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Cover Stories Series 2012> Chinese VP Xi Visits U.S.> Video
UPDATED: February 22, 2012
Nixon's Visit Plants Seeds for Renewed Sino-U.S. Friendship

February 21 marks the 40 year anniversary of then U.S. President Richard Nixon's visit to China. The historic visit planted seeds for renewed friendship between the two nations that would flourish in the following decades.

A sensational announcement 2 years in the making - President Nixon shocked the world with news of his visit to the People's Republic of China - foreshadowed by secret advance trips by national security advisor Henry Kissinger - and young NSC staffer Winston Lord.

Winston Lord said, "The 2 countries had been apart for 22 years we'd been enemies. This was a courageous move by both sides to reach out to each other."

Airforce One touched down - to little ceremony. Winston Lord said, "We were somewhat disappointed and surprised at how bleak the arrival was... when we met with Mao we were surprised at his style. He seemed very casual. He spoke in brushstrokes rather than long paragraphs."

Lord - who later in his career served as the U.S. Ambassador to China - was the only other American official with Nixon and Kissinger in the meeting - a cause of potential embarrassment for the much higher ranking Secretary of State Williams Rogers who was cut out of the key meetings - so Lord was cut out of the official photos and temporarily erased from history.

"The Chinese later on gave me a picture with me in it in the original Nixon Mao meeting." Lord said.

Career diplomat Chas Freeman served as Nixon's interpreter. Chas Freeman said, "Chinese at that time was a language that forced you to take sides. We had disagreements the Chinese interpreters and I for example over the term deterrence."

All further negotiations were conducted by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai - a man Lord and Freeman remain impressed.

The week long trip was highly choreographed.

Chas Freeman said, "Those were beautiful winter days at the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs. The Chinese had arranged a family playing cards at one of the tombs which was entirely fake and Zhou Enlai had to apologize for the zeal of his staff in creating this kind of polemic effect."

Winston Lord said, "The big banquet the first night which had such a dramatic impact in this country and around the world where you had thousands of people in the Great Hall of the People. Zhou Enlai and Nixon toasting - the army band playing 'America the Beautiful' was very moving."

The centerpiece of the trip was the Shanghai Communiqué - a treaty designed to pave the way for the full normalization of relations between the U.S. and China seven years later. But as the party attended a ballet, questions over language referring to Taiwan remained.

A compromise was reached - with an oblique reference to Taiwan - a one-China policy remained in U.S. eyes, but no reference to whom should govern the territory.

The visit was billed as "The Week that Changed the World."

Winston Lord said, "It's fair to say that Nixon's trip were among the 3 or 4 geo-political events in all those decades."

Chas Freeman said, "No one could have imagined that we would have the relationship we have today. Our governments might bicker but at a popular level we have quite a warm and close relationship."

(CNTV.cn February 22, 2012)

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