The presidency of Richard Nixon was known for its achievements in the stage of foreign policy, most notably the opening of communist China to the rest of the world. However, exposing a new major power to the global stage created a few complications, including what to do if China decided that it wanted to play a more substantial role in the world’s affairs.
Following the Six Day War in 1967, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France were engaged in fruitless four party talks on the basis of United Nations Resolution 242. Israeli forces were required to withdraw from the territories occupied in the conflict, and all parties were to respect internationally recognized borders and each others’ sovereignty, and adhere to a spirit of non-belligerence.
Early in his first term, President Nixon sought to establish relations with the People’s Republic of China. The China initiative was a great challenge for the administration. A Communist country, it became some what of a lone wolf after 25 years of non-communication with the United States, and territorial disputes with Moscow on its Western border.
Following a series of carefully coordinated public and private signals by President Nixon, the Middle Kingdom was pleased to make contact with the world’s foremost power.
In late 1971, before any relations had been formalized, Chinese diplomats arrived in New York and began to demand that they become part of the Four-Power Mid-East talks. The demands were heard with discomfort from many members of the global community. One memo from NSC aide Harold Saunders to Dr. Kissinger dated November 12, 1971 states the opinion that China “would complicate the Mid-East talks,” and that “the Four Power talks are not helpful anyway.” China had little-to-no serious interests in the region, as it had no former Middle East territories (like Great Britain and France) and no nations to which it was currently sending serious aid (as the United States and Soviet Union were doing). Furthermore, the Four Power talks had a tendency to reach impasses fairly easily, and US officials were no doubt concerned that these talks could only go nowhere even faster if another nation were around to contribute to the gridlock. View the memo below:
Another Saunders telegram says that those in the State department “definitely agree with the informal view expressed by the Soviets that PRC participation will likely be complicating factor,” [sic] and that it “cannot claim any special justification for participation” in the talks, as the only reason it has to be involved is its permanent position as a member of the UN Security Council.
Yet it was crucial that President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger deal with China very carefully as their introduction — not exclusion — to the world community became the centerpiece of the administration’s foreign policy.