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Finding the right bearing


President Nixon's historic visit to China 50 years ago still points the way forward

This year marks the 50th anniversary of former US president Richard Nixon's visit to the People's Republic of China in 1972. It was a visit that had many important consequences for international relations to this day.

The visit represented a metamorphosis in Nixon's thinking on China, reflecting his recognition of the growing importance of China to the international community and the changing world situation.

Strongly opposed to communism in his early political life, Nixon began to change his views on the PRC in the late 1960s. By the time he became the US president, he was convinced that it was in the interests of the United States to have good relations with China. He was also convinced that forging such relations would contribute to a more stable international climate.

China's influence in the world was on the upsurge at that time. The year before, China had restored its lawful seat at the United Nations, with the PRC recognized as the only legitimate representative of the Chinese people at the UN.

The war in Vietnam was raging and had become very unpopular in the world. Nixon's popularity at home was taking a beating because of the war. Nixon was fishing for some kind of support from China that could help his failing popularity at home.

The PRC, while standing firmly on its principles, also desired better relations with the US. It insisted that the US should end the war against Vietnam and that Taiwan should be recognized as a part of the PRC. Nixon compromised on the Taiwan question as the US and China established full diplomatic relations in 1979. This was an explicit recognition that Taiwan belongs to China.

The whole world welcomed these developments.

The establishing of relations proved to be beneficial to both countries. US companies invested heavily in China. On the one hand, those investments were very lucrative for the US economy, US companies produced consumer goods in China and helped reduce prices for US consumers. And on the other hand, relations with the US were also important for China's economic growth as well.

China-US relations established since Nixon's visit have become the most important in the world. Indeed, the whole world has benefited from them. Moreover, international stability depends largely on these relations.

China has grown in importance and is now the second-largest economy in the world. It has broadened its international relations particularly with developing countries and has played a big role in building infrastructure to improve the production and productive capacity of developing countries, mainly African countries.

Over the past 50 years, China-US relations have continually deepened. It is not just in socioeconomic fields that the ties have been strengthened. They have had fruitful cooperation in dealing with natural disasters and other global emergencies. We have seen them together in many countries assisting victims of hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. They worked together to fight the outbreak of Ebola in Africa as well.

Today, the world has changed greatly. The process of globalization has integrated the international economy as never before. The interdependence is profound.

In this new interdependent world, the relations between China and the US hold great importance and can create almost unlimited possibilities for all when their efforts are combined.

Indeed, all of the global issues that exist cannot be solved without China-US cooperation. This includes world security as it relates to the huge stockpiles of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction that are now in the arsenal of many countries. Good relations can establish conditions favorable for complete disarmament.

Much more could be achieved by this relationship forged 50 years ago. Unfortunately the US often veers away from cooperation and gives weight to competition with China, aiming to contain China's global influence.

Competition to limit the influence of China is going to waste resources and achieve little.

It is clear that the world needs China and the US to have a sound relationship based on international law, respect for each other and non-interference in each other's internal affairs. The two great countries can do much more for our world by respecting these principles and working together.

The basis for further cooperation now exists in responding to the many global issues that humankind must now confront. These include climate change, disaster preparedness and, most of all, world peace.

Nixon's visit to China 50 years ago opened up an important door for greater cooperation with China for a better world. He and the Chinese leaders displayed remarkable vision and that event laid the foundation for the promotion of the welfare of peoples everywhere.

Nixon and his Chinese interlocutors stood out in history as foremost statespersons who were able to chart a new course, and their example has great potential for the creation of a more secured and prosperous world.

The author is the former president of the Republic of Guyana. 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