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Nixon's China Game
In January 1969, just a week into his presidency, Richard Nixon set in motion a secret plan that would reverberate through the White House and throughout the world. After two decades of stony silence between the United States and China -- broken only by harsh insults and acrimonius accusations -- Nixon wanted to end what he called China’s "angry isolation." Together with his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, the president developed an elaborate scheme to open diplomatic relations between the two nations. The covert operation would culminate in a series of events Nixon would later call "the week that changed the world."
"I recall Henry coming down from the Oval Office," says Alexander Haig, Deputy National Security Adviser. "‘Al, this fellow wants to open relations with China.’ I said, ‘Not a cold warrior like Nixon.’ And Kissinger says, ‘I think he has lost control of his senses.’"
Now, as Beijing celebrates a half-century of Communist rule and relations between China and the United States remain tense, "THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents Nixon’s China Game," the story of an operation so secret that it managed to elude the international press, the members of Nixon’s cabinet, and even the US State Department. The documentary features never-before-seen footage of Kissinger’s secret mission to China, newly released transcripts of the negotiations, private diaries, Nixon’s own handwritten notes, and interviews with American and Chinese officials -- including those who were in on the covert plan, and those who were kept in the dark. "Nixon’s China Game" is produced by Brook Lapping and Norma Percy. Narration written by Bill Lattanzi. David Ogden Stiers narrates.
When the program aired in England in September 1999, "The International Herald Tribune " wrote, "The story of this extraordinary episode in U.S. foreign relations is developed with new detail." Moment by moment, the clandestine process, code-named Marco Polo, is revealed through interviews with former National Security Advisers Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig, Secretary of State Bill Rogers, and Chinese diplomats.
The story unfolds in surprising places and in unexpected ways: a disco-themed fashion show at the Yugoslavian Embassy in Warsaw; an unanticipated invitation to visit China extended to an American ping-pong team; and a banquet in Pakistan, a nation friendly to both the United States and China, where the secret plan was put into action.
While a decoy stood in for Kissinger in one location, the real Kissinger headed for a military airfield, where a jet waited to spirit him to China. He had just forty-eight hours to lay the groundwork for the president’s visit to China. But in his haste, Kissinger had forgotten to pack extra clothing; he wore a borrowed shirt -- ironically made in Taiwan -- throughout his mission.
The delegation worked through the night to find the right words to announce the historic event. Winston Lord, a member of Kissinger’s small China team, recalls, "The Chinese wanted this brief announcement to say President Nixon was dying to go to China, and we’re gracious enough to let him come. The United States wanted to say China would like to have Nixon come; Nixon’s delighted to accept their invitation."
The announcement to the world came on July 15, 1971, at news conferences held simultaneously in Washington and Beijing. Reaction was swift. Taiwan’s ambassador accused Nixon of selling out his country, America’s longtime ally. Nixon tried to reassure Taiwan and quiet the critics within his own party. He persuaded conservative leader Barry Goldwater to support the trip, and sent California Governor Ronald Reagan to explain the new policy to Taiwan’s leader, Chiang Kai-shek. In the Soviet Union, the news hit the Central Committee "like a bolt from the blue," says Georgii Arbatov. "My colleagues said, ‘America will be China’s ally…when Nixon visits Beijing, anything could happen. Where will it end?’"
So far, Nixon’s bold gamble was working. Just four days after the announcement, the Kremlin invited the president to Moscow. Long-stalled arms talks were reopened. But when Mao Tse-tung’s hand-picked successor was killed in a plane crash after an alleged coup attempt, Washington worried that the upheaval would jeopardize Nixon’s visit. To test the waters, a dress rehearsal of Nixon’s China visit was mounted in January 1972. Once again, the president bypassed the State Department, selecting Alexander Haig to act as the president’s stand-in. Nixon’s chief of staff Bob Haldemann and his aide, Dwight Chapin, took home movies of the trip, seen here for the first time.
Upon arrival in Shanghai, Haig immediately encountered anti-American protesters, and at the welcoming ceremony, he was snubbed by hard-line party leadership. The frosty reception threatened to derail the mission -- until Mao himself stepped in and ordered full cooperation. The Chairman’s last-minute intervention saved the day; the hardliners’ attempt to foil Nixon’s visit had failed.
On February 21, 1972, Richard Nixon set out on his historic trip to China, accompanied by a hand-picked group of journalists and television crews. "Nixon wanted a television spectacular," says writer Stanley Karnow. "It was an election year. He wanted to advertise his great triumph."
But even as they headed toward Beijing, no one knew if there would even be a meeting with Chairman Mao. "We were embarking on a voyage of philosophical discovery as uncertain, and in some ways as perilous," Nixon remembered, "as the voyages of geographical discovery of an earlier time."
