President Nixon and Henry Kissinger arrive in Burbank, California for the day’s major announcement.
President Nixon prepares to deliver his groundbreaking announcement in an NBC studio in Burbank.
When Henry Kissinger touched down in San Clemente on July 13 of 1971 following his world tour, he and President Nixon met immediately to discuss the National Security Adviser’s secret meeting with Premier Chou Enlai of the People’s Republic of China.
“Henry Kissinger returned there, immediately went in to see the President–frankly hardly anybody part of the White House staff knew anything except that Henry was getting back from Vietnam,” recalled Larry Higby, a former staff assistant to the President. “There was some negotiation and some consultation, and then the President, without saying why, said that he requested time on NBC to address the nation on a very important matter.”
On the night of July 15 1971, news networks across the nation prepared for the address, for which they were told held very important significance.
“Good evening. President Nixon tonight has flown from his home at San Clemente to a television studio here in Los Angeles to deliver what the White House terms is a major statement,” opened Tom Jarriel of ABC at 7:30pm.
Since 1967, Richard Nixon made clear his belief that China, and the rest of the world’s attention to China, must change if the threat of future confrontation is to be avoided. He foresaw the dangers posed by a country with one-fifth the world’s population remaining in isolation, breeding its hate for the outside world. RN never reneged on this point, having through his presidency held steady to the conviction that China needed to open its doors.
“Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors,” wrote Nixon in China After Vietnam, a 1967 Foreign Affairs article.
Four years later, in an address to Midwestern media executives in Kansas City on July 6 1971, President Nixon stated: “That is the reason why I felt that it was essential that this Administration take the first steps toward ending the isolation of Mainland China from the world community…Mainland China, outside the world community, completely isolated, with its leaders not in communication with world leaders, would be a danger to the whole world that would be unacceptable.”
On July 15 of the same month, in a Burbank NBC studio, President Nixon stunned the world with the announcement that he had sent his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, on a secret diplomatic mission to China to commence talks with Premier Chou Enlai of the People’s Republic of China. Furthermore, the results of these initial talks was an agreement for a presidential trip to China. In a statement simultaneously being announced in Beijing, the President read:
Knowing of President Nixon’s expressed desire to visit the People’s Republic of China, Premier Chou Enlai, on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure.
Watch President Nixon’s short but profound announcement below:
Max Lerner, syndicated American journalist and ordinarily a vocal Nixon opponent, summed up aptly the general domestic reaction to President Nixon’s impromptu announcement: “The politics of surprise leads through the Gates of Astonishment into the Kingdom of Hope.” That hope being the framework for a future generation of peace. Of course, speculation about the President’s trip to China undoubtedly fueled itself. RN addressed these concerns by reiterating his administration’s policy with China:
Our action in seeking a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China will not be at the expense of our old friends. It is not directed against any other nation. We seek friendly relations with all nations. Any nation can be our friend without being any other nation’s enemy.
President Nixon’s long held conviction that diplomatic relations be established with Communist China was becoming reality. As the world watched in astonished anticipation, RN successfully planted the seeds of an attainable peace.