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The 1972 Shanghai Communique and China-United States Relations



In the 1960s the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) had no diplomatic relations. Washington continued to recognise the Republic of China on Taiwan as the sole legitimate government of the whole of China. The unstable situation in East Asia contributed to the maintenance of this situation. The Korean War and the Vietnam War caused frictions between the US and the PRC, as the Beijing regime felt threatened by the West. At times war between the two powers seemed a real possibility.

This favoured Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang regime on Taiwan. The Americans needed the island as a military base for the war in Vietnam and as a resting place for soldiers on leave (Davison 2003, Chapter 6).  However, in the late 1960s Washington and Beijing began to realise they could use each other to contain the Soviet Union. Under Leonid Brezhnev's leadership Moscow pursued an aggressive foreign policy in Asia, Africa and South America that deeply unsettled both the US and the PRC. US President Richard Nixon advocated a Sino-American entente. He sent Henry Kissinger, his National Security Advisor, on a secret trip to China. After prolonged negotiations, Kissinger and PRC Premier Zhou Enlai drafted a joint unofficial document, which would later become the Shanghai Communique. 

Although the US and the PRC had no official diplomatic relations yet, Washington signalled its changed stance towards China when it let be known that it would support a PRC's bid for a seat at the United Nations. The seat had so far been held by the Republic of China as the only representative of China. On October 25, 1971, the UN General Assembly transferred China's seat from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China (Dillon 2010, pp. 347-348). The Guomindang was humiliated and angry, while the Chinese Communists celebrated, as they could, for the first time, participate in international politics. 

Afterwards, the US and the PRC were ready to complete the process of reconciliation. In the morning of February 21, 1972, Richard Nixon arrived in Shanghai, where he met Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. He toured Shanghai and Hangzhou, visited the Great Wall, was entertained by the Cultural Revolution ballet and took part in various cultural activities. On February 28, the US and the PRC issued a joint statement, the so-called Shanghai Communique, which formed the basis for the subsequent Sino-American talks aimed at normalising relations (ibid., p. 348). 

The communique stated that both the US and the PRC opposed hegemony and aggression. In the context of the time, Washington and Beijing referred to the threat coming from the Soviet Union, though the document did not refer to it explicitly. 

It should also be noted that the Taiwan issue is mentioned in the Communique and it is considered the most important obstacle to the normalisation of US-PRC relations. China stated that there is only one China, that the PRC is the sole government of China, and that Taiwan must be 'liberated' by the PRC. The US acknowledged the PRC position, but it ambiguously stated that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of China, without, however, explicitly stating that Taiwan should be part of the PRC.

Here is the full text of the communique:

Joint Communiqué Between the People's Republic of China and the United States of America 