The Chinese surprised Nixon almost immediately. Taken to the government’s guest house to rest, Nixon was interrupted just as he was about to enter the shower: Chairman Mao wanted to meet the president. Mao and Nixon joked about their unlikely encounter, with Nixon telling the Chairman, "You’re quite aware of my sentiments with regards to Communism. I’m considered to be a rightist." Mao responded, "Oh, I like rightists." To which Nixon countered, "Sometimes those on the right can do things which those on the left can only talk about."
That evening’s welcoming banquet in the Great Hall of the People was televised live in the U.S. The next day, Nixon visited the Great Wall. Chairman Mao challenged Nixon, recalls Tan Longbin, teasing that "You’re not a man until you’ve climbed to the top." Nixon responded, "We will not climb to the top today. We are already meeting at the summit -- in Beijing."
Americans, who had shared the president’s historic journey on television, supported Nixon’s breakthrough. Gradually, the success of Nixon’s new course could be seen in the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, in China’s new place in the world community -- even in Taiwan’s economic health. But within months, Nixon’s journey to China was overshadowed by Watergate, as the scandal that would bring down his presidency began to unfold.
Cast & Crew
Narration Written by
The American Experience: Nixon's China Game
For Brook Lapping:
Executive Producers: Norma Percy, Brian Lapping
Series Producer/director: Mark Anderson
Editor: Victoria Price
For THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE:
Producer/writer: William Lattanzi
Music: Michael Whalen
Narrator: David Ogden Stiers
For the Series:
Executive Producer: Margaret Drain
Senior Producer: Mark Samels
Series Host: David McCullough
David McCullough Series Host: Hello and welcome to The American Experience. I'm David McCullough.
"Secret," "secrecy," "elaborate deception," "kept in the dark," "dark glasses ... black raincoat," "no one would know." It's interesting how often these words and expressions are repeated as the extraordinary story you are about to see, unfolds.
"So off we went into the darkness," recalls one of the president's staff. "Try to find out what was really going on, and you were in the dark," remembers a journalist...
On July 15, 1971, in a television broadcast to the nation, President Richard Nixon announced that he had accepted an invitation to visit China.
Talk about the element of surprise! This was almost beyond belief.
Not only was America at war in Vietnam, not only was the Cold War the overshadowing reality of the time, the world divided in two exceedingly hostile camps, but it was Richard Nixon making the announcement, Nixon of all people, Nixon, the ultimate Cold Warrior, who was going to China!
Furthermore, the whole thing had been arranged in secrecy. Not even the Vice President or the Secretary of State had been told what was afoot.
"Unpredictability is the greatest asset or weapon that a leader can have," President Nixon once observed.
But the unpredictability of the trip to China was also greatly amplified by television. We all saw the toasts raised in Peking, the incongruously beaming faces of Nixon and Mao. And if the world hadn't necessarily turned upside down, we knew a very big change had taken place when at one banquet a Red Chinese orchestra broke out with "Home on the Range."
This is an amazing story and important history, and particularly fascinating as it is told from within. It is an insider's account, as they remember it.
NARR: January, 1969: A week into his presidency, Richard Nixon calls his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger into his office.
NIXON: I sent a note to Dr. Kissinger indicating that among the many other projects we had on the table for the NSC staff to consider that I wanted China to be given very high priority.
HAIG: I recall Henry coming down from the Oval Office... "Al, this fellow wants to open relations with the China. And Kissinger says -- "I think he has lost control of his senses."
NARR: The shock inside the White House was understandable. China had been isolated since 1949, when the communist Mao Tse Tung took control, and the U.S. cut diplomatic ties. In the 1960s, Mao's brutal Cultural Revolution crushed all but his hard-line supporters. They called President Nixon as "a gangster," who wielded "a blood-dripping butcher's knife." In 1969, the chances for any relationship between the United States and China seemed slim.
KISSINGER: If they acted the way they talked in the Cultural Revolution, then it was not doable. I had no way of knowing what we were dealing with the Chinese.
NARR: Nixon had conceived an elaborate secret plan that would shock America's allies and, and alter the global balance of power. It was one of the most stunning surprises of the Cold War - the pivotal move in a game that changed the world.
NIXON: We can see that China is the basic cause of all of our troubles in Asia. If China had not gone Communist, we would not have had a war in Korea. If China were not Communist, there would be no war in Indochina.
NARR: Since the 1950s, Richard Nixon had been a staunch anti-Communist. But by the time he had become president in January 1969, his thinking had changed. In the increasingly dangerous atmosphere of the Cold War, Nixon wanted to bring the Soviet Union to the bargaining table. And he worried that China - the most populous nation on earth - was living in "angry isolation."
Stanley Karnow: The dogma, especially among right-wing Republicans like Nixon, was that communism was a monolith. That there was somebody at a control panel in Moscow, who pressed buttons and Communists all over the world responded to that. Now he gets evidence that there is a growing split between the Russians and the Chinese, and he's going to use this as a lever. By making a move toward the Chinese, that would increase his leverage with the Russians, at the same time, he's going to maintain with relations with the Russians, as a leverage against the Chinese.
