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The Long March from Shanghai

SHANGHAI – Forty years ago, in February 1972, US President Richard M. Nixon journeyed to China. On the seventh day of “the week that changed the world,” as Nixon called it, he and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai signed the “Shanghai Communiqué,” which began the normalization of bilateral relations and bound the United States, a principal supporter of Taiwan, to the People’s Republic’s doctrine of “One China.”

Nixon’s euphoric declaration was typical of his mood. While he did not claim to have changed China’s internal system, he had in fact spearheaded a fundamental reordering of the superpower balance of the time, and consolidated the estrangement between the Soviet Union and China that had been underway for several years. In a sense, Nixon’s trip was the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

Forty years later, the US-China relationship has grown exponentially to become arguably the most important and complex bilateral relationship in the world. Their economic ties, in particular, have developed in ways nobody could have ever imagined back then. China has emerged as the world’s second-largest economy, and the pace of its social and political changes has been equally breathtaking.

Yet, as the Chinese/Russian joint veto of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria on February 5 symbolized, the US-China relationship remains a work in progress. It requires careful and deft management, which may have been lacking that day.