Why did China try to improve relations with the USA after 1970?

Why did China try to improve relations with the USA after 1970?

Maoism and the American Dream are politically worlds apart. As Communism took control of China, it did so having defeated a Nationalist force backed by the United States. Furthermore, the USA were engaged elsewhere in South-East Asia, supporting South Korea against the Communist north in 1950. The two countries were opposed ideologically and on the battlefields. From such a start it is hard to see the two countries developing close ties. Yet from 1970 onwards both nations took steps towards a warmer relationship.

Magazine cover illustrating ping pong diplomacy

Why did relations change after 1970?

The US were no longer involved, directly, in conflicts against communist forces in South-East Asia. This change allows a new approach to be adopted. Coupled to this were border disputes between the Chinese and Soviet Union which included several skirmishes. The bigger threat to China now appeared to be the Soviet Union, not the USA.

The Cold War was entering a period of detente in which relationships between the US and Communist powers changed. China stood to benefit from improving relations.

China needed export markets for her industrial goods and improved relations with the US would enable this.

How did relations improve?

1971 – Henry Kissinger pays a secret visit to China which helps to improve relations.

1971 – The United Nations recognises the Communist government and gives them a seat on the Security Council.

1971 – ‘Ping Pong’ diplomacy. The US table tennis team are invited to tour China, making them some of the first Americans to be allowed into the country since the end of the Second World War.

1972 – President Nixon is invited to China and signs the Shanghai Communiqué which enables the two countries to discuss difficult issues such as the sovereignty of Taiwan.

1978 – The Chinese premier visits America following a period of economic reform.

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Why did China try to improve relations with the USA after 1970?Hundred Flowers MovementChina's Cultural Revolution
Impact of the Cultural Revolution on ChinaWas Mao a great leader of China?


Source: US General Marshall, January 7, 1947

On the side of the Chinese Communist Party there are, I believe, liberals as well as radicals, though this view is vigorously opposed by many who believe that the Chinese Communist Party discipline is too rigidly enforced to admit of such differences of viewpoint. Nevertheless, it has appeared to me that there is a definite liberal group among the Communists, especially of young men who have turned to the Communists in disgust at the corruption evident in the local governments-men who would put the interest of the Chinese people above ruthless measures to establish a Communist ideology in the immediate future. The dyed-in-the-wool Communists do not hesitate at the most drastic measures to gain their end . . . They completely distrust the leaders of the Kuomintang and appear convinced that every Government proposal is designed to crush the Chinese Communist Party. I must say that the quite evidently inspired mob actions of last February and March, some within a few blocks of where I was then engaged in completing negotiations, gave the Communists good excuse for such suspicions. . . .

Sincere efforts to achieve settlement have been frustrated time and again by extremist elements of both sides. The agreements reached by the Political Consultative Conference a year ago were a liberal and forward-looking charter which then offered China a basis for peace and reconstruction. However, irreconcilable groups within the Kuomintang, interested in the preservation of their own feudal control of China, evidently had no real intention of implementing them. . . .

Between this dominant reactionary group in the Government and the irreconcilable Communists who, I must state, did not so appear last February, lies the problem of how peace and well-being are to be brought to the long-suffering and presently inarticulate mass of the people of China. The reactionaries in the Government have evidently counted on substantial American support regardless of their actions. The Communists by their unwillingness to compromise in the national interest arc evidently counting on an economic collapse to bring about the fall of the Government, accelerated by extensive guerrilla action against the long lines of rail communications-regardless of the cost in suffering to the Chinese people.

The salvation of the situation, as I see it, would be the assumption of leadership by the liberals in the Government and in the minority parties, a splendid group of men, but who as yet lack the political power to exercise a controlling influence. Successful action on their part under the leadership of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek would, I believe, lead to unity through good government. . . .

Source: Transcript of a conversation Mao had with the Finnish Ambassor, January 1955

Today, the danger of a world war and the threats to China come mainly from the warmongers in the United States. They have occupied our Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits and are contemplating an atomic war. We have two principles: first, we don’t want war; second, we will strike back resolutely if anyone invades us. This is what we teach the members of the Communist Party and the whole nation. The Chinese people are not to be cowed by U.S. atomic blackmail. Our country has a population of 600 million and an area of 9,600,000 square kilometres. The United States cannot annihilate the Chinese nation with its small stack of atom bombs. Even if the U.S. atom bombs were so powerful that, when dropped on China, they would make a hole right through the earth, or even blow it up, that would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole, though it might be a major event for the solar system.

