Presidential Diplomacy

September 24, 1971

Report Outline
Nixon's Forthcoming Visit to China
Rise and Fall of Summit Conferences
Characteristics Of Summit Diplomacy
Special Focus

Nixon's Forthcoming Visit to China

Role of the U.S. President as ‘Diplomat in Chief’

The president of the United States holds not one office but several. He is Chief Executive. Head of State. Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and head of his party. In the past three decades or so, still another function has been added to the list. To an ever-increasing extent, the President is the country's “Diplomat in Chief.” It is in this capacity that President Nixon will travel to China sometime within the next several months for talks with Premier Chou En-lai and, presumably, Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

Arrangements for the President's visit were worked out in talks between Chou and presidential assistant Henry A. Kissinger in Peking. July 9–11, 1971. Kissinger had flown secretly to the Chinese capital in the midst of an Asian fact-finding tour. His mission remained a secret until Nixon announced, in a July 15 nationwide telecast, that he would go to Peking before May 1972 “to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides.” There has been newspaper speculation that the visit might come as early as October 1971.

The President's announcement came as a stunning surprise to his countrymen and to the world. Mainland China and the United States have been bitter enemies since the Korean War (1950–53), when Chinese “volunteers” fought with the North Koreans against Americans. The first hint of a thaw in Sino-American relations came in April 1971, when an American table tennis team accepted an invitation to play in China. At a reception in Peking. April 14, Chou told the Americans that they had “opened a new page in the relations of the Chinese and American people.” No one would have guessed then that China would extend an invitation to President Nixon only three months later.

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