The establishment of relations between the United States of America and the People's Republic of China (China) was in every sense a watershed in the history of foreign policy, and permanently altered the international system. U. S. President Richard M. Nixon's trip to China in February 1972 was referred to as the week that changed the world. Even die-hard critics of Nixon acknowledged that the opening to China brought the most significant improvement in foreign relations among the great powers in decades. So revolutionary was the opening that the initial diplomatic accord between China and the United States ended China's 20 years of estrangement from the West. In order to demonstrate how revolutionary the new era was, it is necessary to both consider the events which led up to the opening to China, and to analyze how the development of U.S.-Sino relations impacted international relations, particularly with reference to the USA, China, Russia and other regional powers in East Asia. Clearly, numerous geopolitical and strategic factors worked to bring about a new era in relations between the United States and China, and in every sense, these new relations were a global-strategic, political and diplomatic revolution, which fundamentally shifted the international balance of power. Furthermore, the new era brought clear tangible benefits for America and China, and elevated their positions on the global stage.
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[...] A Fragile Relationship: The United States and China since 1972. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution *Kissinger, Henry A. Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster Mandelbaum, Michael. The Strategic Quadrangle: Russia, China, Japan and the United States in East Asia. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press *Nixon, Richard. “U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970's: A New Strategy for Peace.” A Report to The Congress by the President of the United States, February (1-160). Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/54522.pdf Powaski, Ronald E. The Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917-1991. [...]
[...] The Shanghai Communiqué, issued in February 1972, laid out a number of understandings and terms, and most significant of these was that neither China nor the United States should seek hegemony in the Asia- Pacific region, and each was “opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony.” The Chinese side went on to say: “China will never be a superpower, and it opposes hegemony.” Since the Soviet Union was the only country capable of dominating Asia, a “tacit alliance to block Soviet expansionism in Asia was coming into being.” The Chinese also stressed how it was not in either country's interests to permit major powers to “divide up the world into spheres of interest.” Normalization of relations between the USA and China was seen as critical for the “relaxation of tension in Asia and the rest of the world.” Within a year of Nixon's visit to China, such an understanding between the United States and China was made more explicit and more global with a further communiqué published in February 1973, stating that China and the United States agreed resist jointly any country's attempt at world domination.” In the space of barely a year and a half, Sino- American relations had “moved from strident hostility and isolation to de facto alliance against the pre-eminent threat.” With the support of the United States, China gained its seat in the United Nations and become one of the five permanent member states of its Security Council even before the release of the communiqué. The United States also suspended its financial support to the Dalai Lama and removed its nuclear weapons from Taiwan. In return, China coordinated with the United States in checking the expanding influence of the Soviet Union and Vietnam in Cambodia and Afghanistan. Rapprochement between the United States and China meant that China's isolation with the West had at last ended, and the country's relations with other Western powers improved, as well as with Japan. [...]
[...] “Neutralizing” both North and South Vietnam served the interests of China and America. For China, it meant that she could focus her energies on other strategic areas which were posing a threat, particularly her long border with the Soviet Union. Through accommodation and cooperation with China, Nixon and his advisers could use the “perceived international leverage derived from the opening of China in order to elicit greater accommodations from the Soviet Union over pressing international and arms control issues.” The belief was that once the Soviet Union could no longer count on permanent hostility between the world's most powerful and most populous nations, the scope for Soviet intransigence would narrow and perhaps evaporate. In the conditions of the late 1960's, improved Sino-American relations became a key to the Nixon Administration's Soviet strategy. Nixon hoped that détente between the superpowers would also facilitate the conclusion of a SALT agreement that would place a cap on an alarming Soviet nuclear buildup. Between 1967 and 1969, the size of the Soviet nuclear arsenal had increased from 570 to 1,050 ICBMs, giving the Soviets parity with the United States in numbers of that weapon system. With Congress reluctant to authorize additional defense spending, “Nixon surmised that SALT was the only feasible way to restrain the Soviet strategic buildup.” The extent to which the opening up of relations between China and the USA was revolutionary was demonstrated by the numerous events post- rapprochement, particularly those of a diplomatic, geopolitical and strategic nature. [...]
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