UC Berkeley Library Update

The Week that Changed the World: Nixon Visits China

By Shannon White

February 2022 — This month marks the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s weeklong visit to China, a trip that resulted in the establishment of a formal diplomatic relationship between the governments of the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

The UC Berkeley Oral History Center’s collection contains several interviews discussing the event, as well as the political and public atmosphere that surrounded Nixon’s 1971 announcement of the impending trip. Included in these are the accounts of both Caroline and John Service, the latter a diplomat and member of the United States Foreign Service. The Services were among the few Americans welcomed back to the country in the early 1970s by Zhou Enlai, then the premier of the PRC.  

Nixon and Mao shake hands

In Caroline Service’s oral history, she discusses the era of “ping pong diplomacy” in the early 1970s that occurred prior to the president’s visit to China. “We were all electrified one day. . . by seeing on television, reading in the paper, seeing pictures that the American ping pong team was going to Peking,” Service recalls of this turning point in the relations between the two countries. 

In this interview, Service also discusses the public perception of Richard Nixon at the time of the trip, echoing the popular opinion that only Nixon, as a staunch anti-communist with the support of his fellow political conservatives, could make such a move without widespread criticism. As Service says:

Now I have hardly a good word to say for Nixon. I have disliked him intensely forever, it seems to me, since ever he appeared on the political scene. Yet, I suppose that only a Republican conservative, reactionary almost, president could have done this. I do not think a Democrat could have done this. I think it had to be done.

In his oral history, Dr. Otto C. C. Lin, whose career is in Chinese technological innovation and entrepreneurship, offers his perspective on Henry Kissinger and Nixon traveling to China. When asked about the effects of the visit on Taiwan, Lin said, “Republicans were always considered friends for KMT [Kuomintang]. Hence, Nixon was considered a turncoat and Kissinger an accomplice of Nixon in betraying his friend, the ROC [Republic of China].” Ultimately, though, Lin says, “I think history would say that Nixon and Kissinger did the right thing to help open up China.” 

Cecilia Chiang, a chef and entrepreneur credited with popularizing northern Chinese cuisine in the United States, discusses in her oral history the buzz surrounding the state dinner attended by Nixon and Kissinger during their visit. “The menu was printed in all these newspapers in the United States and also the Chinese Newspaper,” recalls Chiang, “People called in. Called in from New York, from Hawaii, called me. ‘Can you duplicate that dinner? That dinner for us. We would like to just fly in just for that dinner.’”

Chiang remembers her surprise at the simplicity of the meal, stating that when she saw the menu, “I started to laugh. They said, ‘Why do you laugh?’ They put bean sprouts on the menu, because China is so poor at the time. No food, no nothing.” 

These interviews contain a wealth of insightful information concerning not just the presidential visit to China, but also the general political climate of US foreign relations in the 1970s. Caroline Service offers the perspective of a family who had by this point been involved in US foreign diplomacy for decades. Otto Lin leverages the Nixon visit in relation to the modern political, cultural, and economic landscape of China. Cecilia Chiang’s oral history provides a glimpse into the culinary landscape of China, a country still struggling with rationing and food shortages in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. 

Shannon White

You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page . Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.

Shannon White is currently a third-year student at UC Berkeley studying Ancient Greek and Latin. They are an undergraduate research apprentice in the Nemea Center under Professor Kim Shelton and a member of the editing staff for the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics . Shannon works as a student editor for the Oral History Center.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. We preserve voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public.

Oral Histories Used Here

Caroline Service: State Dept. Duty in China, The McCarthy Era, and After 1933–1977

Otto C.C. Lin: Promoting Education, Innovation, and Chinese Culture in the Era of Globalization Volume I: Oral History

Cecilia Chiang: An Oral History

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

Cecilia Chiang is included in the Chez Panisse, Inc. pictorial collection . BANC PIC 2001.192.

Caroline Service letters to Lisa Green : TLS and ALS, 1950 Sept.–1995 April. Bancroft BANC MSS 99/81 cz.

