"The Week That Changed the World:" The 40th Anniversary of President Nixon's China Trip

CONTEXT

Feb 17, 2012

In 1971, President Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, secretly visited Beijing and laid the groundwork for the historic visit that would follow. Almost a year later, when Richard Nixon became the first U.S. President to visit the People’s Republic of China, the beginning of the end of decades of separation between the countries began in earnest.

Repercussions from the February 21 to 28, 1972 visit were immediate and lasting. The balance of power in the Cold War shifted dramatically and the scene was set for the building of a relationship that dominates international relations to this day. President Nixon called the visit, “The week that changed the world.” Since then, phrases like, “Nixon going to China,” have become shorthand for describing surprising and uncharacteristic actions by political leaders.

To gain perspective on the trip and its lasting impact, we spoke with the Kissinger Institute’s Deputy Director, Doug Spelman.

Douglas G. Spelman is Deputy Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. In 1972, he served as an interpreter for the visit to the United States of the Chinese ping-pong team. In 1977 he joined the United States Foreign Service and from 2002-2005 served as U.S. Consul General in Shanghai. Dr. Spelman retired in 2007 with the rank of Minister Counselor in the Senior Foreign Service.

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