If President Nixon’s July 15th, 1971 announcement of his trip to China was a surprise to the USA, it was a shock to Japan. As Minoru Kusuda, then Chief Secretary to Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, said in 1996:
“[T]here was a joke circulating among Japanese diplomats that one of them had had a nightmare that one morning he would wake up and find U.S. and China had established relations and failed to tell Japan. This nightmare had become a reality, and so I hope you can understand the sense of astonishment and consternation among the government, the business world, the academia, and the media.”
The Japanese cabinet issued a restrained statement of approval in the interest of world peace. Nixon later sent a confidential telegram to Sato, expressing his gratitude for Sato’s understanding and his deep regret that they had been unable to discuss the China initiative before the world-wide announcement.
Ultimately, “Nixon shock,” as the event is known in Japan, was beneficial to Japanese diplomatic interests. Kakuei Tanaka succeeded Sato as Prime Minister in September 1972 and resumed diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic. Tanaka’s and Nixon’s visits to the PRC both occurred in 1972, culminated in a joint communique, and established normalization of relations between China and a historical enemy.