More than a couple of times in my readings for My Year (or More) of Nixon, it has been said that President Richard Nixon’s visit to the People’s Republic of China came as a shock to many people. The claim has been made that Richard Nixon talked tough about Red China in his 1968 Presidential election campaign, and so his outreach to Red China as President was quite a surprise. Nixon himself, in one of his books that I read (perhaps it was Beyond Peace), tried to justify his decision not to inform Japan that he was about to visit Red China. For Nixon, secrecy was essential to his negotiations.
In my post here, I said that Nixon did not exactly hide his intentions to reach out to Red China, for he wrote an article for Foreign Affairs prior to 1968 in which he said that “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of [the People Republic of China’s] potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.” (Nixon in that article stopped short of calling for normalization, however.) A John Bircher type could perhaps argue that Nixon was just saying that to the Council on Foreign Relations elite (the ones who publish Foreign Affairs), while talking tough about China to the general public. But Stephen Ambrose in Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician documents that, even as a candidate for President in 1968, Nixon was talking about the importance of negotiating with Communist China. According to Ambrose, that was largely ignored.
I talked in my post here about Nixon’s narration in Beyond Peace of what led him to reach out to the People’s Republic of China. Essentially, there was a rift between Red China and the Soviet Union, Red China felt isolated and vulnerable, and Red China scaled back its aggression in the international arena. What interested me in my latest reading of Ambrose (specifically Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972) was that Chou Enlai of Red China was in the process of ending the country’s “self-imposed isolation” and was seeking better relationships with different countries: Britain, Japan, and others. That makes sense: Red China is estranged, isolated, vulnerable, and surrounded by countries that it may not consider its friends, and so Red China reaches out to countries in pursuit of better relations. You’d think that Japan wouldn’t be surprised that Red China and the United States built bridges with one another, after Red China had reached out to Japan. But many people were surprised.