President Richard Nixon of the United States of America visited the People's Republic of China at the invitation of Premier Chou En-lai [Zhou Enlai] of the People's Republic of China from February 21 to February 28, 1972. Accompanying the President were Mrs. Nixon, U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers, Assistant to the President Dr. Henry Kissinger, and other American officials. 
President Nixon met with Chairman Mao Tse-tung [Mao Zedong] of the Communist Party of China on February 21. The two leaders had a serious and frank exchange of views on Sino-U.S. relations and world affairs. 
During the visit, extensive, earnest, and frank discussions were held between President Nixon and Premier Chou En-lai on the normalization of relations between the United States of America and the People's Republic of China, as well as on other matters of interest to both sides. In addition, Secretary of State William Rogers and Foreign Minister Chi P'eng-fei [Ji Pengfei] held talks in the same spirit. 
President Nixon and his party visited Peking and viewed cultural, industrial and agricultural sites, and they also toured Hangchow [Hangzhou] and Shanghai where, continuing discussions with Chinese leaders, they viewed similar places of interest.
The leaders of the People's Republic of China and the United States of America found it beneficial to have this opportunity, after so many years without contact, to present candidly to one another their views on a variety of issues. They reviewed the international situation in which important changes and great upheavals are taking place and expounded their respective positions and attitudes. 
The U.S. side stated: Peace in Asia and peace in the world requires efforts both to reduce immediate tensions and to eliminate the basic causes of conflict. The United States will work for a just and secure peace: just, because it fulfills the aspirations of peoples and nations for freedom and progress; secure, because it removes the danger of foreign aggression. The United States supports individual freedom and social progress for all the peoples of the world, free of outside pressure or intervention. The United States believes that the effort to reduce tensions is served by improving communication between countries that have different ideologies so as to lessen the risks of confrontation through accident, miscalculation or misunderstanding. Countries should treat each other with mutual respect and be willing to compete peacefully, letting performance be the ultimate judge. No country should claim infallibility and each country should be prepared to re-examine its own attitudes for the common good.
The United States stressed that the peoples of Indochina should be allowed to determine their destiny without outside intervention; its constant primary objective has been a negotiated solution; the eight- point proposal put forward by the Republic of Vietnam and the United States on January 27, 1972, represents a basis for the attainment of that objective; in the absence of a negotiated settlement the United States envisages the ultimate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the region consistent with the aim of self-determination for each country of Indochina. The United States will maintain its close ties with and support for the Republic of Korea; the United States will support efforts of the Republic of Korea to seek a relaxation of tension and increased communication in the Korean peninsula. 
The United States places the highest value on its friendly relations with Japan; it will continue to develop the existing close bonds. Consistent with the United Nations Security Council Resolution of December 21, 1971, the United States favors the continuation of the ceasefire between India and Pakistan and the withdrawal of all military forces to within their own territories and to their own sides of the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir; the United States supports the right of the peoples of South Asia to shape their own future in peace, free of military threat, and without having the area become the subject of great power rivalry.
The Chinese side stated: Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance. Countries want independence, nations want liberation and the people want revolution--this has become the irresistible trend of history. All nations, big or small, should be equal; big nations should not bully the small and strong nations should not bully the weak. China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind. The Chinese side stated that it firmly supports the struggles of all the oppressed people and nations for freedom and liberation and that the people of all countries have the right to choose their social systems according to their own wishes and the right to safeguard the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of their own countries and oppose foreign aggression, interference, control and subversion. All foreign troops should be withdrawn to their own countries.
The Chinese side expressed its firm support to the peoples of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in their efforts for the attainment of their goal and its firm support to the seven-point proposal of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic Of South Vietnam and the elaboration of February this year on the two key problems in the proposal, and to the Joint Declaration of the Summit Conference of the Indochinese Peoples. It firmly supports the eight- point program for the peaceful unification of Korea put forward by the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on April 12, 1971, and the stand for the abolition of the "U.N. Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea."
It firmly opposes the revival and outward expansion of Japanese militarism and firmly supports the Japanese people's desire to build an independent, democratic, peaceful and neutral Japan. It firmly maintains that India and Pakistan should, in accordance with the United Nations resolutions on the India-Pakistan question, immediately withdraw all their forces to their respective territories and to their own sides of the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir and firmly supports the Pakistan Government and people in their struggle to preserve their independence and sovereignty and the people of Jammu and Kashmir in their struggle for the right of self-determination.
There are essential differences between China and the United States in their social systems and foreign policies. However, the two sides agreed that countries, regardless of their social systems, should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. International disputes should be settled on this basis, without resorting to the use or threat of force. The United States and the People's Republic of China are prepared to apply these principles to their mutual relations.

With these principles of international relations in mind the two sides stated that: 
--progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interests of all countries; 
--both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict;
--neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony; and 
--neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at other states. 
Both sides are of the view that it would be against the interests of the peoples of the world for any major country to collude with another against other countries, or for major countries to divide up the world into spheres of interest. 
The two sides reviewed the long-standing serious disputes between China and the United States. The Chinese side reaffirmed its position: The Taiwan question is the crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations between China and the United States; the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government of China; Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned to the motherland; the liberation of Taiwan is China's internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere; and all U.S. forces and military installations must be withdrawn from Taiwan. The Chinese Government firmly opposes any activities which aim at the creation of "one China, one Taiwan," "one China, two governments," "two Chinas," and "independent Taiwan" or advocate that "the status of Taiwan remains to be determined."
The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.
The two sides agreed that it is desirable to broaden the understanding between the two peoples. To this end, they discussed specific areas in such fields as science, technology, culture, sports and journalism, in which people-to-people contacts and exchanges would be mutually beneficial. Each side undertakes to facilitate the further development of such contacts and exchanges.
Both sides view bilateral trade as another area from which mutual benefits can be derived, and agreed that economic relations based on equality and mutual benefit are in the interest of the people of the two countries. They agree to facilitate the progressive development of trade between their two countries.
The two sides agreed that they will stay in contact through various channels, including the sending of a senior U.S. representative to Peking from time to time for concrete consultations to further the normalization of relations between the two countries and continue to exchange views on issues of common interest. 
The two sides expressed the hope that the gains achieved during this visit would open up new prospects for the relations between the two countries. They believe that the normalization of relations between the two countries is not only in the interest of the Chinese and American peoples but also contributes to the relaxation of tension in Asia and the world. 
President Nixon, Mrs. Nixon and the American party expressed their appreciation for the gracious hospitality shown them by the Government and people of the People's Republic of China.

(quoted in Harding 1992, pp. 373-377, my emphasis)

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