Caroline Schulz Service papers, 1919–1997. Bancroft BANC MSS 99/237 cz.

John S. Service papers, 1925–1999. BANC MSS 87/21 cz.

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Nixon's trip to China laid the groundwork for normalizing U.S.-China relations

John Ruwitch headshot

John Ruwitch

It's been 50 years since President Nixon went to China, a trip that changed the world's balance of power. The fate of Taiwan was not addressed, and the issue still stalks U.S.-China relations.


Fifty years ago this week, President Richard Nixon made his famous trip to China. And at the end of it, he had this to say.


RICHARD NIXON: We have been here a week. This was the week that changed the world.

MARTIN: And it did. The trip helped bring China out of isolation and realign the global balance of power. It laid a foundation for the eventual establishment of relations between Beijing and Washington. But the meeting failed to address one major issue, one that's become an even more pressing issue today. NPR's China affairs correspondent John Ruwitch explains.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Shortly after landing in Beijing, as the first U.S. president to set foot in China for more than two decades, Nixon was summoned. Ailing Chinese leader Mao Zedong wanted to meet. An iconic black-and-white photo released afterwards shows Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger sitting with Mao, a translator and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. But there was another American at the meeting that day in Mao's cluttered study.

WINSTON LORD: It was just filled with books and manuscripts all over the place - in the back of Mao, where he sat and all the tables.

RUWITCH: Winston Lord was 34 at the time and an aide to Kissinger.

LORD: There were several very comfortable chairs we sat in, with tea served in between. There was spittoons, standing lamps. Mao, even then, was quite frail. His doctors weren't sure he could do this meeting.

RUWITCH: But the chairman did do the meeting, putting a huge stamp of approval on the controversial visit, and setting the tone in a way that only Mao could do.

LORD: Mao kept deflecting Nixon's efforts to engage in substantive exchanges. He would give a one or two-sentence answer and say, that's something for Premier Zhou Enlai to handle.

RUWITCH: Lord says the Americans were a little disappointed at first.

LORD: But then we realized in the coming days that Mao had rather skillfully, somewhat elliptically and certainly laconically sort of put down a few markers, which gave Zhou Enlai the authority and the structure to elaborate Chinese positions in much greater detail.

RUWITCH: By the end of the week, the two sides had hammered out the Shanghai Communique, a document that has been a cornerstone of U.S.-China relations ever since.

LORD: We pulled it off, I think, very skillfully because the two sides basically agreed to postpone intractable problems, like Taiwan, so we could get on where we could cooperate.

RUWITCH: Where they wanted to cooperate most was in counterbalancing the Soviet Union, which both saw as a threat. At the time, Lord says, Beijing appeared to be happy with the arrangement. The U.S. had diplomatic relations with the ruling Communist Party's arch enemy, the nationalists based in Taiwan. And in the Shanghai Communique, the U.S. crucially acknowledged the Chinese position that Taiwan is a part of China. It was a breakthrough, says Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.

WU XINBO: Before Nixon's visit, the U.S. policy on Taiwan issue was kind of one China, one Taiwan - or two China.

RUWITCH: Indeed, just months earlier, the Nixon administration had tried to keep Taiwan in the United Nations under a two-Chinas formula. Taipei eventually left the U.N. And Beijing was voted in in the fall of 1971. With Nixon's China visit in February of '72...

WU: The U.S. adopted the one-China policy, which means there's one China and Taiwan is part of China. So that's very important for China.

RUWITCH: Washington didn't agree to switch diplomatic relations right away, though. And it kept its defense treaty with Taiwan intact. A couple of weeks after Nixon returned home, the Taiwanese ambassador to the U.S. visited the White House. It was recorded on the Nixon tapes.

JAMES SHEN: Well, Mr. President, I'm going back to Taiwan.

RUWITCH: He asks if Nixon had a message for Taiwan's president, Chiang Kai-shek.

NIXON: I wish him good health. And...

