Tao Wenzhao delivers a speech at the seminar on Feb, 23. [Photo: Chen Boyuan/China.org.cn]
Editor's Note: At a seminar organized by China.org.cn on Feb. 23 to mark the 40th anniversary of Sino-US relations, Tao Wenzhao, a senior fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, discussed motives behind US President Nixon's visit to China and the influence of Shanghai Communiqué. The following are extracts from his speech.
US President Richard Nixon broke the ice between China and the US with his historic visit in February 1972. The trip turned hostility into reconciliation and began a process of normalization of bilateral ties.
The first motive behind Nixon's visit, was to contain the expansion of the Soviet Union in developing countries which had threatened the hegemony of US. Secondly, setbacks in the warming of US-Soviet relations made Nixon look to China. He thought that US relations with Soviet Union would be closer after the ice between the US and China thawed. Three months after his visit to China, Nixon visited the Soviet Union in May 1972 and signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with President Leonid Brezhnev. This treaty may be the best signed between the two powers during the Cold War. Thirdly, the US wanted to withdraw from the Vietnam War and hoped China could put pressure on North Vietnam to end the war.
On the Chinese side, the Soviet Union was also a great threat at that time. Moreover, the Cultural Revolution, launched in 1966, had isolated China on diplomacy. Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai hoped that Nixon's visit could break this isolation. Therefore, this visit was important to both sides then.
Reviewing Nixon's visit today, we see a lot of important precedents set. First, the trip refocused bilateral ties on the big picture, noting the strategic importance of US-China ties. At that time, China and the US had many strategic divergences after twenty years of estrangement and hostility. Most sections of the "Shanghai Communiqué" discuss these differences. Only a small final part of the Communiqué mentions areas of consensus. But more importantly, these areas of consensus set the key platform for US-China relations.
Nowadays, China and the US still have many differences and disputes which cannot be resolved in the short-run. But we need to look at our ties from an overall and strategic point of view. Only cooperation can bring our two countries a bright future. We must explore a mutual beneficial path with harmony between large countries. If not, it will affect world peace.
Secondly, we must recognize the common interests between China and the US. Forty years ago, our common interest was to contain an expansionist Soviet Union. Today, we have much deeper common interests than before. Cooperation is the lifeblood of bilateral ties. We must deal with differences seriously and develop our relations on the basis of common interests.
Thirdly, the two sides must cultivate a strategic mutual trust. At present, we have a "trust deficit". But it's not true that there is no trust between us. It's inconceivable for us to have the current relations without any mutual trust. Before Nixon's visit, we did not have any mutual trust. But through Henry Kissinger's secret visit and his long talks with Premier Zhou Enlai, stating that US does not support "Taiwan independence" or "two Chinas" or "One China, One Taiwan", China and the US established a primary mutual trust which led to President Nixon's historic visit.
Lastly, we must learn from former leaders' political wisdom. Negotiations on the Shanghai Communiqué were very difficult and almost failed several times. But with the political wisdoms of Premier Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger, the US stated that "the United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position." The statement continues to be accepted by both sides and remains a cornerstone of Sino-US relations.
I am among the most optimistic people on bilateral ties, even there is some criticism on my thoughts. Whenever difficulties appear, I always recall Deng Xiaoping's words to Brent Scowcroft, special envoy of President George H.W. Bush: "In spite of the disputes and the differences between us, after all, Sino-US relations have to be improved. This is something that is necessary for world peace and stability." His words boost my confidence that ties will continue to improve.
Tao Wenzhao, a senior fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.