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China Daily Global / 2022-02 / 24 / Page003

Experts: Nixon's China visit shows value of unity

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-02-24 00:00

US president's 1972 trip an example of beating differences, working together

US president Richard Nixon's historic trip to China 50 years ago this week is a good example of how countries with major differences can and should work together, say experts.

Nixon became the first US president to visit the People's Republic of China since its founding in 1949, ending more than 20 years of hostility and almost no contact between the two countries. Nixon called it "the week that changed the world".

Erik Solheim, former United Nations under-secretary-general and former executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said that the main lesson from Nixon's trip is that countries should focus on areas where they can work together instead of being obsessed with differences.

"Let's focus on the big picture and what we can achieve together," said the Norwegian politician. This kind of spirit is needed in the 21st century to tackle major challenges from climate change to trade and world peace, he added. "They all need cooperation," he said.

Ding Chun, director of the Center for European Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said that Nixon made a positive and correct step by detecting the trend of history, referring to the US policy of engagement with China, which has benefited both countries and the world.

"But the US government today is going against the global trend," said Ding, citing the US' increasingly confrontational policy on China, such as its demonization of the country and its move toward economic decoupling.

Donald Trump is considered the first US president to embark on reversing decades of US policy on China since Nixon. His successor in the White House, Joe Biden, has largely continued Trump's policy.

Ding believes the main reason is that the US now views a fast-rising China as a major rival, and the US won't allow any rival to US primacy. He said that while the European Union also sometimes finds it challenging to adapt to a fast-developing China, it won't blindly follow the US because that does not serve its own interests.

Shada Islam is a longtime commentator on EU-Asia relations and editor of the Brussels-based EUobserver magazine.

She said that Europe and the US are reinvesting in the trans-Atlantic alliance, including US-EU consultation on approaches toward China and the establishment of a trade and technology council aimed at setting standards for the sector.

"Such information-exchange and regular trans-Atlantic visits will continue, but the EU is unlikely to align with all elements of the US agenda on China and will keep trying to craft its own 'third way' autonomous track for relations with Beijing, which reflect its own economic and geopolitical interests," she said.

Cheng Li, director of the John L.Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, said that Nixon's visit helped bring an end to the Cold War as well as incredible advances in bilateral relations between China and the US.

He also said there had been a warming in relations between China and several European nations, in particular France under the late president Charles de Gaulle, who had an independent foreign policy. China and France established diplomatic ties on Jan 27, 1964, eight years before Nixon's historic trip.

Li believes that Europe can again play a role in influencing US strategic thinking as partisan politics in the US make it nearly impossible for the Biden administration to push forward China-US relations.

"If China can effectively improve relations with the EU and find its own strategic interests, it will create a driving force for China-US relations," he said, adding that should include China's relations with countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia.

Bert Hofman, director of the East Asian Institute and professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of National University of Singapore, said that Nixon's visit to China was highly significant for Europe.

Before Nixon's trip, some European countries had already established diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China, and the PRC had its lawful seat at the UN restored in 1971.

"Nixon's visit and subsequent engagement policy enabled the deepening of these engagements, and over time allowed for ever-stronger economic ties, especially after Deng Xiaoping initiated reforms in 1978," said Hofman, a Dutch economist and World Bank country director for China from 2014 to 2019.

He described Nixon's trip to China as "hugely important" for the World Bank because the bank's formal engagement with China had to wait until 1980 after the US, the World Bank's largest shareholder, established formal diplomatic ties with China in 1979.

Hofman said that Robert McNamara, then the World Bank's president, was keen to engage with China after Nixon's visit.

"At the time, the vast majority of China's 1 billion people were poor, so for an organization with poverty alleviation in its banner, it was hugely significant to be able to engage with China on its development agenda. Nixon's visit made that possible," he said.


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