TL_US_China_Relations
Timeline

U.S. Relations With China

1949 – 2018

Since 1949, U.S.-Sino relations have evolved from tense standoffs to a complex mix of intensifying diplomacy, growing international rivalry, and increasingly intertwined economies.

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Crowds celebrating the triumph of Communists in China. AP Images
Crowds celebrate the triumph of Communists in China. (AP Images)
People’s Republic of China Established

Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong establishes the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on October 1 after peasant-backed Communists defeat the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang and thousands of his troops flee to Taiwan. The United States—which backed the Nationalists against invading Japanese forces during World War II—supports Chiang’s exiled Republic of China government in Taipei, setting the stage for several decades of limited U.S. relations with mainland China.

Nationalist Chinese soldiers unload ammunition in Quemoy. AP Images
(AP Images)
Korean War Breaks Out

The Soviet-backed North Korean People’s Army invades South Korea on June 25. The United Nations and the United States rush to South Korea’s defense. China, in support of the communist North, retaliates when U.S., UN, and South Korean troops approach the Chinese border. As many as four million people die in the three-year conflict until the United Nations, China, and North Korea sign an armistice agreement in 1953 [PDF].

President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Taj Mahal. AP Images
Nationalist Chinese soldiers unload ammunition in Quemoy. (AP Images)
First Taiwan Strait Crisis

President Dwight Eisenhower lifts the U.S. navy blockade of Taiwan in 1953, leading Chiang Kai-shek to deploy thousands of troops to the Quemoy and Matsu islands in the Taiwan Strait in August 1954. Mainland China’s People’s Liberation Army responds by shelling the islands. Washington signs a mutual defense treaty with Chiang’s Nationalists. In the spring of 1955, the United States threatens a nuclear attack on China. That April, China agrees to negotiate, claiming a limited victory after the Nationalists' withdrawal from Dachen Island. Crises erupt again in 1956 and 1996.

Thousands protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet in front of the Dalai Lama’s palace. AP Images
Thousands protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet in front of the Dalai Lama’s palace. (AP Images)
Tibetan Uprising

Nine years after the People’s Republic of China asserts control over Tibet, a widespread uprising occurs in Lhasa. Thousands die in the ensuing crackdown by PRC forces, and the Dalai Lama flees to India. The United States joins the United Nations in condemning Beijing for human rights abuses in Tibet, while the Central Intelligence Agency helps arm the Tibetan resistance beginning in the late 1950s.

China's atomic test in the Gobi desert of Xinjiang province. AP Images
China's atomic test in the Gobi desert of Xinjiang province. (AP Images)
China’s First Atomic Test

China joins the nuclear club in October 1964 when it conducts its first test of an atomic bomb. The test comes amid U.S.-Sino tensions over the escalating conflict in Vietnam. By the time of the test, China has amassed troops along its border with Vietnam.

Chinese soldiers deploy near the Soviet border. Xinhua/AP
Chinese soldiers deploy near the Soviet border. (Xinhua/AP Images)
Sino-Soviet Border Conflict

Differences over security, ideology, and development models strain Sino-Soviet relations. China’s radical industrialization policies, known as the Great Leap Forward, lead the Soviet Union to withdraw advisors in 1960. Disagreements culminate in border skirmishes in March 1969. Moscow replaces Washington as China’s biggest threat, and the Sino-Soviet split contributes to Beijing’s eventual rapprochement with the United States.

Members of the U.S. ping-pong team meet reporters after leaving China. AP Images
Members of the U.S. ping-pong team meet reporters after leaving China. (AP Images)
Ping-Pong Diplomacy

In the first public sign of warming relations between Washington and Beijing, China’s ping-pong team invites members of the U.S. team to China on April 6, 1971. Journalists accompanying the U.S. players are among the first Americans allowed to enter China since 1949. In July of 1971, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger makes a secret trip to China. Shortly thereafter, the United Nations recognizes the People’s Republic of China, endowing it with the permanent Security Council seat that had been held by Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China on Taiwan since 1945.

President Nixon near the Great Wall of China in 1972. AP Images
President Nixon near the Great Wall of China in 1972. (AP Images)
Nixon Visits China

President Richard Nixon spends eight days in China in February 1972, during which he meets Chairman Mao Zedong and signs the Shanghai Communiqué with Premier Zhou Enlai. The communiqué sets the stage for improved U.S.-Sino relations by allowing China and the United States to discuss difficult issues, particularly Taiwan. However, normalization of relations between the two countries makes slow progress for much of the decade.

Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping at a Texas rodeo in 1979. AP Images
Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping at a Texas rodeo in 1979. (AP Images)
Formal Ties and One China Policy

U.S. President Jimmy Carter grants China full diplomatic recognition, while acknowledging mainland China's One China principle and severing normal ties with Taiwan. Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, who leads China through major economic reforms, visits the United States shortly thereafter. However, in April, Congress approves the Taiwan Relations Act, allowing continued commercial and cultural relations between the United States and Taiwan. The act requires Washington to provide Taipei with defensive arms, but does not officially violate the U.S.’s One China policy.

President Ronald Reagan and Chinese President Li Xiannian review the military honor guard in Beijing, April 26, 1984.  David Kennerly/AP Photo
President Ronald Reagan and Chinese President Li Xiannian review the military honor guard in Beijing, April 26, 1984. (David Kennerly/AP Images)
China in the Reagan Era

The Reagan administration issues the “Six Assurances” to Taiwan, including pledges that it will honor the Taiwan Relations Act, it would not mediate between Taiwan and China, and it had no set date to terminate arms sales to Taiwan. The Reagan administration then signs in August 1982 a third joint communiqué with the People’s Republic of China to normalize relations. It reaffirms the U.S. commitment to its One China policy. Though Ronald Reagan voices support for stronger ties with Taiwan during his presidential campaign, his administration works to improve Beijing-Washington relations at the height of U.S. concerns over Soviet expansionism. President Reagan visits China in April 1984 and in June, the U.S. government permits Beijing to make purchases of U.S. military equipment [PDF].

A lone protester confronts military tanks in Tiananmen Square. Jeff Widener/AP
A lone protester confronts military tanks in Tiananmen Square. (Jeff Widener/AP Images)
Tiananmen Square Massacre

In the spring of 1989, thousands of students hold demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, demanding democratic reforms and an end to corruption. On June 3, the government sends in military troops to clear the square, leaving hundreds of protesters dead. In response, the U.S. government suspends military sales to Beijing and freezes relations.

Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng signs a release document in 1993. Xinhua/AP
Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng signs a release document in 1993. (Xinhua/AP Images)
Prominent Dissidents Deported

In September 1993, China releases Wei Jingsheng, a political prisoner since 1979. That year, President Bill Clinton launches a policy of “constructive engagement” with China. However, after Beijing loses its bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games, the Chinese government imprisons Wei again. Four years later, Clinton secures the release of Wei and Tiananmen Square protester Wang Dan. Beijing deports both dissidents to the United States.

Lee Teng-hui at a celebration rally. Vincent Yu/AP
Lee Teng-hui at a celebration rally. (Vincent Yu/AP Images)
Taiwan’s First Free Presidential Vote

The Nationalist Party’s Lee Teng-hui wins Taiwan’s first free presidential elections by a large margin in March 1996, despite Chinese missile tests meant to sway Taiwanese voters against voting for the pro-independence candidate. The elections come a year after China recalls its ambassador after President Bill Clinton authorizes a visit by Lee, reversing a fifteen-year-old U.S. policy against granting visas to Taiwan’s leaders. In 1996, Washington and Beijing agree to exchange officials again.

The Chinese embassy in Belgrade after being hit by NATO missiles. Reuters
The Chinese embassy in Belgrade after being hit by NATO missiles. (Reuters)
Belgrade Embassy Bombing

NATO accidentally bombs the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during its campaign against Serbian forces occupying Kosovo in May 1999, shaking U.S.-Sino relations. The United States and NATO offer apologies for the series of U.S. intelligence mistakes that led to the deadly bombing, but thousands of Chinese demonstrators protest throughout the country, attacking official U.S. property.

A deep-water port in Shanghai. Greg Baker/AP
A deep-water port in Shanghai. (Greg Baker/AP)
Normalized Trade Relations

U.S. President Bill Clinton signs the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 in October, granting Beijing permanent normal trade relations with the United States and paving the way for China to join the World Trade Organization in 2001. Between 1980 and 2004, U.S.-China trade rises from $5 billion to $231 billion. In 2006, China surpasses Mexico as the United States’ second-biggest trade partner, after Canada.

