Press Release

Office of the Historian
Bureau of Public Affairs
United States Department of State

February 12, 2008

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XVIII, China, 1973–1976. This volume documents fluctuations in Sino-American relations, ranging from the euphoria lingering from President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, to the practical challenges of normalizing diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing.

Like all recent Foreign Relations volumes in the Nixon-Ford subseries, the emphasis of this volume is on policy formulation, rather than the implementation of policy or day-to-day diplomacy. Influence on major U.S. foreign policy decisions was generally restricted to a small circle including the President, Henry Kissinger, and some influential officials they trusted. During this period, control over U.S. China policy shifted from the White House to the Department of State as a result of the Watergate crisis, the appointment of Kissinger as Secretary of State, the resignation of Nixon as President, and Kissinger’s involuntary resignation as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. The chapters of this volume integrate documents about U.S. relations with the People’s Republic of China and with Taiwan, reflecting the fact that the former government received much more attention from high-level American policymakers than did the latter. The central theme of the volume is the effort to strengthen and formalize the U.S.-PRC relationship, which had been established during 1971 and 1972 after decades of bitter estrangement, and the concurrent disestablishment of formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, a task that remained unfinished at the end of the Ford Administration. The primary means of improving relations during these years were long conversations between U.S. and PRC leaders, recorded in memoranda of conversation, which were supposed to initiate—but at this time generally substituted for—a more developed and institutionalized relationship.

The volume is divided into five chapters. The first chapter, from January until May 1973, documents the establishment of unofficial liaison offices in Washington and Beijing, the most concrete achievement of the 19731976 period. Both sides expressed their desire to normalize relations by 1976. In retrospect, however, Kissinger’s February 1973 visit to the People’s Republic of China proved to be the acme of Sino-American relations during these years. Although the United States and China agreed to finesse the Taiwan dispute and formed a tacit anti-Soviet alliance, the two countries did not agree on the war in Cambodia or the wisdom of détente with the Soviet Union. The second chapter, containing documents from June 1973 until August 1974, indicates that domestic politics in both countries threatened the still-fragile Sino-American relationship. In China, aftershocks from the Cultural Revolution and the death of Lin Biao, as well as the aging of China’s leadership, raised doubts about the stability of Chinese foreign policy. This chapter also reveals U.S. efforts to reassure Chinese leaders baffled by Watergate and fearful that American policy would become erratic. In addition, China was dissatisfied with the pace of U.S. disengagement from formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Meanwhile, an early example of economic competition is revealed through the fears of U.S. textile manufacturers that they would be hurt by increased American trade with China. The third chapter, with documents from September 1974 until July 1975, covers the Sino-American effort to re-establish the momentum toward normalization. Along these lines, the United States attempted to reconcile the improvement of Sino-American relations with the preservation of Taiwanese security through such policies as a careful diminution of U.S.-Taiwanese military links. Nonetheless, the United States and China continued to bicker over the subjects of détente and Cambodia. The fourth chapter, which covers the period from August to December 1975, includes the planning for Ford’s trip to Beijing, and the details of the actual trip itself. China experts within the U.S. Government asserted that the President should attempt to normalize relations quickly, but Kissinger believed that such a policy would produce a right-wing backlash against Ford that would endanger the Administration’s effectiveness and reelection. The Chinese Government agreed to host Ford without a prior agreement for rapid normalization, and the visit maintained existing friendly relations, while breaking little new ground. The final chapter, containing documents from January 1976 until January 1977, reveals how domestic political developments in both countries distracted policy makers from the Sino-American relationship. By January 1977, the change of leadership in both countries had been so dramatic that there seemed little doubt that the Sino-American relationship was entering a new era. During these years, relations between the United States and China were conducted at the highest political level, which meant that incapacitation of the top leadership tended to bring progress to a standstill. More than most volumes in the Foreign Relations series, this one documents the influence of domestic politics on foreign policy. However, despite numerous obstacles and failures, each country’s troubled relationship with the Soviet Union produced a continual impetus to improve the Sino-American relationship.

The volume and this press release are available on the Office of the Historian website at Copies of the volume will be available for purchase from the U.S. Government Printing Office online at (GPO S/N 044–000–02612–1; ISBN 978–0–16–077110–1), or by calling toll-free 1-866-512-1800 (D.C. area 202-512-1800). For further information contact Edward Keefer, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, at (202) 663–1131 or by e-mail to