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The Nixon Handshake
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Late US President Richard Nixon's one-week visit to China February 21 to 28, 1972, has been described as one small step for a man but one giant leap for two countries.

Nixon's achievement could well be considered as far-reaching as US astronaut Neil Armstrong's one small step as the first person on the Moon.

Nixon's ice-breaking China trip was the start of detente between the United States and China. With an eye toward history, Nixon called his historic 1972 visit "the week that changed the world".

For eight days and nights, American television audiences tuned in to a spectacular parade of images from China, the first they had seen in more than 20 years.

The Chinese media devoted unprecedented attention to the visit. While few Chinese owned television sets, they listened to radio broadcasts and read newspapers, which featured front-page stories and photographs of the US and Chinese leaders' summit.

The handshake between Nixon and Chinese leaders heralded the beginning of a new journey for China-US ties and for friendship between the two peoples.

The handshake between Nixon and Zhou Enlai at the Beijing airport, arranged meticulously by the US side, was at least as powerful as Armstrong's lunar step. It sent the world a clear message that the two countries were resolved to move forward with relations.

It was a remedy for the arrogance of then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who refused an arrangement for a handshake with Zhou in Geneva in 1954.

During the Nixon visit, the two countries issued the Shanghai Communique. It expressed what the leaders had agreed to as well as their divides on bilateral and international issues.

Nixon's visit to China and the Shanghai Communique became a milestone in Sino-US relations. It laid a foundation for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the further development of the ties.

Nixon's visit came at a time when the two superpowers, the US and the former Soviet Union, were seeking hegemony. In consideration of its own strategic interests, the US changed its China policy from conflict to dialogue in the final four decades of the last century, a shift that helped put Sino-US relations on the right track.

Nixon's handshake of 35 years ago continues to be felt as China and the United States continue to explore new possibilities for their relationships in a vastly different world.

(China Daily March 2, 2007)

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