By Chris Barber

U.S. China FlagsA new era of Sino-U.S. relations as the flags of both countries are displayed side by side in mutual respect.

42 years ago— on a day that marked the end of President Nixon’s stay in the People’s Republic of China—RN observed: “We have been here a week. This was the week that changed the world.”

Integral to the President’s trip to China were the discussions held with Chairman Mao and Prime Minister Zhou En-lai. The product of these discussions resulted in a joint communiqué issued and agreed upon by both the United States and China. In recognizing this week as the 42nd anniversary of President Nixon’s trip to China, it cannot go unmentioned the impact of this diplomatic achievement. Read the Communiqué below:


The fact of the matter was that President Nixon’s trip to China hinged on a mutual understanding between the two parties—a hashed out agreement where normalizing relations would make possible the prospect of future peace despite fundamental ideological differences. When Chairman Mao met President Nixon on the first day of the journey, he made clear that if the two parties failed to come together on an agreement, the people of the world would ask, “Why are we not able to succeed the first time? The only reason would be that we have taken the wrong road.”

Red China, coming out of its prolonged 22 year isolation from Western Civilization, and the United States, facing a difficult foreign policy obstacle due to the Vietnam conflict, came together in search of common strategic interests. What concerned President Nixon was China’s stance on particularly critical issues, such as the U.S.’s military presence in Taiwan.

However, a number of factors contributed to China’s desire for rapprochement. The forced cooperation between China and the Soviet Union over the past two decades emphasized the deep ideological differences inherent among these Communist powers. So deep were the differences that hostilities and the dangers of all-out war loomed as the days passed. Hence, the changing power structure of the Communist world in the beginning of the 1970s presented a possibility for U.S. “intervention.”

Because of Sino-Soviet disagreements, President Nixon observed an opportunity to restrain the Soviets from possible military confrontation against China. He also recognized that Moscow no longer acted as a bridge between Beijing and the rest of the world. But the prevailing policy issues of the time and a consensus as to how China would act in relation to U.S. interests was not as important in so much as agreeing to work for mutual prosperity and peace. The Shanghai Communiqué, as President Nixon strived to extricate from the meetings, would have to establish language that acknowledged each other’s internal differences and recognized a mutual non-aggression pact in the Asia-Pacific region.

The communiqué set forth these agreements between the two countries:

• progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interests of all countries.
• both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict.
• neither 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.
• neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at other states.
• the United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Straight maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.

What resulted after a half-year effort of tentative drafting was a communiqué satisfactory to the goals of peace and progress for the years ahead.

15 years after the Shanghai Communiqué made possible a new era of Sino-U.S relations, President Nixon reflected on the impact of the document. He noted that with foreign policy, there are necessary risks to be taken. The possibility of success could only occur through taking risks.

The lesson of the Shanghai Communique is that great risks were taken and great goals were achieved. May our two countries and our leaders continue to take risks for peace in the future.