Nixon goes to China
The phrase "Nixon goes to China", "Nixon to China", or "Nixon in China" is a historical reference to United States President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to the People's Republic of China, where he met with Chairman Mao Zedong. The metaphor is often expressed as the observation "Only Nixon could go to China" or "It took Nixon to go to China".
As a political metaphor, it refers to the ability of a politician with an unassailable reputation among their supporters for representing and defending their values to take actions that would draw their criticism and even opposition if taken by someone without those credentials. Although the example is that of a hardliner taking steps toward peace with a traditional enemy, and this is the most common application of the metaphor, it could also be applied to a reputedly cautious diplomat defying expectations by taking military action, or a political leader reforming aspects of the political system of which they have been strong supporters.
Nixon's visit to China was of particular significance because it marked the beginning of a process of thawing in Sino-American relations — the two countries had been estranged for many years, as the U.S. was ardently anti-Communist and refused to recognize its government (maintaining relations with the anticommunist Republic of China in Taiwan to that point), and China had viewed the United States as its top enemy. Nixon, having had an undisputed reputation of being a staunch anti-Communist, was largely immune to any criticism of being "soft on Communism" by figures on the right of American politics.
The phrase originated prior to 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 then-United States 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 before) was "Only a Republican, perhaps only a Nixon, could have made this break and gotten away with it."
A popular use of the expression came in the 1991 film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, where "only Nixon could go to China" is quoted by Spock as "an old Vulcan proverb". In the context of the film, 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 due to the death of his son, should escort their chancellor to Earth for peace negotiations with the Federation.
Similar historical events
- Author and historian Zachary Karabell compared U.S. President Chester Arthur reforming the civil service system (in the early 1880s) to Nixon going to China, since Arthur himself was a product of the spoils system and yet he was the one who helped get rid of it with the Pendleton Act.
- The decision of U.S. President Dwight D. 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 describes as a Nixon-to-China moment due to the fact that 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.
- U.S. President Lyndon Johnson (a southerner from Texas) pushing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the U.S. Congress. This is generally considered to be an act of political courage as Johnson expected, correctly, that pushing this and other civil rights legislation would damage him and his Democratic Party with Southern voters.
- 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 previously 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, this decision led to political damage for the Conservatives, who were defeated in the subsequent election, partly as a result of having alienated their Protestant base.
- The actions of Israeli right-wing 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.
- U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1996 signed legislation reforming the welfare system in the United States.
- Jim Hoagland for the Eugene Register-Guard compared U.S. President George W. Bush's embrace of multilateralism on Iraq in late 2002 as a Nixon-to-China moment. Some people likewise considered George W. Bush's nuclear deals with North Korea (whom 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 Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts to join the liberal wing of the U.S. Supreme Court 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' 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.
- Naím, Moisés (September 1, 2003). "Berlusconi Goes to China". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on April 8, 2005. Retrieved September 8, 2011.
- "A Size-Up of President Nixon: Interview with Mike Mansfield, Senate Democratic Leader". U.S. News & World Report. December 6, 1971. p. 61.
- The quote appears at 4:10 in this 4:59 clip from You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rW9WGibEF04.
- 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.
- Laurie Mercier (2009). Social History of the United States: The 1970s. ABC-CLIO. p. 372. ISBN 978-1-85109-923-8.
- 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 – via Google Books.
- Elkin, Larry M. (September 12, 2011). "On Social Security, A Nixon-To-China Moment". Wall Street Pit.
- "Nixon's Ten Commandments of Leadership and Negotiation: His Guiding ... - James C. Humes - Google Books". Books.google.com. October 23, 1998. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- "Nixon's China Trip - Eric Ladley - Google Books". Books.google.com. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- Greenway, HDS (April 28, 2009). "Hitting the 'Reset' Button". GlobalPost.
- Sunstein, Cass R. (October 8, 2012). "In Praise of Turncoats, Richard Nixon to John Roberts". Bloomberg.
- Hoagland, Jim (September 14, 2002). "Bush Delivers on All Counts in Speech, Now It's Up to UN". Eugene Register-Guard – via Google News.
- Chapman, Steve (February 17, 2007). "George W. Bush's 'Nixon to China' Moment". National Ledger.
- "American's Nuclear Deal with India: Time to Decide". The Economist. August 28, 2008. Retrieved August 30, 2008.
- Krauthammer, Charles (June 28, 2012). "Why Roberts Did It". The Washington Post.
- Freedman, Lawrence (April 30, 2018). "Trump-Goes-to-Korea Is the New Nixon-Goes-to-China". Foreign Policy. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: