History: Cold War - Sino-US Rapprochement

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Advantages and Risks for the USA


  • Nixon wanred to exploit the Sino-Soviet split by using a relationship with China to put pressure on the USSR to compromise with the West.
  • Nixon hoped that he could persuade China to put pressure on the Vietcong to neogiate a peaceful settlement in Vietnam.
  • Nixon's re-election in 1972 was virtually guaranteed.
  • The Vietnam War had demonstrated that US military power was not as effective as had been hoped. Nixon wanted to make up for US military failures through new strategic alliances.
  • Nixon wanted to stop a Soviet invasion of China because he didn't want China to become a Russian satellite.
  • He hoped that friendship with China would allow the US to focus its entire arsenal on the USSR


  • Linkage may not have worked.
  • Other states fears e.g. Taiwan was very angry as they knew they would be pushed out.
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Advantages and Risks for China


  • Stopped any US-USSR alliance against China.
  • USA agreed to finally recognise China.
  • It gave them protection from all the hostile countries around them such as Japan, South Korea, India, Mongolia, Indonesia, Taiwan and of course, Russia.
  • It had many trading advantages for them.
  • Mao was worried about reports of a pre-emptive Soviet nuclear strikes.
  • In 1969, China had very few allies as during the Cultural Revolution, China withdrew its ambassadors from most countries. China only had France, Pakistan and Albania as allies.
  • Mao hoped that an alliance with the USA could be used to confront the USSR, thus forcing it to accept an expansion of China's borders.


  • It was seen as betrayal to Communism to work with the enemy, Capitalists.
  • It was a betrayal to North Vietnam and Albania, could have led to serious fallout. (However, USA would be much stronger than both of these states).
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Key Events

  • Jan 1971: World Table Tennis Championship in Japan - US team made it clear to Chinese players that they would be happy to accept an invitation to China to play against their national team. Mao agreed to this.
  • April 1971: America table tennis was invited to China. The Chinese let the Americans win most of the matches and treated their guests with courtsey and friendship. The tour recieved enormous publicity within China and Ping Pong Diplomacy led to further contracts. Trade and travel restrictions were relaxed between the US and China.
  • July 1971: Kissinger, US Secetary of State, visisted China. He had siz meetings with Zhou Enlai lasting for 17 hours. He was paving the way for Nixon's visit the following year.
  • Oct 1971: Taiwan was expelled from the Security Council of the United Nations - backed by US. The United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 2758 on 25th October, 1971, recognising that the People's Repubic of China is the only lawful representative of China.
  • Feb 1972: Nixon, the US President, visited China. At the  end of the summit, the Shanghai Communique was produced: acknowledged disagreements over Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan; committed the USA and China to a relationship of peaceful co-existence; they would establish formal diplomatic links; pledged they would work together to stop the USSR; committed the USA and China to increase co-operation and trade; US pledged to cut back military installations on Taiwan and expanded economic and cultural contacts between them
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Key Events

  • 1975: Ford, the new US President, visited China.
  • Trade between China and USA grew considerably from $5 million to $500 million a year in the space of a few years. The USA refused to trade in goods that might have military applications but didn't stop their allies from doing so e.g. Britain secured an order of Rolls Royce jet engines
  • America's allies in the Far East, especially Taiwan, South Vietnam and South Korea were shocked by the closer links. North Vietnam was angry with China and Albania considered it a betrayal of communism. US support for Taiwan diminished as it issued its 'Two Chinas policy'.
  • Mao restored his damaged standing within China aftr the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. The links with the USA may have played a role in the suspicious death of Lin Biao (killed in a plane crash during an attempt to flee China) - Lin Biao had disapproved of closer links. Official Chinese propaganda accused Lin of having planned to turn China into a colony of the S.U.
  • For the USA, closer links with China were a valuable way of exerting pressure on the USSR in order to extract concessions from them. This was a key factor in the negotiations that took place during the era of detente.
  • 1978: USA had given diplomatic recognition to the communist regime in China and had withdrawn it from Taiwan.
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Impact on the USSR

  • Nixon's visit to China caused great anxiety at the top of the Soviet government. Moreover, it forced the Soviet government to maintain friendly and co-operative relations with the USA, as they feared the emergence of an anti Soviet Sino-US alliance:
  • As early as 1969, the USSR had been monitoring US interest in China, fearful of an alliance.
  • As a result, the USSR had to divide its military resources and plan for a 'war on two fronts' - a war in Europe with NATO forces and a war in the East with China.
  • They were scared that China might persuade the USA to abandon detente.
  • Nixon's triangular diplomacy bore fruit immediately. Three months after his visit to China, Nixon attended the Moscow Summit of May 1972. This was the most successful summit of the Cold War to date. The USSR agreed to sign the SALT 1 treaties and the Basic Principles Agreement, which effectively normalised the relationship between the two superpowers. Though the Soviet leaders never acknowledged that Nixon's visit to China was behind their willingness to negotiate, senior officials in Nixon's administration certainly believed that triangular diplomacy had played a role in the success of the summit.
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