RUWITCH: Nixon wished him good health and said he knew how painful his visit was for Taiwan. But the U.S., he said, had to take the long view in all of this. In the five decades since, Taiwan has remained separate from the mainland. It has thrived economically and politically. But its fate is as unresolved as ever. And tension has been rising as China-U.S. relations stumble. Shelley Rigger, a professor of political science at Davidson College, says the way Nixon warmed relations with China in secret did not go down well in Taiwan.

SHELLEY RIGGER: The Taiwanese absolutely saw this process as a betrayal.

RUWITCH: And, she says, it also created mistrust between Beijing and Washington.

RIGGER: I would argue that Beijing, to this day, looks back on those events as a kind of betrayal and says, you know, there's an original sin here.

WU: I think the discussion between the two sides kind of gave Beijing the reassurance that over time, this issue could be handled in a way satisfactory for Beijing.

RUWITCH: Wu Xinbo of Fudan University says that hasn't happened. And from Beijing's perspective, the U.S. is once again playing the spoiler.

WU: On the Taiwan issue, the U.S. is trying to discover the geopolitical and geo-economic value of Taiwan, and play its card against China by putting Taiwan in the broader framework of U.S. Indo-Pacific project.

RUWITCH: At the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif., there's a room covering the February 1972 China trip. It has statues of Nixon and Zhou Enlai, a video documentary and artifacts, like a tin of panda cigarettes from a banquet. Visitors can also flip through images on a touchscreen display from the yellow legal pads on which Nixon scribbled copious notes. And they're telling.

JOE LOPEZ: This is an interesting one here, this section - what they want, what we want, what we both want.

RUWITCH: Joe Lopez works at the library.

Can you read it?

LOPEZ: Yeah. So what they want, President Nixon writes, build up their world credentials. No. 2, Taiwan. No. 3, get U.S. out of Asia.

RUWITCH: He says the U.S. wanted help ending the war in Vietnam and a reduced threat of confrontation with China.

LOPEZ: What we both want, reduced danger of confrontation and conflict, a more stable Asia and a restraint of USSR.

RUWITCH: The Soviet Union may be gone and the war in Vietnam long over. But from the Chinese perspective, Nixon's words were prophetic. They're building global credentials. They'd probably like the U.S. out of Asia. And Beijing is still trying to get its hands on Taiwan.

John Ruwitch, NPR News.


Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.


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50th Anniversary of Richard and Pat Nixon’s Historic Visit to China

The Education and Public Programs Team at the Nixon Library is pleased to remind you that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) continues to be an excellent source for entertaining and historical content! Simply follow the links below for additional information.

50th Anniversary of Richard and Pat Nixon’s Historic Visit to China

Pat and Dick china.jpg

President Nixon and the First Lady arrive in the People's Republic of China. (WHPO-8636-21A)

Monday, February 21, 2022, will mark the 50th anniversary of President and Mrs. Nixon’s historic visit to the People's Republic of China. Just six years after the start of Mao Zedong’s  cultural revolution , a movement intent on purging the influences of Western civilization from China, the Chairman surprised the world by welcoming both the 37th President of the United States and the First Lady.

Foreign Diplomacy

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President Nixon shakes hands with Premier Chou En-lai (Zhou Enlai), symbolically ending 17 years of Sino-American tension. (WHPO-8498-17)

By 1972, Richard Nixon had already made his mark in the arena of foreign diplomacy traveling overseas  numerous  times during his first term before he visited China to begin  re-establishing diplomatic relations with China . President Nixon’s goal of  détente  with China and Russia in the 1970s eased tensions and increased dialogue between the once adversarial countries.

