Normalisation of sino-american relations



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NORMALISATION OF SINO-AMERICAN RELATIONS.

Phase I (1964-1970)

The normalization of the relations between the USA and China was a long and complex affair. The idea came up in 1964 when some of the influential American businessmen and politicians argued that there was need for the government to seize the initiative and exploit the Sino-Soviet split in America’s interests. This was immediately followed by a renewed interest in the study of the Chinese problem by many American groups who made many recommendations to the government.


First signs of a possible change of policy towards China showed in 1965 when the USA government relaxed regulations on visits by American and Chinese medical personnel to and from China.

American universities were also allowed to establish scientific exchanges with China.

(NB. This was the time when the more pragmatic Liu Shaoqi was the head of state and before Mao’s launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution)

However the American government did not announce any official change of policy with regards to its relations with China.

From July 1966 big businesses such as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and General Motors funded propaganda campaigns in favour of normal relations with China. They were concerned about loss of both potential and real business opportunities that linking with one of the world’s most populous nations could bring.

However the Lyndon Johnson administration did not do much to change relations with China as a result of the Vietnamese War and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution raging on in China.

From 1968 Richard Nixon exploited the disaffection with the policy of confrontation with China and preached the idea of bringing China back into the international community as a great progressive nation rather than the epicenter of world revolution.

In mid-1969 the US National Security Council agreed that there was need to normalize relations with China. The media was then directed to report favourably about China.


The Policy of Small Steps.

The US government quickly adopted the policy of small steps. This was bout a gradual warming towards China.

By this policy the government lifted the travel-ban to China on seven categories of US citizens: - congressmen, journalists, teachers, students, scientists, doctors and Red Cross workers.

Americans were allowed to bring in Chinese goods to the value of US$100.

Foreign branches of US companies were allowed to trade with China in non-strategic goods with China.

Tension in the Straits of Taiwan was eased when the USA reduced the number of its vessels and ceased patrols in the area.

The trade embargo on a number of import items of non-commercial value was eased.

In 1970 USA agreed to sale American grain to China in exchange for Chinese currency.

Nixon set up a telephone link between San Francisco and Shanghai and a hotline between Washington and Peking (Beijing).

In October 1970 President Nixon of the USA used for the first time the official name of the Chinese People’s Republic, hinting at the official recognition of China.

However, the Chinese did not respond positively to these symbolic moves at reconciliation and anti-American propaganda went on as furiously as before.

Lin Biao, (Mao’s heir) attacked American imperialism which he called the main enemy of all the peoples. (He was opposed to the idea of reconciliation with America).

However Nixon was not discouraged and the Secretary of state said that the Chinese response was not surprising since labeling the US as the devil was part of the means of maintaining unity inside the country in the face of an alleged threat from outside. (So the USA was always blamed for China’s problems. It was the leadership’s strategy for survival)
Normalisation and Rapprochement.

(Phase II: 1971-1980)

The turning point in the normalization of relations was as insignificant an event as the invitation to China of an American table-tennis team in March 1971.

Nixon responded by opening America to Chinese visitors.

Trade restrictions were removed and China was put on the same footing with the Soviet Union in terms of trade.

In July 1971 Henry Kissinger paid a secret visit to Beijing and both sides agreed to the convening of a Sino-America Summit.

Lin Biao who was opposed to rapprochement with the USA was eliminated from the party, for plotting a counterrevolutionary coup.

In October 1971 the USA and Japan voted in favour of readmitting China to the United Nations (excluding Taiwan which had all along occupied the Chinese seat)

In February 1972 Nixon became the first American President to visit Communist China and signed the joint Shanghai Communique.

In US, the week was dubbed the “week that changed the world”.

Contact missions, which did the work of trade missions and embassies, were established in Washington and Peking.

R. Medvedev says that by doing all this China was counting on China to help in resolving the Vietnam problem.

China’s main motive for signing the Shanghai Communique was that recognition by the US would increase the authority, image and international acceptability and influence of China and its leaders. After this event the number of states which had diplomatic ties with China increased sharply. e.g. in 1971 they rose to 77; 1972 – 88; 1974 – 99 and in 1975 they rose to 107.