A U.S. electronics intelligence collection aircraft takes off from Japan's Kadena Air Base. Kimimasa Mayama/Reuters
A U.S. electronics intelligence collection aircraft takes off from Japan's Kadena Air Base. (Kimimasa Mayama/Reuters)
U.S.-Sino Spy Plane Standoff

In April 2001, a U.S. reconnaissance plane collides with a Chinese fighter and makes an emergency landing on Chinese territory. Authorities on China’s Hainan Island detain the twenty-four-member U.S. crew. After twelve days and a tense standoff, authorities release the crew, and President George W. Bush expresses regret over the death of a Chinese pilot and the landing of the U.S. plane.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing meet in Beijing. Reuters
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing meet in Beijing. (Reuters)
‘Responsible Stakeholder’

In a September 2005 speech, Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick initiates a strategic dialogue with China. Recognizing Beijing as an emerging power, he calls on China to serve as a “responsible stakeholder” and use its influence to draw nations such as Sudan, North Korea, and Iran into the international system. That same year, North Korea walks away from Six-Party Talks aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. After North Korea conducts its first nuclear test in October 2006, China serves as a mediator to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

Recruits of the People's Liberation Army, the world’s largest standing military. AP Images
Recruits of the People's Liberation Army, the world’s largest standing military. (AP Images)
China Increases Military Spending

In March 2007, China announces an 18 percent budget increase in defense spending for 2007, totaling more than $45 billion. Increases in military expenditures average 15 percent a year from 1990 to 2005. During a 2007 tour of Asia, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney says China’s military buildup is “not consistent” with the country’s stated goal of a “peaceful rise.” China says it is increasing spending to provide better training and higher salaries for its soldiers, to protect national security and territorial integrity.

Chinese yuan coins and banknotes. Peter Kujundzic/Reuters
Chinese yuan coins and banknotes. (Peter Kujundzic/Reuters)
China Becomes Largest U.S. Foreign Creditor

In September 2008, China surpasses Japan to become the largest holder of U.S. debt—or treasuries—at around $600 billion. The growing interdependence between the U.S. and Chinese economies becomes evident as a financial crisis threatens the global economy, fueling concerns over U.S.-China economic imbalances.

A construction worker walks among high-rise apartment blocks in China’s Hubei Province.
A construction worker walks among high-rise apartment blocks in China’s Hubei Province. (Reuters)
China Becomes World’s Second-Largest Economy

China surpasses Japan as the world’s second-largest economy after it is valued at $1.33 trillion for the second quarter of 2010, slightly above Japan’s $1.28 trillion for that year. China is on track to overtake the United States as the world’s number one economy by 2027, according to Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill. At the start of 2011, China reports a total GDP of $5.88 trillion for 2010, compared to Japan’s $5.47 trillion.

Secretary of State Clinton addresses APEC leaders in Honolulu, Hawaii. Yuriko Nakao/Reuters
Secretary of State Clinton addresses APEC leaders in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)
U.S. ‘Pivots’ Toward Asia

In an essay for Foreign Policy, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlines a U.S. “pivot” to Asia. Clinton’s call for “increased investment—diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise—in the Asia-Pacific region” is seen as a move to counter China’s growing clout. That month, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, U.S. President Barack Obama announces the United States and eight other nations have reached an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a multinational free trade agreement. Obama later announces plans to deploy 2,500 marines in Australia, prompting criticism from Beijing.

President Obama announces new efforts to enforce U.S. trade rights in China. Jason Reed/Reuters
President Obama announces new efforts to enforce U.S. trade rights in China. (Jason Reed/Reuters)
Rising Trade Tensions

The U.S. trade deficit with China rises from $273.1 billion in 2010 to an all-time high of $295.5 billion in 2011. The increase accounts for three-quarters of the growth in the U.S. trade deficit for 2011. In March, the United States, the EU, and Japan file a “request for consultations” with China at the World Trade Organization over its restrictions on exporting rare earth metals. The United States and its allies contend China's quota violates international trade norms, forcing multinational firms that use the metals to relocate to China. China calls the move “rash and unfair,” while vowing to defend its rights in trade disputes.

Chen, helped by his wife, arriving in New York. Keith Bedford/Reuters
Chen, helped by his wife, arrives in New York. (Keith Bedford/Reuters)
Dissident Flees to U.S. Embassy

Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng escapes house arrest in Shandong province on April 22 and flees to the U.S. embassy in Beijing. U.S. diplomats negotiate an agreement with Chinese officials allowing Chen to stay in China and study law in a city close to the capital. However, after Chen moves to Beijing, he changes his mind and asks to take shelter in the United States. The development threatens to undermine U.S.-China diplomatic ties, but both sides avert a crisis by allowing Chen to visit the United States as a student, rather than as an asylum seeker.