NARR: In March 1969, a border dispute between China and the Soviet Union came close to sparking full-scale war. That conflict gave Nixon the opportunity to begin his China game.
NARR: The President proposed to make contact through diplomatic channels in Warsaw, Poland. But the American ambassador, Walter Stoessel raised questions.
KISSINGER: I urged Stoessel to make some contacts first. But he wouldn't do it because it was so against orthodoxy and in a sense so dangerous. So I brought him back and took him into the President.
NIXON: Ambassador Stoessel, I remember -- came in to say good-bye and I said to him with Dr. Kissinger present, I said, ‘you know the next time you’re at a social gathering in Warsaw, if the Chinese ambassador, your counterpart is there, I would suggest you walk up and say hello to him.’
NARR: Saying hello was not that simple: no one in the U.S. embassy had any idea what the Chinese ambassador even looked like.
THOMAS SIMONS: The danger was that Ambassador Stoessel would approach the Mongolian, or even worse, the Vietnamese and tell him that the President of the United States wanted to improve relations with his country.
NARR: A fashion show at the Yugoslavian embassy in Warsaw provided the social setting Nixon was looking for. As the show ended, American officials spotted the Chinese delegation.
SIMONS: I caught this Chinese on the steps of the Palace of Culture and held him and said to him "My Ambassador has a message for you."
JING ZHICHENG (subtitles): These Americans ran after us shouting in Polish: "We are from the American Embassy"… The ambassador panted, "I saw President Nixon in Washington. "He wants to establish relations with China."
NARR: Two initial meetings were held in Warsaw. Back in Washington, the State Department raised concerns about the damaging effect the initiative could have on America's allies. Nixon's response was to cut the State Department out.
NARR: The President and his National Security Advisor would pursue China on their own.
KISSINGER: We talked to a number of countries. In fact we first talked to some Communist countries like Rumania. But the Chinese didn't trust Communists. And we also talked to the Pakistanis.
NARR: Pakistan was friendly with both the U.S. and China. Its president, Yahya Khan, had dinner with President Nixon in October, 1970, and with the Chinese premier, Chou Enlai, a month later.
NARR: Yahya Khan told Chou Enlai that Pakistan was willing to be America’s secret channel to China. And Khan instructed his Foreign Secretary to take the lead.
SULTAN MUHAMMED KHAN: He said that, ‘I want to entrust to you - something important and very sensitive and from now on only you and I will know about it in Pakistan. All messages would be hand-written to reduce the risk of leakage through secretaries, no copies would be kept.
JI CHAOZHU: Yahya Khan told the Premier he had a message from President Nixon. He wanted to send an American emissary to China.
Nixon wanted America and China to become friends. Premier Chou said, "I'll consider it - and reply later"
NARR: Nixon was forced to wait… while Mao prepared the way for change.
ZHANG HANZHI: During all those -- meetings that I personally attended, I think, repeatedly Mao would say, "you people should know that now our major threat is from the Soviet Union." And this is why he wanted to break this ice with the U.S., because otherwise, he said, China would face enemies on both fronts.
NARR: Mao had another motivation - Taiwan. Traditionally a part of China, the island was ruled by Mao's old enemy, Chiang Kai Shek. Mao wanted Taiwan back. For twenty years, America had defended Chiang Kai Shek's island. Mao thought that a new relationship with Richard Nixon could change that.
NARR: But there were risks. China's communist ally, North Vietnam was at war with the U.S. Hardliners within Mao's government would view a Mao-Nixon meeting as consorting with the enemy, and they might rebel.
NARR: Mao moved forward indirectly. In April 1971, he sent an invitation to the U.S. ping-pong team, then in Japan, to tour China. Mao's offer conveyed "the regards of the Chinese people to the American people." The tour showed the new friendly face of China to the world.
NARR: In the U.S., Vice-President Spiro Agnew criticized the trip, calling it a "propaganda triumph" for the Chinese. Agnew, who had no idea of Nixon's secret plan, was promptly told to keep quiet.
NARR: After six months of waiting, on June 2, 1971, Nixon finally received a top secret message from Beijing.
KISSINGER: I brought it to him in the Lincoln sitting room
NIXON: "Mr. President", he says - "this is the most important message that a President has received since World War II and the ending of World War II." Henry read it to me with his voice trembling.
KISSINGER: I did tell him that I thought this was a diplomatic revolution.
NIXON: I went down and found some old brandy that somebody had given me right after the inauguration. Never been opened. Courvoisier, one of the better Courvoisiers, there are many you know.
NARR: The message carried Chairman Mao's personal invitation to President Nixon to visit China But first, an American envoy would be dispatched to Beijing to make the delicate arrangements.
NIXON: There could be only one person to handle some of these major issues, and where secrecy was involved, I mean secret negotiations, it had to be Henry.
