Nixon goes to China
The phrase "Nixon goes to China", "Nixon to China", or "Nixon in China" is a historical reference to United States US President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to the People's Republic of China, where he met with Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong. Its basic import is that Nixon's well-established reputation as an anti-Communist "hawk" gave him political cover against domestic criticism for a move that might have been portrayed as conciliating a geopolitical rival. The metaphor is often expressed as the observation "Only Nixon could go to China" or "It took Nixon to go to China".
The phrase had originated before Nixon's actual visit to China. An early use of the phrase is found in a December 1971 U.S. News & World Report interview with US Senate Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield in a section summary lead that read, "'Only a 'Nixon' Could Go to China." The actual quote from Mansfield, which he prefaces by noting he had heard it said earlier, was "Only a Republican, perhaps only a Nixon, could have made this break and gotten away with it."
When he met President Nixon, Chairman Mao also joked that "I voted for you during your last election." Nixon laughed and said "you voted for the lesser of two evils," and Mao replied, "I like rightists, I am comparatively happy when these people on the right come into power."
Internationally, Nixon's visit played a role in leading to the September 1972 Japan-China Joint Communiqué between Mao Zedong and Kakuei Tanaka. During the negotiation, Mao also stated that he preferred the "rightist" party in Japan as well as the United States.
In history and politics
The Nixon going to China phenomenon has also been compared to a more generic spectrum of left-wing and right-wing policies, and a proposed "Nixon paradox" describing which policies are difficult to implement based on a politician's declared values (left or right primarily).
Similar historical events (pre-1972)
- The author and historian Zachary Karabell compared US President Chester Arthur reforming the civil service system in the early 1880s to Nixon going to China since Arthur himself had been a product of the spoils system and helped get rid of it by the Pendleton Act.
- The decision of US President Dwight Eisenhower, a former World War II general, to confront the military-industrial complex.
- French President Charles de Gaulle's decision to end the Algerian War, withdraw from Algeria, and give Algeria its independence in 1962 has sometimes been described as a Nixon-to-China moment since de Gaulle's reputation and prestige as a French war hero in World War II helped win support for Algerian independence from most of the French public.
- US President Lyndon Johnson (a southerner from Texas) pushing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the US Congress. That is generally considered to be an act of political courage, as Johnson expected correctly that pushing it and other civil rights legislation would damage him and his Democratic Party with white southern voters.
Similar political events (post-1972)
- In Canada, a notable aspect of the 1985 decision of the Ontario government to extend full funding to Catholic schools was that the ruling Progressive Conservatives had been regarded as articulating the viewpoint of rural Protestants, who were often hostile to Roman Catholicism, especially on issues related to education. In contrast to Nixon's China policy, however, the decision led to political damage for the Progressive Conservatives, who were reduced to a minority government in the subsequent election, partly as a result of having alienated their Protestant base, despite the other political parties also backing the move.
- The actions of Israeli Likud Prime Ministers Menachem Begin (in giving up the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for peace with Egypt in 1979) and Ariel Sharon (in withdrawing from the Gaza Strip in 2005) are sometimes considered Nixon-to-China moments.
- US President Bill Clinton, a member of the traditionally pro-welfare Democratic Party, in 1996 signed legislation reforming the welfare system.
- Jim Hoagland for the Eugene Register-Guard compared US President George W. Bush's embrace of multilateralism on Iraq in late 2002 as a Nixon-to-China moment. Some people likewise considered Bush's nuclear deals with North Korea, which he declared to be part of the axis of evil in 2002, in 2007 and with India in 2008 to be Nixon-to-China moments.
- U.S. President Barack Obama embracing Social Security reform in 2011.
- The decision of US Chief Justice John Roberts to agree with the liberal wing of the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012). Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer called Roberts's decision a "Nixon-to-China" moment.
- U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, becoming the first U.S. president to meet with any North Korean head of state while in office since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Considered Trump's "Nixon-to-China" moment.
In popular culture
The expression was used in the 1991 film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in which "only Nixon could go to China" is quoted by Spock as "an old Vulcan proverb." In the context of the film, itself an allegory of thawing relations between the US and the former Soviet Union, it is given as a reason why James T. Kirk, a character with a history of armed conflict with the Klingons and a personal enmity for them after his son's death, should escort their chancellor to Earth for peace negotiations with the Federation.
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- "A Size-Up of President Nixon: Interview with Mike Mansfield, Senate Democratic Leader". U.S. News & World Report. December 6, 1971. p. 61.
- Kalb, Marvin (May 9, 2013). The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed. Brookings Institution Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-8157-2443-8. Archived from the original on February 3, 2022. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
- "Nixon Asserts That Western Rightists Pleased Mao". The New York Times. May 2, 1978. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on February 3, 2022. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
- Cowen, Tyler; Sutter, Daniel (1998). "Why Only Nixon Could Go to China". Public Choice. 97 (4): 605–615. ISSN 0048-5829. Archived from the original on February 3, 2022. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
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- The Presidents- Andrew Johnson to Arthur 1865–1885. History Channel. 2005. Event occurs at 42:00–42:30. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Karabell, Zachary (2004). Chester Alan Arthur. The American Presidents Series. New York: Times Books. p. 10 – via Internet Archive.
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- Ladley, Eric (August 2002). Nixon's China Trip - Eric Ladley - Google Books. ISBN 9780595239443. Archived from the original on February 13, 2022. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- Greenway, HDS (April 28, 2009). "Hitting the 'Reset' Button". GlobalPost. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
- Sunstein, Cass R. (October 8, 2012). "In Praise of Turncoats, Richard Nixon to John Roberts". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- Hoagland, Jim (September 14, 2002). "Bush Delivers on All Counts in Speech, Now It's Up to UN". Eugene Register-Guard. Archived from the original on February 13, 2022. Retrieved April 4, 2020 – via Google News.
- Chapman, Steve (February 17, 2007). "George W. Bush's 'Nixon to China' Moment". National Ledger. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
- "American's Nuclear Deal with India: Time to Decide". The Economist. August 28, 2008. Archived from the original on August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 30, 2008.
- Krauthammer, Charles (June 28, 2012). "Why Roberts Did It". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 1, 2018. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
- Freedman, Lawrence (April 30, 2018). "Trump-Goes-to-Korea Is the New Nixon-Goes-to-China". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on October 31, 2018. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
- The quote appears at 4:10 in this 4:59 clip from You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rW9WGibEF04 Archived April 10, 2019, at the Wayback Machine.
- Erdmann, Terry J. (September 23, 2008). Star Trek 101: A Practical Guide to Who, What, Where, and Why. Simon and Schuster. p. 230. ISBN 978-1-4391-1787-3. Archived from the original on February 13, 2022. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
- Laurie Mercier (2009). Social History of the United States: The 1970s. ABC-CLIO. p. 372. ISBN 978-1-85109-923-8. Archived from the original on February 13, 2022. Retrieved March 12, 2018.