Delegates vote at the closing session of the 18th National Party Congress of China's Communist Party on November 14, 2012. Carlos Barria/Reuters
Delegates vote at the closing session of the 18th National Party Congress of China's Communist Party on November 14, 2012. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
China’s New Leadership

The 18th National Party Congress concludes with the most significant leadership turnover in decades as about 70 percent of the members of the country’s major leadership bodies—the Politburo Standing Committee, the Central Military Commission, and the State Council—are replaced. Li Keqiang assumes the role of premier, while Xi Jinping replaces Hu Jintao as president, Communist Party general secretary, and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi delivers a series of speeches on the “rejuvenation” of China.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk the grounds at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, June 2013 Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk the grounds at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, June 2013 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Sunnylands Summit

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping for a “shirt-sleeves summit” at the Sunnylands Estate in California in a bid to build a personal rapport with his counterpart and ease tense U.S.-China relations. The presidents pledge to cooperate more effectively on pressing bilateral, regional, and global issues, including climate change and North Korea. Obama and Xi also vow to establish a “new model” of relations, a nod to Xi's concept of establishing a “new type of great power relations” for the United States and China.

The five officers from the People's Liberation Army of China indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.  FBI via Reuters
The five officers from the People's Liberation Army of China indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice. (FBI via Reuters)
U.S. Indicts Chinese Nationals

A U.S. court indicts five Chinese hackers, allegedly with ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army, on charges of stealing trade technology from U.S. companies. In response, Beijing suspends its cooperation in the U.S.-China cybersecurity working group. In June 2015, U.S. authorities signal that there is evidence that Chinese hackers are behind the major online breach of the Office of Personnel Management and the theft of data from twenty-two million current and formal federal employees.

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during APEC forum in Beijing, November 2014.  Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during APEC forum in Beijing, November 2014. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
Joint Climate Announcement

On the sidelines of the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping issue a joint statement on climate change, pledging to reduce carbon emissions. Obama sets a more ambitious target for U.S. emissions cutbacks, and Xi makes China’s first promise to curb carbon emissions’ growth by 2030. These commitments by the world’s top polluters stirred hopes among some experts that they would boost momentum for global negotiations ahead of the 2015 UN-led Climate Change Conference in Paris.

China develops land on Subi Reef in the Northern Spratly islands, June 2015.  CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe
China develops land on Subi Reef in the Northern Spratly islands, June 2015. (CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe)
U.S. Warns China Over South China Sea

At the fourteenth annual Shangri-La Dialogue on Asian security, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter calls on China to halt its controversial land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, saying that the United States opposes “any further militarization” of the disputed territory. Ahead of the conference, U.S. officials say that images from U.S. naval surveillance provide evidence that China is placing military equipment on a chain of artificial islands, despite Beijing's claims that construction is mainly for civilian purposes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Beijing, March 19, 2017.  Lintao Zhang/Pool/Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Beijing, March 19, 2017. (Lintao Zhang/Pool/Reuters)
Trump Affirms One China Policy After Raising Doubts

U.S. President Donald J. Trump says he will honor the One China policy in a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. After winning the presidential election, Trump breaks with established practice by speaking on the telephone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and questioning the U.S. commitment to its One China policy. Washington’s policy for four decades has recognized that there is but one China. Under this policy, the United States has maintained formal ties with the People’s Republic of China but also maintains unofficial ties with Taiwan, including the provision of defense aid. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, visiting Beijing in March, describes the U.S.-China relationship as one “built on non-confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect, and always searching for win-win solutions.”

Trump and Xi meet in Florida.
Trump and Xi meet in Florida. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Trump Hosts Xi at Mar-a-Lago

President Donald J. Trump welcomes China’s Xi Jinping for a two-day summit at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where bilateral trade and North Korea top the agenda. Afterward, Trump touts “tremendous progress” in the U.S.-China relationship and Xi cites a deepened understanding and greater trust building. In mid-May, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross unveils a ten-part agreement between Beijing and Washington to expand trade of products and services like beef, poultry, and electronic payments. Ross describes the bilateral relationship as “hitting a new high,” though the countries do not address more contentious trade issues including aluminum, car parts, and steel.

A worker inside an electronics factory in Qingdao.
A worker inside an electronics factory in Qingdao. William Hong/Reuters
Trump Tariffs Target China

The Trump administration announces sweeping tariffs on Chinese imports, worth at least $50 billion, in response to what the White House alleges is Chinese theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property. Coming on the heels of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the measures target goods including clothing, shoes, and electronics and restrict some Chinese investment in the United States. China imposes retaliatory measures in early April on a range of U.S. products, stoking concerns of a trade war between the world’s largest economies. The move marks a hardening of President Trump’s approach to China after high-profile summits with President Xi in April and November 2017.

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U.S. Relations With China