SINO-U.S. RELATIONS: REMEMBERING U.S. PRESIDENTS’ DIPLOMATIC TRIPS TO CHINA 

CLAIRE GUTE WRITES — While our country rings in a new era with the election of President Biden, he has yet to travel abroad on any diplomatic trips, and it is unlikely that such a trip will occur in the coming months due to COVID-19.

In 2019, the United States and China celebrated “40 Years of Diplomatic Relations,” marking an impressive number of U.S. presidents who have traveled to China, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. This rich history of China-U.S. diplomatic relations remains vital to understanding what both countries face today.

President Richard Nixon’s first visit to Beijing in 1972 is credited with opening the door to normalizing diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Prior to Nixon’s visit, the two nations had no communication or diplomatic ties for 25 years. During the seven day trip, Nixon met with Premier Zhou Enlai to discuss and plan a trade deal, which helped open up relations between the two countries, following a long period of hostility. President Nixon and First Lady Pat toured the Forbidden City and the Ba Da Ling portion of the Great Wall of China, when he was not meeting with Premier Zhou to discuss foreign relations.

President Ronald Reagan’s trip to China in 1984 marked the first American Presidential visit following the renewal of relations between China and America. The Reagans’ trip included visits to Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an, with the pair most notably photographed amongst the famed Xi’an exhibit of the Terra Cotta soldiers. On April 30, 1984, Reagan and Premier Zhao Ziyang signed a series of agreements intended to create and strengthen ties between the countries in “cultural exchanges, economic cooperation, and the development of nuclear energy.”

President George W. Bush traveled to China four times during his two terms as president. He negotiated a most favored nation status for China, leading to its inclusion in the World Trade Organization, arguably leading, in turn, to China’s economic boom due to its ability to expand into worldwide trade.  Following President Bush’s multiple visits, President Barack Obama traveled to China three times, symbolically visiting the same section of the Great Wall of China which Nixon had visited in 1972 and said, “My hope is that in the future, perhaps as a result of the beginning that we have made on this journey that many, many Americans…will have an opportunity to come here.”  In 2016, during his last visit, President Obama and President Xi Jinping discussed their commitment to working through differences aimed at fostering global cooperation during a bilateral meeting of the G20 Leaders Summit.

The most recent U.S. presidential diplomatic trip to China occurred in 2017, during President Donald Trump’s tour of Asia. President Trump and President Xi attended a state dinner together and met privately to discuss bilateral relations.

It is unclear whether President Biden plans to visit China in the coming year, although it is likely that the world will be watching as Biden writes the next chapter for U.S. and China relations after the obvious tensions in the last administration. Those tensions between China a d the US escalated during the Trump administration due to trade wars, COVID-19 clashes and overall competition for power. Following Biden’s announcement of a new Department of Defense Task Force on China as well as his first phone call with President Xi Jinping, it is possible Biden will visit China once the virus is under control. Although Biden explicitly stated there would be “extreme competition” with China, Americans are hopeful that tensions will subside between both countries in the foreseeable future.

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