relations at Nanjing University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn