Two institutions co-presented academic panel on Nixon in China to celebrate Lunar New Year

The Richard Nixon Foundation was pleased to accept an invitation from the University of California, Irvine to co-sponsor a discussion among university academics on President Nixon’s historic and groundbreaking trip to the People’s Republic of China in February 1972.

Nearly 100 people attended the brief lectures and panel discussion, which officially kicked off the UCI Lunar New Year Festival. Presenters included Dr. Luke Nichter, Professor of History at Texas A&M University Central Texas and author of The Nixon Tapes (volumes one and two) and Nixon and Europe; Dr. Emily Baum, Director of the UCI Long Institute for US-China Relations; and Dr. Matthew Beckmann, Professor of Political Science at UCI.

Using a variety of Nixon tapes, White House memos and President Nixon’s yellow notepads, Dr. Nichter gave a broad overview of the inner White House workings and larger strategic goals weighed and considered by President Nixon and his senior aides, including National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, as they began a rapprochement with China.
Dr. Nichter explored the effects that discussions with the Chinese had on the so-called Berlin agreement and the administration’s relationship with Moscow, and how lengthy delays in communication through third-party governmental interlocutors such as Romania, Pakistan and Poland resulted in important US-Soviet communication backchannels. He also discussed the impact of rapprochement had on relations with the Soviet Union, and the reaction of anti-Communist allies in Asia.

Dr. Beckmann, who has taught a course on Richard Nixon and continues to teach a course on the modern American presidency, noted that initial preparation for a rapprochement with China began on day 10 of the Nixon presidency, and said how important it is in a presidential administration to “multitask” so as to accomplish as much as possible. While dealing with the Chinese, the Nixon administration was also drawing down forces in Vietnam and dealing with challenges with the economy; “multitasking is a fundamental challenge of presidential leadership,” Beckmann said.
The trip, overall, defined the “importance of knowledge, imagination and pragmatism,” Beckmann said. Nixon “knows a lot coming in [to office] — he is not learning on the job.”

President Nixon’s orchestration of the opening to China “is what leadership looks like — Nixon exemplifies that,” Beckmann said. “Richard Nixon said it was the Week That Changed The World — and it was.

Dr. Emily Baum considered the trip from the perspective of the Chinese government. While she noted that there is a “historical void” due to a lack of open and available records in Chinese government archives, she said that there were two main considerations to the Chinese when dealing with the Nixon administration: the strain between the PRC and Soviet governments —which included a real fear of armed conflict— and a possible way out of the Mao-induced Cultural Revolution.

The program was followed by a three-hour festival celebrating the Lunar New Year, which hundreds of UCI students attended. Other participants at the festival included South Coast Plaza, Disney, Panda Express, and Pick Up Stix.

In 1972, President Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit the PRC. His eight-day trip brought China into the community of nations after decades of isolation. The trip’s immediate result was the reduction of tensions that had plagued the world for 25 years; relations between the two countries were normalized in 1979, and the trip’s remarkable global impact continues.