Chapter 5 – U.S. “Détente” Strategy from Nixon to Ford - 1969 to 1977

of October 1949 with major sources of U.S.-PRC tension including Mao’s violent Marxist-Leninist consolidation of power in China that cost millions of lives while the U.S. supported Chiang’s forces and his Republic of China government on the island of Formosa (Taiwan). The most notable enmity occurred during the bitter war in Korea from 1951 to 1953 involving hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops, and subsequent Chinese military and diplomatic support of Communist North Vietnam’s wars in Indochina. Other tensions reflected China’s actions in crushing Tibetan resistance to Chinese control in 1959 and territorial conflicts against India, including outright war in 1962. China’s poor record on human rights, and Beijing’s policy of working with the Soviet Union to push nominally “non-aligned” Third World nations in a pro-Communist, anti-democratic, and anti-American direction was another major source of friction.

The New Situation—1969. What was new in 1969 were both Nixon’s and Mao’s understanding of the deepening Sino-Soviet split and the high stakes dangers and opportunities this presented. Moscow and Beijing, the two great centers of Communist faith and power, were locked into a deep conflict over issues of ideological leadership, territory, and nuclear weapons. For both China and the United States, a measure of common strategic ground arose from their knowledge of Soviet history and their resulting lack of trust in Soviet intentions.

For China, the greatest danger was a potential preemptive Soviet strategic strike against the emerging Chinese nuclear weapons facilities and military capabilities that Soviet assistance had helped to develop. In this situation, the key to a relatively weak China’s ability to deter attack was to create ambiguities in the minds of Soviet leaders and military planners about the American reaction to such an event. For the United States, on the other hand, Nixon sought Chinese pressure on North Vietnam and importantly saw U.S.-China relations as a means of trilateral diplomacy to gain substantial counterweight against mounting Soviet imperial momentum. When Nixon sent Kissinger to China to initiate the months of preparatory secret diplomacy that led to his own visit there, he probably also thought that he could fend off expected domestic criticism from the pro-Nationalist “China Lobby” in the U.S. He could hope ultimately to win broad public praise for a spectacular diplomatic breakthrough and effective anti-Soviet move. Some senior Soviet-focused U.S. officials, on the other hand, reportedly opposed the opening to China as a high-risk anti-Soviet provocation.

The Shanghai Communiqué: One China, Two Views—February 1972. The diplomatic culmination of Nixon’s week-long visit to China in February 1972 was the Shanghai Communiqué signed on February 27 by President Nixon and Premier Chou En-lai. The communiqué followed a meeting with Mao Zedong and the Red Emperor’s authoritative blessing. It is a remarkable document, most revealing not in describing areas of agreement, but in spelling out differences in parallel fusillades. Thus:

The U.S. side stated: . . . The United States supports individual freedom and social progress for all the peoples of the world, free of outside pressure or intervention. . . . The effort to reduce tensions is served by improving communication between communities that have different ideologies so as to lessen the risks of confrontation through accidental miscalculation or misunderstanding . . . No country should claim infallibility . . . the peoples of Indochina should be allowed to determine their destiny . . . [via] a negotiated solution. . . .

The Chinese side stated: Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance. Countries want independence, nations want liberation and the people want revolution—this has become the irresistible trend of history. . . . China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind, . . . it firmly supports the struggles of all the oppressed people and nations for freedom and liberation . . . [and] expressed its firm support to the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia . . . [and] the eight-point program for the peaceful unification of Korea put forward by the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea . . . [and] opposes the revival and outward expansion of Japanese militarism . . . [and supports] the people of Jammu and Kashmir in their struggle for the right of self-determination.

[Both sides agreed that] There are essential differences . . . in their social systems and foreign policies. However, the two sides agreed that countries . . . should conduct their relations on the principles of . . . nonaggression, noninterference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence . . . without resorting to the use or threat of force . . . [and should not] collude with another against other countries, or . . . to divide up the world into spheres of interest.

[On Taiwan] . . . The Chinese side reaffirmed . . . the Taiwan question is the crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations. . . . [The PRC] is the sole legal government of China; Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned of the motherland; the liberation of Taiwan is China’s internal affair. . . . The

[Book pg. 104]