Pat's Personal Diplomacy

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American delegation at the Ba Da Ling portion of the Great Wall. February 24, 1972. (WHPO-8548-26A)

With this visit, Pat Nixon became the first First Lady to visit the communist nation since its revolution in 1949. An astute diplomat in her own right, Pat read State Department dossiers, studied political ideologies, and even learned phrases in the native tongue to show respect. As with most of her diplomatic travels, she bypassed luncheons to visit local markets, hospitals, orphanages, and schools where average citizens lived and worked. While President Nixon spent the visit negotiating behind closed doors, it was the First Lady’s visible activities that “ were vital to the media and the public realization of the unprecedented visit’s monumental significance .”

Mrs. Nixon sampling an assortment of Chinese food in the kitchen of the Peking Hotel. (WHPO-8508-16)

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Mrs. Nixon visits the Evergreen People's Commune in Peking (Beijing). (WHPO-8529-09A)   

Among the sea of muted, unisex uniforms of the onlookers and political escorts, Pat’s iconic red coat stood out. Her coat, the emblem color of China, gave a tacit nod of respect and also conveyed the  subliminal message  that the wife of a wealthy, capitalist world leader was appearing in the same clothes on numerous days.


Pat Nixon in her signature red coat on the Ming Tombs Sacred Way. (WHPO-8556-25A)

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Pat Nixon touring the Summer Palace in Peking (Beijing). (WHPO-8513-27)

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Visiting the Great Wall of China. (WHPO-8547-32)

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Tea length, red wool coat worn by Pat Nixon during her visit to China in February 1972. Richard Nixon Estate, 2003.19.274.1-.3

Diplomatic gifts and panda-monium.

During his presidency, Nixon often gifted American porcelain sculptures designed by the Boehm Porcelain Company to heads of state. For Chairman Mao Zedong, President Nixon chose a sculpture of mute swans, the  Birds of Peace .

boehm birds.jpg

“1972 Press Photo Edward Boehm Porcelain Sculpture Bird.” Photograph. From Historic Images Outlet: Fall 2019.  https://outlet.historicimages.com/products/rry18325  (accessed February 7, 2022).

During the China trip, Pat Nixon toured the Peking Zoo. After Mrs. Nixon conveyed to Premier Zhou how much she loved her visit to the zoo, he gifted her two giant pandas.

“ Seated next to the Chinese Premier, Mrs. Nixon and Zhou discussed her tours throughout Peking, specifically her visit to the Peking Zoo to see the pandas. On the table in front of her, she noticed a box of cigarettes wrapped in pink tissue and decorated with Chinese pandas. Showing it to him, she remarked how enamored she was with them: “Aren’t they cute? I love them.” “I’ll give you some,” he replied, and arrangements were made to ship two pandas to the National Zoo in Washington. ”

On April 16th, 1972, Pat Nixon welcomed the furry goodwill ambassadors to Washington’s National Zoo.  Panda-monium  ensued after the arrival of Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing; the two pandas drew a reported  20,000 visitors  on their first day.

The gift of two giant pandas to Pat Nixon demonstrated “ both the political power of the First Lady and the early commitment by both nations to work together to foster improved Sino-American relations .” Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing spent twenty years together at the Smithsonian National Zoo until their passing in the 1990s. In 2000, the Chinese government reached an agreement with the United States for two new giant pandas. Mei Xiang and Tian Tianat will reside at  Smithsonian's National Zoo  until their return to China in  2023 .


A giant panda at the Peking Zoo. (WHPO-8515-35A)

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First Lady Pat Nixon formally welcomed the pandas on April 16, 1972. (WHPO-8931-15 and 33)

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Mrs. Nixon and a giant panda at the National Zoo on December 21, 1973. (WHPO-E2027-07A)

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This book is a gift from the Director of the National Zoological Park, who led the expedition to China to bring back the two pandas.  Ling-Ling & Hsing-Hsing, Year of the Panda by Larry R. Collins and James K. Page, Jr. along with co-authors The Pandas and their keepers: Tex Rowe, Curley Harper, Mike Johnson and Dave Bryan. Published in 1973. Gift of Dr. Theodore H. Reed to First Lady Pat Nixon, D.1973.578.a-b

Museum offerings.