NARR: Kissinger embarked on an elaborate deception plan. On July 1, he set out on a public tour of Asia. As Kissinger’s entourage arrived in Pakistan, President Yahya Khan put the secret plan, code-named Marco Polo, into action.
KISSINGER: Yahya invited us to dinner -- and in the course of the dinner, I - I allegedly fell ill and he allegedly urged me to go to the mountain station he had for recuperation.
SULTAN MUHAMMED KHAN: We announced that he was exhausted by this long trip and by the heat, enervating heat of the sub-continent, and needed a couple of days rest and would be going to this beautiful hill station, nine thousand feet high. It's called Nathia Gali, about two hours’ drive from Islamabad.
NARR: A Kissinger stand-in headed for the hill station. The world’s press, the U.S. embassy staff, and all the members of Nixon’s cabinet, were kept in the dark. Muhammad Khan was assigned to drive the real Kissinger to a waiting plane at a military airfield, but he couldn't find his car keys.
SULTAN MUHAMMED KHAN: Finally, I woke up my son -- who had been using the car the evening before, and he had them under his pillow. And he fished them out and said, "What's the matter, is mother not well, are you fetching a doctor or something? What's the crisis?" I said. He looked at his watch said, "Two-thirty, good Lord". So I said, "No, we are just going to Nathia Gali for a rest for a few days". He woke up wide-awake and said, "At two-thirty in the morning?" He said, "I'll never understand your generation."
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: We rolled up to the airplane, one engine of which was already turning over and the other one was just waiting to be turned on. We dashed up the - the gangway into the forward entrance to this aircraft. And there were four Chinese waiting for us.
TANG LONGBIN: When I first saw Kissinger, I wasn't sure who it was. He was wearing a big black hat… he had dark glasses on… and a big black raincoat.
KISSINGER: We found four Chinese in Mao suits sitting there, whom Chou Enlai had sent to escort me into China, but we didn't know this.
SULTAN MUHAMMED KHAN: I saw a look of horror on the face of the man who was a security guard for Dr Kissinger, because when he saw the Chinese sitting in the plane he nearly had a fit. He thought they were being kidnapped
HOLDRIDGE: So off we went into the darkness.
HOLDRIDGE: Well we hadn't been gone altogether too long, when Wong Hiron came to me and says, "Dr. Kissinger, would like to speak to you." She didn't speak English, so she said (Chinese phrase). So I popped up and went back -- and there was Kissinger in splendid isolation. But he said to me -- "John, do you have any shirts?"
KISSINGER: One of the problems on these high level trips is the little things like do you have enough shirts along? Well anyway, I put I think two or three shirts aside - put them in a separate bag, carefully preserved.
SMYSER: And in the morning at four a.m. Kissinger, like any normal human being, doesn't remember, and so he went there with no shirt except the one that was on his back.
LORD: I said, "Henry you're going to negotiate with these top Chinese, and before you even sit down and talk with them you've lost your shirt." And then Kissinger was going absolutely crazy.
NARR: The two governments had agreed that Henry Kissinger’s presence be kept secret. If the mission failed to produce a diplomatic breakthrough, no one would know. But the Chinese insisted on preserving the visit on film.
NARR: The National Security Advisor had only 48 hours to lay the groundwork for Nixon's visit.
NARR: Soon after the Americans arrived, word came that the Chinese premier, Chou Enlai, was on his way.
JI CHAOZHU : Up until then, Kissinger was quite relaxed
But then he became very nervous.
NARR: Kissinger was about to greet the Prime Minister of a government America did not officially recognize -- in a borrowed shirt several sizes too big.
SMYSER: And there's a famous photograph that was taken of him and Chou Enlai shaking hands, and whenever you... whenever one asked Henry about that, he said, "I am wearing that shirt, you know," and he was very, very unhappy.
KISSINGER And on top of everything else, it was made in - Taiwan and had a label: ‘Made in Taiwan’. And I used to joke that when I said to the Chinese, on that trip, that Taiwan was close to me I really meant it.
NARR: Just how close to Taiwan America intended to stay was the critical question. All along, Nixon and Kissinger knew the Chinese would not cooperate unless the U.S. took a step away from Taiwan. The Chinese were waiting to hear the magic words. Nixon and Kissinger were ready to say them.
HOLDRIDGE: I drafted this opening statement for Kissinger which said the United States did not support two Chinas. Nor one China, one Taiwan, nor an independent Taiwan. And I sat there, on the edge of my chair, waiting for him to repeat this little bit about Taiwan and finally he did. At which point, Chou Enlai said, "Good, these discussions may now proceed."
NARR: Kissinger spoke carefully, from thick briefing books. His counterpart Chou En-lai appeared relaxed and more spontaneous.
SMYSER: He spoke from only one or two little hand-written pieces of paper. It's obvious that he'd written them himself, and he referred to his notes very, very rarely.
