The Shanghai Communiqué
On February 27, 1972, the United States and China put together the joint U.S-China communiqué, the conclusion of Nixon and Kissinger’s astonishing weeklong visit to the People’s Republic. Kissinger had begun to outline the Shanghai Communiqué with Chou En-lai around July 14, 1971, when he met in Beijing with the Chinese prime minister to lay the groundwork for Nixon’s upcoming visit. Evidence of this meeting can be found in Kissenger’s memoranda “My Talks with Chou En-lai.” Kissinger continued to work out the particulars during the February 1972 summit, usually in late-night meetings with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua.
The communiqué stated that both the United States and China strive for “normalization” of relations, and to expand “people-to-people contacts” and trade opportunities. In a slight indication to the Soviet Union, the communiqué affirmed that neither nation “should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony.”
Early in the negotiations, recognizing that China and the U.S. held many conflicting positions, Chou En-lai proposed an unconventional format for the communiqué. The two sides basically agreed to disagree, each stating its views in separate paragraphs. On the Vietnam issue, for example, the U.S. supported Nixon’s latest peace plan, while China had firm support for their Communist proposal.
Yet regardless of the plan for independent declarations, Taiwan remained a tentative subject throughout the negotiations. The Chinese regarded the presence of American troops on Taiwan as a breach of China’s sovereignty and pushed for full U.S. military withdrawal from the island. Nixon and Kissinger wanted to condition a withdrawal on enlisting China’s help in ending the Vietnam War. And while China viewed its dealings with Taiwan as a strictly internal issue, to be handled as it saw fit, the Americans insisted that the Chinese resolve the Taiwan question without the use of force.
“In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable — and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies.”
President Obama – Nobel Peace Award Acceptance Speech, December 10, 2009
In the end, this was a concession that got the United States ahead. Henry Kissinger stated this in his memoirs, neither the U.S. nor China was prepared to let the Taiwan issue become an obstruction to their promising new relationship: “The basic theme of the Nixon trip — and the Shanghai Communiqué — was to put off the issue of Taiwan for the future, to enable the two nations to close the gulf of twenty years and to pursue parallel policies where their interests coincided.”
The U.S. declared, “The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.” This statement allowed the United States to give China a stake in the letup of the Vietnam War.
The Peoples Republic of China rejected any “two Chinas” formulation, declaring clearly that “the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China” and “Taiwan is a province of China.” The U.S., nifty phrasing, acknowledged, “that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China,” but neatly avoided the question of who should govern this “one China.”
RN’s statesmanship is still a model for presidents today. In President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he cited President Nixon’s trip to China as an example of a bold and controversial action by a leader that furthered the cause of peace.
These agreements in the long run meant that neither China nor the United States would cooperate with the Soviet bloc and that both would oppose any attempt by any country to achieve domination of Asia. The Shanghai Communiqué and the diplomacy leading up to it allowed the Nixon Administration to put in place a new structure of peace. The role of American policy was to establish a framework that reflected each nation’s willingness to support the other where national interest coincided. Nixon might have been able to rally the country to this style of diplomacy and show that it was, in fact, the most realistic means of vindicating American idealism.