This Monday, February 21, 2022, is the 50th anniversary of President Nixon’s visit to China.  Visitors  can relive the historic moment, view artifacts, and explore the relationship between the United States and China at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California.


The permanent exhibit of "The Week that Changed the World" in the Main Gallery of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

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Chairman Mao Zedong shakes hands with U.S. President Richard Nixon in Beijing, Feb. 21, 1972. /Photo from Nixon Presidential Library

president visit to china

President Richard Nixon shakes hands with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai as First Lady Pat Nixon looks on. /White House Photo

president visit to china

President and Mrs. Nixon visit the Great Wall of China /Photo from nixonfoundation.org

president visit to china

Gerald Ford makes remarks at a reciprocal dinner in 1975 in the Great Hall of the People. /Photo from pbslearningmedia.org

president visit to china

Gerald Ford, Betty Ford, Vice Premier Deng Xiao Ping, and Deng's Interpreter have a conversation during an informal meeting in Beijing in 1975. /Photo from pbslearningmedia.org

president visit to china

Betty Ford shares a dance move with one of the students while touring the Central May 7th College of Art in Beijing in 1975. /Photo from pbslearningmedia.org

president visit to china

Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy visit the terracotta warriors in Xi'an in 1984. /Xinhua Photo

president visit to china

Deng Xiaoping met Ronald Reagan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, April 28, 1984. /Photo from china-embassy.org

president visit to china

Ronald Reagan and his wife visit the Great Wall on April 28, 1984. /Time Photo

president visit to china

Deng Xiaoping meets with George H. W. Bush in Beijing on Feb. 26, 1989. /Xinhua Photo

president visit to china

Then Chinese Premier Li Peng presents a bike as a gift to George H. W. Bush during his visit to China on Feb. 25, 1989. /Xinhua Photo

president visit to china

George H. W. Bush and his wife visit Tiananmen Square in Beijingin 1989. /Time Photo

president visit to china

Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea visit Beijing's Forbidden City, June 28, 1998. /China Daily Photo

president visit to china

Then Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton are at a state banquet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 1998. /White House Photo

president visit to china

Bill Clinton, alongside Hilary Clinton and their daughter, climb the Great Wall in 1998. /Xinhua Photo

president visit to china

George W. Bush speaks at Tsinghua University in 2002. /Photo from Tsinghua University

president visit to china

Then President Jiang Zemin and George W. Bush are at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Shanghai in October 2001. /Photo from china-embassy.org

president visit to china

George W. Bush (2nd R), his father and former president George H.W. Bush (L), first lady Laura Bush (R) and China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi applaud at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Aug. 10, 2008. /China Daily Photo

president visit to china

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Barack Obama in Hangzhou, capital city of east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 3, 2016. /Xinhua Photo

president visit to china

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Barack Obama drink tea together in a pavilion at West Lake State Guest House on Sept 3, 2016. /Xinhua Photo

president visit to china

Barack Obama visits the Badaling section of the Great Wall in Beijing on Nov. 18, 2009. /Xinhua Photo

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BREAKING: Senate rejects House Republicans' impeachment of Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas after three hours of deliberation

‘No detail too small’: How the U.S. and China planned President Xi’s visit

Xi Jinping and Joe Biden shake hands.

WASHINGTON — A presidential meeting at an undisclosed location. Students lining the streets waving Chinese flags. A $2,000-per-plate dinner with the most powerful business executives in America.

Every aspect of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to California this week has been highly choreographed, down to what he sees outside the window during a motorcade ride and what camera angle he’s recorded from, according to people familiar with the planning. 

“There is no detail too small,” said Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific.

Any meeting between two heads of state involves a degree of pomp and circumstance, but President Joe Biden’s long-awaited sit-down with Xi on Wednesday is the product of a painstaking process to accommodate China’s many requests. The behind-the-scenes effort is a sign of Beijing’s anxiety over the optics that could result from Xi’s first visit to the U.S. in six years.

Overall, China is looking for Xi’s trip to California to be seen as a “grand visit,” officials said.