HOLDRIDGE: Kissinger felt that he was being upstaged. Here he was, with these several books piled in front of him. So he slammed it, and shoved it aside, and that was the last we saw of the book.
NARR: Kissinger then asked the Chinese for help in ending the war in Vietnam.
SMYSER: Chou Enlai's reply was about what you might have expected.
GUO JIADING: No deal! U.S. troops must go.
LI LIANQUING: You must just get out. Let the Vietnamese solve their own problems.
SMYSER: But at the same time, the very fact that he was meeting with us could be seen by the Vietnamese as an act of treachery.
NARR: The next morning, the Chinese took Kissinger sightseeing. He had just one day left, and did not have the invitation for President Nixon in hand. The trouble was the wording.
LORD: The Chinese wanted this brief announcement in effect to say President Nixon was dying to go to China, and we're gracious enough to let him come visit. United States wanted to say China would like to have Nixon come ...Nixon's delighted to accept their invitation.
NARR: The delegations worked all night to find the words. At dawn, they had them. "Once the announcement is made," Chou Enlai told Kissinger, "it will shake the world, which won't be able to sleep."
NIXON: The announcement I shall now read is being issued simultaneously in Peking and in the United States: "Knowing of President Nixon’s expressed desire to visit the Peoples Republic of China, Premier Chou Enlai, on behalf of the government of the Peoples Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure."
NARR: The reaction was swift. Taiwan's ambassador James Shen accused Nixon of selling out his country.
JAMES SHEN: I got 20 minutes notice last night from Mr. Rogers, the Secretary of State, he called from California."
HOLDRIDGE: My friend --Jimmy Shen who was the ambassador, oooph, he was so really taken aback - just shattered by this.
JAMES SHEN: I said ‘We -- we -- we regret this, and we - we lodge a protest, a strong protest’.
REPORTER: Do you expect on the basis of your protest, are you asking that the president not go to Peking?
JAMES SHEN: Well, that’s the whole purpose of the protest.
NARR: Nixon tried to reassure Taiwan and quiet the critics within his own Republican party. He persuaded Conservative leader Senator Barry Goldwater to support the China trip, and sent California Governor Ronald Reagan to explain the new policy to Chiang Kai Shek.
NARR: "Personally, I think the Communist Chinese are a bunch of murdering bums," Reagan wrote in a letter to a friend, "but in the big chess game going on, where Russia is still head man on the other side, we need a little elbow room."
NARR: There was one reaction Henry Kissinger wanted to hear for himself. He placed a call to the Soviet Ambassador.
DOBRYNIN: Kissinger called me and said," Anatoly, I've been on a trip. I knew he had been to Asia. But China - that was a surprise
GEORGII ARBATOV: At the Central committee, the news hit us like a bolt from the blue. My colleagues said, "America will be China's ally." "Kissinger - what else has he agreed? "When Nixon visits Beijing, anything could happen. "All this will make things very difficult for us. "Where will it all end?"
NARR: Nixon's gamble worked. Four days after his announcement, the Kremlin invited the President to Moscow. Long-stalled arms talks would now proceed.
KISSINGER: As we moved closer to China, the Soviet Union didn’t want to be left behind, they moved closer to us.
NIXON: So, the Russian game made the Chinese game work, and the Chinese game made the Russian game work.
NARR: But in September 1971, events in China threatened Nixon's strategy. After an alleged coup attempt, Mao's handpicked successor, Lin Biao, was killed in a suspicious plane crash. Many high-ranking military leaders were replaced. Washington worried that the upheaval could jeopardize the President's visit.
NARR: To test the waters, a full-scale dress rehearsal of Nixon's China trip was mounted in January 1972. Once again, the President bypassed his State Department and chose Kissinger's Deputy, General Alexander Haig to represent him.
HAIG: Much to the surprise of everyone, including -- myself the president reached down and asked me to do it. I suspect he was trying to keep peace in the family and I didn't represent a threat to anyone.
NARR: Home movies of the trip were taken by Nixon's Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman - and his aide, Dwight Chapin.
CHAPIN: It was very striking to get off the airplane and to have these great huge poster signs saying -- "capitalist pigs" and so on, just these - these -- these slogans that were putting down America or putting us down, is the way we took it, and we saw them as we drove into town.
NARR: In Shanghai, China’s great trading port, the party leadership was dominated by hardliners who despised Nixon’s America. Haig’s host used the welcoming ceremony to attack American imperialism around the world.
HAIG: When he concluded, I sat there. I was not going to return that toast because I didn't want that fellow, or the Chinese government, to think that that would be acceptable for an American president to be exposed to.
ZHANG HANZHI: And after the dinner, the Shanghai leaders rushed into our office and, you know, really protested and said, General Haig was insulting the Shanghai leaders
HAIG: And I can remember my state department experts saying -- "You, you're in real trouble, you have probably destroyed the president's visit."
