July 15th marks the 42nd anniversary of one of the most jaw-dropping moments of Richard Nixon’s presidency: the announcement of his trip to China. The Nixon administration had been secretly preparing for closer relations with the second-most-powerful Communist nation for years, but for most of the world the announcement was a complete shock. The phrase “a Nixon goes to China moment” is still used to describe a surprising move by a politician.
Due to a telegraph strike in the summer of 1971, only a few telegrams of response reached the White House in the days following the announcement, but even these showed an enormous variety of opinion. The telegrams, ranging from pithy eloquence to rude insults, are rather Twitter-esque.
Unexpected international figures Giorgio La Pira, the former Socialist Mayor of Florence; Paula Busch, the Berlin Circus Director; and J. B. Webb, Australian activist, sent eloquent letters of approval.
Foreign reaction to Nixon’s landmark journey of peace was uniformly favorable. The whole world benefitted from peace between the world’s most powerful nation, the United States, and the world’s most populous nation, the People’s Republic of China.
Entrepreneur Chinn Ho, an Asian-American of Chinese descent, wrote to Nixon from Hawaii, where he pioneered Asian participation in US business.
William Preston, writing from Japan, worked to improve relations between the USA and the USSR and seems to have had his own plans for Washington-Peking relations.
Not everyone shared such glowing approval of the president’s move. Many ordinary American citizens feared the trip would “sell out” to Communism and betray American ally Taiwan (the Republic of China). A majority of these angry telegrams were written by the McConkey family of Hawaii.
President Nixon, however, never militarily abandoned Taiwan and he never supported Communism. Nixon’s primary goal was to achieve peace through stabilized relations with Asia. The journey is recognized today as one of the greatest successes of the Nixon administration.