The White House isn’t even sharing the precise location of Wednesday ’s meeting , with officials publicly citing “operational security” concerns but privately conceding the Chinese didn’t want it disclosed to try to minimize protests. To try to visually overwhelm any protests, Chinese officials are expected to bring in students from across California to wave Chinese flags and show support for Xi. The move is meant to ensure Xi has a “pleasant visual” as he moves from event to event, a former official familiar with the planning said.

“Those will be the pictures that will be beamed back home,” said Victor Cha, a former National Security Council director for Asian affairs.

“Nothing can go wrong. It has to be 100% perfect,” Cha said, adding that the goal for the Chinese is that Xi be “treated like an emperor, and anything short of that or embarrassing is really the absolute worst thing that can happen for them.”

The U.S. also has cleaned up San Francisco, including clearing out encampments of people experiencing homelessness and sprucing up the streets.

Chinese officials have privately expressed concern to their U.S. counterparts about what Xi will experience during his travel, according to people familiar with the discussions.

They insisted that the meeting be held before a broader gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders in San Francisco this week and at a location entirely separate from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit site, two current and former U.S. officials said. China’s request was designed to elevate Xi’s stature above that of the other world leaders traveling to California this week, the officials said.

Another event where Xi will optically stand a cut above his counterparts is scheduled to take place Wednesday evening.

After he meets with Biden, Xi is scheduled to headline a $2,000-a-plate dinner with top U.S. CEOs and other dignitaries, officials said. They said that Biden isn’t expected be there because he’ll be hosting a separate dinner but that some high-level administration officials might attend. 

Xi plans to deliver a major address at the dinner, which is being organized by American think tanks, including the Asia Society and the U.S. China Business Council, officials said. The evening also will include a private VIP reception beforehand for key executives, they said.

The Chinese are keenly focused on courting the business community, as U.S. investment in China has been sliding in recent years, a huge priority area for Xi during the California visit. The CEOs dinner is also meant as a signal to Washington, according to experts, about the strong ties the Chinese government has with some influential business leaders, as the Chinese economy struggles to recover post-pandemic.

“It’s crucial for those business leaders to listen to Chinese senior officials about what’s happening [with China’s economy] and to solve the doubts they have in mind,” said Mike Liu, a vice president and senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization.

Xi last visited the U.S. in 2017 , when he went to Florida to meet with President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate. 

Xi last spoke with Biden a year ago this week at a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market nations. Relations soured three months later after the Biden administration shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had flown over the U.S. and Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled a trip to Beijing.

Biden administration officials have spent the months since then trying to reduce tensions with China, with the goal of getting a meeting between the two leaders on the calendar. In that sense, the U.S. also has incentive to make sure Xi feels his visit was a success, and it has worked to accommodate China’s requests. 

One of China’s requests was the timing of formally announcing Wednesday’s meeting, an administration official said. China wanted to delay an announcement until Monday, just two days before the meeting, another U.S. official said. The White House compromised and agreed to announce it Friday, though officials wanted to make it public earlier, the official said.

The accommodating approach is a contrast to how China has handled some U.S. presidents’ visits to China. In 2016, for instance, President Barack Obama exited Air Force One from a small staircase in the belly of the plane after a lengthy debate on the ground between U.S. and Chinese officials over using a larger staircase that is typically rolled out for a red-carpet tarmac greeting.  

Campbell, the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, said that for this trip by Xi, administration officials have been involved in discussions with the Chinese about “every possible aspect of the visit,” from camera angles to seating arrangements.

“I think both sides want a high degree of predictability when our two leaders really sit down opposite each other,” he said.

An unpredictable dynamic for Biden that could sour the optics for his goal of presenting the U.S. as economically strong and an example of a thriving democracy: a potential government shutdown .