NARR: General Haig's next stop was Hangzhou - Mao's summer retreat. There, on a sightseeing cruise, the President's stand-in was snubbed again.
ZHANG HANZHI: We got on the boat and I found that ah, there was, ah, really, ah, nothing to eat on the table. There were only tea, nothing else, no fruit, no snacks. Of course there was no heating in the boat, so ... everything was so cold. And the Hangzhou leaders didn't say anything. So nobody spoke.
NARR: Translator Zhang Hanzhi was baffled. She asked the head of protocol in Hangzhou why Haig’s reception was so frigid.
ZHANG HANZHI V/O: He told me, "last night - we laid the table, we prepare the boat and, ah, you should have come and last night to see, you know. There were sumptuous food on the table, everything on the table." He said, "it’s not our decision. The Shanghai leaders called us and said we must lower the temperature
NARR: The Beijing officials accompanying Haig’s party decided to intervene.
ZHANG HANZHI: In the end the younger ones really decided to call Beijing, you know - and we did. And Premier Chou said - I would report to Chairman Mao Tse Tung immediately.
CHAPIN: We left Hangzhou and we took a train back to Shanghai and we had some meetings on the train at which time we tried to untangle what was, what was going on with the Chinese
ZHANG HANZHI: And then news came to say that Chairman Mao thinks it was all wrong that General Haig and his group should be treated that way. Chou Enlai really criticized us very, very seriously. And he said what happened in Shanghai and Hangzhou, almost upset the whole strategy of Mao Tse Tung's plan of break the ice between the U.S. and China.
NARR: Chairman Mao’s last-minute instructions saved the day. The Chinese hardliners’ attempt to head off President Nixon's visit had failed.
NARR: On February 17, 1972, Richard Nixon set out on his historic trip to China. Two years of effort had led to the moment, yet no one knew if the Chinese were prepared to agree to anything. Secretary of State William Rogers tried to lower expectations.
ROGERS: We hope that our relations with the Peoples’ Republic of China will be improved as a result of the trip. We’re not sure what outcome will be and we certainly don’t want any exaggerated hopes to develop
NARR: Accompanying Nixon on the trip would be a carefully chosen group of journalists…. And television crews.
KARNOW: The Chinese were very reluctant to have the press come. They just didn't want it. They wanted to have this thing quietly. On the other hand, Nixon wanted a television spectacular. First of all , it's 1972, it's an election year. He wants to advertise this great triumph. So, after some negotiations, the Chinese agree, and we have about 85 journalists… Almost all of them were television people. This was going to be a television show.
NARR: But the script had yet to be written. Nixon did not even know if there would be a meeting with Chairman Mao.
"We were embarking," Nixon remembered, "on a voyage of philosophical discovery as uncertain, and in some ways as perilous, as the voyages of geographical discovery of an earlier time."
WALTER CRONKITE: And there's Mrs. Nixon and the President.
NARR: American television networks interrupted their regular programming to broadcast the President's arrival live.
WALTER CRONKITE: First hand shake with Chou Enlai.
NARR: The Chinese surprised Nixon almost immediately. Taken to the government's guest house to rest before the evening's banquet, Nixon was interrupted just as he was about to enter the shower. Chairman Mao wanted to meet the President. The Chairman had Taiwan - and its leader, Chiang Kai Shek - on his mind.
NIXON: He said,"I see where your friend Chiang Kai-Shek called me a bandit." After the translation, I said, "what does the Chairman call Chiang Kai-Shek?" And he said, "well, I call him a bandit too." And then Chou Enlai says, "we just abuse each other." Then they both threw back their heads and laughed.
KISSINGER: He acted as if he absolutely had no other assignment
in the world except to deal with his American counterpart.
NIXON: I said, you're quite aware of my... ah... sentiments with regards to Communism. I'm considered to be a rightist. And he says, "Oh, I like rightists." He said, "I like Prime Minister Heath."
LORD: As the meeting concluded the Chinese came in with instant photographs of the meeting all of us sitting there. Nixon and Kissinger began whispering to each other.
NARR: The two men had an embarrassing problem. They had excluded Secretary of State Rogers from the meeting, but had brought along a young member of Kissinger’s staff, Winston Lord.
JI CHAOZHU: Kissinger realized if Rogers saw the photo, he would be very angry. We solved the Lord problem.
NARR: In the published version, the Chinese simply cropped Winston Lord out of history.
NARR: For Americans back home, it was breakfast time as they watched live television coverage of the welcoming banquet in the Great Hall of the People. Attending that evenings function was the influential conservative journalist, William F. Buckley, Jr.
NIXON: On behalf of all of your American guests, I wish to thank you…
BUCKLEY: He rose at sort of toast time and delivered a toast; very florid language.
NIXON: Chairman Mao has written, "So many deeds cry out to be done and always urgently."