However rapprochement did not result in a rapid development of friendship, between the two countries.
The Period 1973-1976: Challenges

This period saw a cooling off in relations between the two powers. This was because;



  • The USA had set limited goals for its China policy especially the cessation.

  • After the Watergate Scandal America lacked a stable leadership and no one could push the China project with the same vigour that Nixon had.

  • In China the era of Mao Zedong was past and there was a power struggle within the Chinese leadership. The ideologues / Gang of Four, led by Jiang Qing managed to constrict the pragmatists and administrators headed by Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. The ideologues who controlled the mass media organized a series of ideological campaigns against the pragmatists who were accused of under estimating the danger of social-imperialism and American imperialism. Anti-American propaganda was broadcast with more vigour.

  • The Chinese curtailed their purchase of American goods in 1975 and 1976 China was irked by the continued close links between USA and Taiwan and by America’s refusal to establish full diplomatic relations.

  • China also disliked US attempts at developing US-Soviet co-operation.

  • In the US there were influential circles which considered that China should not go too far in rapprochement with China.

  • Mao and Zhou Enlai were in poor health between 1975 and 1976 and USA’s Gerald Ford (US president) decided to wait and see the new leaders that would emerge.

  • Between 1976 and 1977 the two countries were pre-occupied with their own internal problems. In 1976 Mao and Zhou Enlai died and in the US Jimmy Carter came to power. He had little interest in developing Sino-American relations.

Thus during this period progress in normalizing Sino-American relations was stalled.
RAPPROCHEMENT ACHIEVED: 1978-1980.

Rapprochement was possible after 1977 because of a number of factors.

1. After the death of Mao the Gang of Four was removed from the political scene in China. Deng Xiaoping and the pragmatists and many victims of the victims of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution returned to political life in China.

2. Carter was ready for dialogue with the Chinese leadership for he feared that the new Chinese leadership might approach USSR for normalization of relations.

3. The new Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping and Hua Guofeng believed in a Sino-American alliance against the USSR as the only guarantee for global peace and stability.

4. The Chinese leadership also expected to get investment capital from USA and other Western countries so it was wise to normalize relations with the USA.

5. By the late 1970s capitalist countries such as USA, Germany and Japan had huge amounts of capital which were looking for some practical use and China provided a good destination or investment ground for the capital.

6. USA needed a strong friend in a world where USSR influence was growing in Africa and Asia while an anti-American feeling was rising especially after the Vietnamese debacle. Also at the same time USSR achieved parity with the USA in the field of strategic weapons meaning that the USA lost a tool that had all along given her foreign policy advantage. Thus an alliance with China would restore America’s former position of dominance.

7. Both sides felt that it was time to establish some sort of Union or bloc with China which would be aimed against USSR.

The visit by Brzezinski the US State Secretary to China in May 1978 resulted in a strengthening of relations.


  • The USA granted China diplomatic recognition and agreed to sell her military equipment and technology.

  • They agreed to work together to make a contribution to the guarantee of peace especially in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and to counteract Soviet influence throughout the world.

  • They agreed to exchange diplomats on 1 March 1979.

  • The USA agreed to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and withdraw US troops and military installations from the island and to stop arms sales to the island.

  • China agreed that the USA would maintain unofficial trade, cultural, scientific and other relations with Taiwan. (NB. Relations between the USA and Taiwan remained strong as a result of pressure from influential groups within USA.)

Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the USA from 29 January to 4 February 1979 helped seal the rapprochement deal. He signed a number of agreements with the USA on scientific, technical, cultural and economic co-operation.

  • He agreed with the USA for a joint containment of the USSR.

  • USA agreed to assist in the modernization of China which was Deng’s major concern.

  • They agreed to consult each other on political positions to be taken in the UN.

  • China was granted most favourable conditions of trade.

  • 15 agreements on various aspects of bilateral links were signed including military and strategic cooperation.

In 1980 USA promised military aid to China but officials in the state department opposed to communism turned down proposals to sell offensive weapons to China. This was because some mistrust between the two still existed.

By the close of 1980, rapprochement with China was one of the key features of American foreign policy.






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