The federal government is set to run out of funding Friday, the last scheduled day of the Asia-Pacific summit. If there is no agreement on Capitol Hill before then, it’s possible Biden would return to Washington early, officials said, and his engagements in San Francisco would be cut short. On Monday, White House officials suggested a shutdown could be avoided, as well as a scenario that would be less than ideal for U.S. officials who hope a domestic crisis doesn’t overshadow an important global moment hosted by the president.

president visit to china

Monica Alba is a White House correspondent for NBC News.

president visit to china

Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

China’s Xi Jinping arrives in US ahead of summit with Joe Biden

Xi is on his first visit to the US in six years as Washington looks to cool tensions with Beijing.

Xi waves from the plane after arriving in San Franciso.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in the United States for his first visit in six years, after US President Joe Biden said his goal in their bilateral talks this week was to restore normal communications with Beijing, including military-to-military contacts.

Xi is due to meet Biden near San Francisco on Wednesday morning US time, before attending the annual summit of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping.

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The summit will be their first face-to-face meeting in a year and follows months of high-level meetings to prepare the ground, after tensions between the two countries spiked over issues from trade to human rights and the pandemic.

Speaking ahead of his departure, Biden said his goal was simply to improve the bilateral relationship.

“We’re not trying to decouple from China. What we’re trying to do is change the relationship for the better,” Biden told reporters at the White House before heading to San Francisco.

Asked what he hoped to achieve at the meeting, he said he wanted “to get back on a normal course of corresponding; being able to pick up the phone and talk to one another if there’s a crisis; being able to make sure our [militaries] still have contact with one another”.

Xi waved from the door of his Air China plane before walking down the steps to meet US officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, who were waiting on the tarmac.

He is on his first visit to US since 2017 when he met then president Donald Trump.

Xi Jinping supporters waving Chinese and US flags outside his hotel.

China, which regularly talks about “red lines” on issues such as the self-ruled island Taiwan, which it claims as its own and its expansive claims in the South China Sea , has been more circumspect about its expectations for the summit.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry mentioned only “in-depth communication” and “major issues concerning world peace” when asked about the meeting this week.

Nevertheless, analysts said the very fact the talks were taking place was significant.

“The importance of the much-expected meeting between President Biden and President Xi in San Francisco cannot be understated, no matter the likely shallowness of the outcomes,” Alicia Garcia Herrero of investment banking group Natixis wrote in an analysis ahead of the summit.

Protests expected

Crowds gathered along the route of Xi’s motorcade to the luxury hotel where the Chinese delegation is staying.

Some held signs that read “End CCP,” the initials of Chinese Communist Party. Another sign read “Warmly Welcome President Xi Jinping” and was stuck to concrete bollards.

Outside the hotel, several hundred Beijing supporters waved US and Chinese flags as they waited and played the patriotic song Ode to the Motherland through loudspeakers

Scuffles broke out with the few anti-Xi protesters who were there, but police quickly intervened to restore calm.

Pro-China and anti-China demonstrators also gathered near the Moscone Center, the venue where many of the APEC meetings were being held. Larger protests, including by rights groups critical of Xi’s policies in Tibet, Hong Kong and towards Muslim Uyghurs, are expected near the summit venue on Wednesday.

A large banner outside the APEC venue reading 'Dictator Xi Jinping, your time is up! Free Tibet'. It is being held by several Tibetan students

Xi and Biden are expected to meet at Filoli Estate, a country house museum about 40km (25 miles) south of San Francisco, the Associated Press news agency reported, citing three senior officials in the US administration who requested anonymity. The venue has not yet been confirmed by the White House and Chinese government.

While economic issues are likely to be high on the agenda of the meeting, including steps to curb the production of the potent synthetic opioid drug fentanyl , increasing geopolitical tensions are likely to dominate discussions.

White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that Biden and Xi would talk about the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza as well as Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine .

While Washington has sought to reset ties with China, it has also signalled that will not be at the expense of key US concerns.

Biden is “not going to be afraid to – to confront where confrontation is needed on issues where we don’t see eye to eye with President Xi and the PRC,” Kirby said, using the initials for the People’s Republic of China.

