Lessons Learned: Richard Nixon Goes to China

February 14, 2012

Lessons Learned: Richard Nixon Goes to China
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from The Water's Edge

On February 17, 1972, President Richard Nixon departed on a historic trip to China. The United States had no formal diplomatic relationship with China since Mao Zedong’s communist government came to power in 1949. Nixon’s trip put relations between the two countries on an entirely different track, and changed the face of international relations during the Cold War. Nixon would call it the "week that changed the world."

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James M. Lindsay, CFR’s senior vice president and director of studies, says that Nixon’s trip clearly demonstrates the idea that diplomacy matters in foreign policy. History, he says, is "usually told as the story of epic battles and courageous last stands." But diplomacy plays just as great a historical role, he argues, and remains vital today for dealing with countries as diverse as China, Iran, or Myanmar.

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This video is part of Lessons Learned, a series dedicated to exploring historical events and examining their meaning in the context of foreign relations today.

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Political History and Theory

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