China; Diplomacy; Diplomatic etiquette; International relations; Nixon; Richard M. (Richard Milhous); 1913-1994; Political realism; United States; World politics


Diplomatic History | History | Political History | United States History


The importance of a symbolic gesture in diplomacy is very difficult to gauge. Diplomats often embark on social functions, meetings and trips to international countries in order to make contact with foreign diplomats and build relationships with governments. This is an effective means of forging political relationships, but how important is it when it comes to international policy and treaty negotiation? In short, it is extremely important in the process of policy-making, even without the tangible evidence showing its significance. Establishing contact can be the most difficult and arduous step in the road to good diplomatic relations, a fact that President Richard Nixon found out in his attempt at rapprochement with China. A gesture such as Nixon’s trip to China also carries with it a fair amount of good political publicity, and Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were well aware of this. The effect of the trip is evident in the public opinion at the time. Nixon gained a lot of support for the trip with a presidential election right around the corner. Political motivations were at play in foreign relations as well, as both China and the U.S. did not want to see the other becoming too friendly with the Soviet Union. By establishing contact with China, and ultimately making his historic trip to Beijing, Nixon was able to complete one of the most significant symbolic gestures in 20th century diplomacy. What were his actual primary motivations? Nixon, although he demonstrated a degree of belief in the improvement of Sino-American relations as an instrument of peace, primarily sought rapprochement with China due to political motivations during a period of waning support domestically and internationally.