BUCKLEY : There was, I kid you not, a fleeting reference to George Washington and his similarities to Mao Tse Tung. And then, with his little glass in hand, he went and shook the hands of everybody in that table. This was -- this was kind of astonishing. These were people who had fielded and were supervising the Cultural Revolution, massive executioners.
NARR: The next day, Nixon visited the Great Wall.
TANG LONGBIN: Chairman Mao says, "You're not a man... until you've climbed to the top"
NIXON: We will not climb to the top today. We are -- we are already meeting at the Summit -- in Peking.
NARR: The Chinese skillfully handled the American press corps.
STANLEY KARNOW: To keep us out of mischief, the Chinese organized bus tours for the journalists to go to the Great Wall, or the Ming Tombs, or Peking University. They dished up pretty Red Guards, probably came from Central Casting, and you could have your picture taken with them. I mean, the food was absolutely sensational, the toasts, and the dancing girls, and the music and the anthems, and all that sort of thing, all that was terrific. But try to find out what was really going on, and you were in the dark.
NARR: Nixon's desire to keep the on-going talks with the Chinese secret extended even to his own Secretary of State.
MARSHALL GREEN (Ass't Sec'y of State): Secretary Rogers and I were with Nixon on this trip to represent the State Department but we were cut out of almost all of the specifics of the negotiation.
NARR: Behind closed doors, two countries were crafting a joint communique. A statement that would both recognize Mao's claim to Taiwan, and honor the American commitment to defend Taiwan.
KISSINGER: So we began the negotiation on the Communiqué
HOLDRIDGE: We had to say that, work out a formula that would give Taiwan a separate status while at same time not negating the position of the People's Republic of China that Taiwan was a part of the PRC.
HANG HANZHI: We said, to us, it’s a principle, you cannot put in the Communiqué that you -- you will continue to protect Taiwan while establishing a relationship with China.
KISSINGER: We realized we had to adjust our relationship on Taiwan.
NARR: Nixon could not publicly desert a long-time ally for the sake of his new relationship with China. And he had not come this far to walk away without an agreement. With negotiations still underway, the Chinese took their American guests to the ballet.
NARR: Nixon’s private notes, hand-written in preparation for his meeting with Chou En-Lai, confirm his intention to back away from Taiwan, and his dilemma. He referred toTaiwan -- and Vietnam as -- "irritants" in the way of the new course.
NARR: "Taiwan: …our policy is:… one China, Taiwan is a part of China. Won’t support Taiwan independence. Will seek normalization."
NARR: Nixon added: But if it appears we sold out Taiwan, Left egged on by Soviets and Right will make it an issue -- …..no secret deals.
NARR: The ballet was written by Mao's wife, Jiang Jing, a hard-liner. Nixon found her "unpleasantly abrasive and aggressive." "Why didn’t you come to China before?," she asked.
NARR: The delegations finally found artful words for their communiqué: The document stated that "all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait believe there is one China and that Taiwan is a part of China." It did not address who should govern this ‘one China’.
LORD: We've approved the Communiqué with the Chinese. The
President approves it in the middle of the night. The Chinese Politburo approved it on the Chinese side.
NARR: Only on the flight from Beijing to their next stop Hangzhou were members of the State Department shown the Communiqué.
GREEN: And I saw a very serious flaw that I couldn’t believe had not been seen by people up the line. And when I showed this to Rogers, he could immediately see what a terrible blunder this was. We’d said that we will continue to give our support through our mutual security treaties with Japan, Korea. It said nothing about our -- our treaty obligations to the Republic of China on Taiwan.
NARR: Rogers and Green knew that a firestorm of protest would result if the Communique stayed as it was. But they also knew the negotiations had been concluded.
HANG HANZHI: You could feel that although everybody was smiling, everybody, you know -- Nixon still did the tour of the park, you could see all those pictures of looking at the goldfish, you know, and, Kissinger and Nixon still, you know, cracked jokes, but nobody felt easy.
NARR: Rogers held his tongue until he returned to his villa. There, he summoned his whole departmental team.
ZHANG HANZHI: When I got there to their villa, they were heatedly, very heatedly talking about something. I'm sure you know they were taking some action.
GREEN: Rogers tried to get Nixon and he got Haldeman on the line and Haldeman said "Oh, the president is sleeping, he’s tired and can’t be disturbed." But Rogers said, "This is a matter of critical importance, immediate importance."
ZHANG HANZHI: They probably shouldn't have said anything in front of a Chinese, but they were too excited that they couldn't really stop themselves.
GREEN: This is outrageous. The Secretary of State, the press- the president’s principal adviser, under the Constitution, on foreign affairs, not having access to the president at a critical moment.
ZHANG HANZHI: They were saying that we cannot accept that, how could it be that it was agreed without letting us know?
NARR: Following that evening's banquet, Rogers confronted Kissinger.
HOLDRIDGE: And this is where the explosion took place.
