Parting the bamboo curtain: The enigmatic political and strategic quest of Richard Nixon for detente with Communist China

Ian C Harrison, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


President Richard Nixon's decision to unofficially recognize Communist China during the early 1970s represented an apparently sudden political and strategic turnabout for both he and the United States. After decades of virulent anti-Communism upon which a meteoric political career was built, Nixon, faced with mounting domestic pressures to end the Vietnam War and the necessity of obtaining policy concessions from the Soviet Union, embarked upon a course of detente with Mainland China that seemed to completely contradict his hawkish, Cold Warrior image. Far from being a strictly political maneuver in the months leading to the 1972 presidential election, Nixon's decision was instead a pragmatic, geopolitical strategy designed as much to pressure the U.S.S.R. and balance the power in Asia as it was to bring the Chinese back into the world community of nations. Richard Nixon's conservative background made the decision and subsequent Peking summit possible, as did his diplomatic partnership with Henry Kissinger.