Source: Comrade Mao’s statement of 12 January, 1964

U.S. imperialism is the most ferocious enemy of the people of the entire world.

It has not only committed the grave crime of aggression against the Panamanian people, and painstakingly and stubbornly plotted against socialist Cuba, but has continuously been plundering and oppressing the people of the Latin American countries and suppressing the national-democratic revolutionary struggles there.

In Asia, U.S. imperialism has forcibly occupied China’s Taiwan, turned the southern part of Korea and the southern part of Vietnam into its colonies, kept Japan under its control and semi-military occupation, sabotaged the peace, neutrality and independence of Laos, plotted to subvert the Royal Government of Cambodia, and committed intervention and aggression against other Asian countries. More recently, it has decided to send a U.S. fleet to the Indian Ocean, menacing the security of all the countries of South-east Asia.

In Africa, U.S. imperialism is feverishly pursuing its neocolonialist policies, seeking vigorously to take the place of the old colonialists, to plunder and enslave the peoples of Africa, and to undermine and stamp out the national liberation movements.

The policies of aggression and war of U.S. imperialism also seriously threaten the Soviet Union, China, and the other socialist countries. Moreover, it is vigorously seeking to push its policy of peaceful evolution’ in the socialist countries, in order to bring about the restoration of capitalism there and disintegrate the socialist camp.

Even toward its allies in Western Europe, North America and Oceania, U.S. imperialism is pursuing a policy of the law of the jungle, trying hard to trample them underfoot.

The aggressive plans of U.S. imperialism to dominate the whole world run in a continuous line from Truman through Eisenhower and Kennedy to Johnson.

The people of the countries in the socialist camp should unite, the people of all the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America should unite, the people of all the continents of the world should unite, all peace-loving countries and all countries that are subject to U.S. aggression, control, interference and bullying should unite, and so form the broadest united front to oppose the U.S. imperialist policies of aggression and war and to safeguard world peace.

Riding roughshod everywhere, U.S. imperialism has placed itself in the position of the enemy of the people the world over, and has increasingly isolated itself The atom bombs and hydrogen bombs in the hands of the U.S. imperialists can never cow people not willing to be enslaved. The raging tide of the people of the world in opposition to the U.S. aggressors is irresistible. The struggle of the people the world over against U.S. imperialism and its running dogs will assuredly win still greater victories.

Source: The Days Of The U.S. Aggressors In Vietnam Are Numbered. December 19, 1970

The days of the U.S. aggressors in Vietnam are numbered. However, all reactionary forces on the verge of extinction invariably conduct desperate struggles. They are bound to resort to military adventure and political deception in all their forms in order to save themselves from extinction. And the revolutionary peoples are bound to meet with all kinds of difficulties before final victory. Nevertheless, all these difficulties can be surmounted, and no difficulty can ever obstruct the advance of the revolutionary people. Perseverance means victory. I am deeply convinced that, by persevering in protracted war, the Vietnamese people will certainly be able to drive the U.S. aggressors out of Vietnam.

We firmly support you. We are neighbouring countries as close as the lips and the teeth. Our two peoples are brothers sharing weal and woe. The fraternal people of southern Vietnam and the entire fraternal Vietnamese people can rest assured that your struggle is our struggle. The 700 million Chinese people are the powerful rearguard of the Vietnamese people; the vast expanse of China’s territory is their reliable rear area. In the face of the solid fighting unity of our two peoples, all military adventures and political deceptions by U.S. imperialism will certainly fail.


Wikipedia – detailed entry on Sino-American relations.

About.com – timeline of Chinese – US relations.

US Foreign Relations – traces the changing relationship between China and the US from the end of the Second World War.

Timeline – of US, Chinese affairs.

PBS – detailed timeline of post war relations between the US and China.

Council for Foreign Relations – interactive timeline of relations between China and the United States.

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