NIXON: There were some very spirited discussions between Rogers and Kissinger.
HOLDRIDGE: Nixon was unhappy at the fact that his people had not given him a complete wrapped up final Communiqué and he was stamping around in his underwear saying things in a rather loud tone of voice.
GREEN: There was a pounding on my door at two o’clock in the morning, "All hell’s broken loose in the guest house -- and you’re the cause of it". And I said "What’s --what’s gonna happen?" He says, "I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know the president is furious."
LORD: The president was insistent, and even Kissinger understood that we couldn't have a split in our delegation in terms of American press coverage, and therefore he, with great reluctance, realized he had to go at least through the motions of trying to get some changes.
MARSHAL GREEN: Kissinger was sent back to the negotiating table with the Vice Foreign Minister.
NARR: The State Department refused to back down: all America’s commitments to its allies in the region must be mentioned - including the commitment to Taiwan. The Chinese negotiator would have none of it.
ZHANG HANZHI: So finally he said to Doctor Kissinger, he said, "well -- maybe we should stop here, you know. If we cannot agree on the Communiqué, for the Chinese that's okay, we can do without a Communiqué.
KISSINGER: I have always found in dealing with the Chinese that complete frankness is the better course, since they're probably smarter than we are anyway. If I try to out maneuver them I'm bound to be in difficulties.
HOLDRIDGE: And so what it ended up with -- with all references to mutual defense treaties were -- were eliminated and that was ok for the Chinese, they accepted that.
NARR: But was it acceptable to the State Department? Chou Enlai joined Nixon on his flight to Shanghai, the last stop of the trip. He was aware of the rift in the American camp. If Rogers publicly broke rank to protest, the Republican right might desert Nixon in an election year. China might lose its new friend. Chou Enlai decided to act.
ZHANG HANZHI: He said, "Oh, this is actually the internal affairs of the Americans but it looks that we probably can help them a little bit to solve their internal problems."
MARSHALL GREEN: He realized that the president had played very fast and loose with the State Department
JI CHAOZHI: For the Premier to visit a Foreign Minister's room broke all protocol.
ZHANG HANZHI: We knocked on the door. When they opened the door, they could never imagine at the doorway Chou Enlai appeared
NICHOLAS PLATT (Ass't Sec'y of state): I hid my surprise and said, "Premier Chou, Welcome, what can we do for you today? And he said, "I'd like to see Secretary Rogers, is he in?" I said yes and so I went and knocked on the door said, "Secretary Rogers, Premier Chou is here." "Oh," he said, "I'll be right out."
ZHANG HANZHI: Chou Enlai said that "it’s so important, our two countries have come together and this is the major thing and we hope that Mr. Rogers would understand that and would fully give the support."
JI CHAOZHU: When Rogers saw Premier Chou to the door…he was obviously a happier man.
NARR: Rogers agreed to support the communiqué. At the closing banquet, the President was triumphant.
STANLEY KARNOW: Nixon got up rather tipsy from all of the toasts they were drinking at these banquets, and drinking this fierce liquor called Ma Tai…
ZHANG HANZHI: He really made a speech on the spur of the moment. That was the most difficult part for the interpreter of course.
NIXON: We have been here a week. This was the week that changed the world.
KARNOW: And I thought either he was drunk or it was a bit of hyperbole, and he was right. It was. It had tremendous impact on things. It was a confirmation in a way that we were abandoning this whole notion of the monolithic Communist bloc.
NIXON: I express my appreciation to my Chinese voice, to Mrs. Zhang. I listened to her translation. She got every word right.
BUCKLEY: We felt that he had been overcome by the delirium of the event.
NARR: As Nixon said his last good byes, public reaction in the U.S. to the Shanghai Communiqué was mixed. One headline read, "They got Taiwan - We Got Eggrolls."
LORD: There was a definite undercurrent on Air Force One as we flew back, where Nixon and -- Kissinger were worried about the reaction to this Communiqué.
KISSINGER: This was so against orthodoxy and, in a sense, so dangerous, vis-à-vis the Taiwan lobby or China lobby.
BUCKLEY: I made it plain to everybody that the - that American conservatives were gonna raise holy hell if indeed this evolved into a dismissal of Taiwan.
NARR: But Americans, who had shared the President's journey on television, supported Nixon's breakthrough. And gradually, the success of Nixon's new course could be seen.
NARR: In May, the Russians signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty - for the first time, the two nations agreed to limits on nuclear weapons.
NARR: China secured a place in the world community. And, by the 1980s, there was a curious new slogan in Communist Beijing: "To get rich is glorious."
NARR: Taiwan would flourish economically and retain its tenuous hold on independence.
NARR: In February, 1972, "The New York Times" wrote that no matter what else occurred, Richard Nixon would always be remembered for his journey to China. But his achievement would soon be overshadowed. In June, the Watergate burglars were arrested, and the scandal that would bring down the Nixon Presidency had begun.