President Joe Biden arriving at the airport in San Francisco, He is near the bottom of the plane steps and two guards on either side are saluting

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told APEC ministers that the US believed in “a region where economies are free to choose their own path … where goods, ideas, people flow lawfully and freely”.

Blinken did not mention China by name, but his language echoed US rhetoric in recent years in which Washington has accused China of bullying smaller countries in the Asia Pacific and trying to undermine what the US and its allies call the “rules-based” international order.

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This Day In History : April 26

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President Reagan visits China

president visit to china

On April 26, 1984, President Ronald Reagan arrives in China for a diplomatic meeting with Chinese President Li Xiannian. The trip marked the third time a U.S. president had traveled to China since President Richard Nixon’s historic trip in 1972 (Gerald Ford visited in 1975).

First lady Nancy Reagan accompanied her husband to China, along with approximately 600 journalists, a slew of Secret Service agents and, according to BBC reports, officials who guard the codes for launching nuclear missiles. The Reagans toured historical and cultural sites in Beijing and attended a dinner in their honor hosted by Li.

Reagan’s trip highlighted his administration’s desire to improve diplomacy with China in light of the growing economic relationship between the two nations. Other topics of discussion between the two leaders over the course of the six-day trip included the development of commercial nuclear power in China and China’s displeasure with continuing U.S. support for nationalists in Taiwan.

After communists took over power in China in 1949, successive American presidents had refused to recognize the new Chinese government and supported pro-democratic nationalists who had been exiled on the island of Taiwan, off the coast of China. U.S. support for Taiwan included sales of arms, which infuriated the communist government in Beijing. President Nixon made tentative diplomatic overtures to China in 1969 and, in October 1970, told a Time reporter if there’s anything I want to do before I die it’s go to China. In 1971, he led the U.S. government in officially recognizing the communist Chinese government and became the first American president to visit China the next year. It was not until 1984 that another president, Reagan, would travel to China in an attempt to resolve remaining diplomatic differences.

During his visit, President Reagan impressed reporters and dignitaries with his occasional attempts to speak Chinese. However, the trip failed to break through the deadlock between China and the U.S. over the issue of Taiwanese independence.

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The German chancellor presses China on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, second from right, walk together in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Ding Haitao/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, second from right, walk together in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Ding Haitao/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pose for a photo at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during a press conference in Beijing, China, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is on a 3 day visit to China. (Andres Martinez Casares, Pool Photo via AP)

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pose for a photo in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)

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BEIJING (AP) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he asked Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Tuesday to pressure Russia to end its “insane campaign” in Ukraine, the latest in a parade of European leaders and senior officials to make such an appeal.

The Chinese side gave no sign of any change in its position, which has been to blame Europe and the U.S. for prolonging the fighting by supplying Ukraine with weapons and calling for peace negotiations that recognize Russian as well as Ukrainian concerns.

“China is not a party to the Ukraine crisis but has consistently promoted talks for peace in its own way,” read a Chinese statement following talks between Xi and Scholz in the Chinese capital.

Scholz, winding up a three-day visit to China, told journalists that he believes “a building block has been put in place” that will contribute to discussions on diplomatic efforts to end the war .

Earlier, he said in a post on the social media platform X that he had asked Xi to use his influence with Russia.

“China’s word carries weight in Russia. So I asked President Xi to bear upon Russia so that Putin finally breaks off his insane campaign, withdraws his troops and ends this terrible war,” he wrote.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, blood is seen next to a car damaged by Russian missile strike in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP Photo)

China has broken with the West in refusing to criticize Russia’s invasion. While the government says it is not sending military aid to Moscow, it has provided an economic lifeline by growing trade with Russia, helping it cope with Western sanctions. A U.S. intelligence report last week found Beijing has increased equipment sales to Moscow to indirectly boost its war effort against Ukraine.

Scholz said the talks had addressed China’s exports of so-called dual-use goods, which can have both civilian and military purposes.

“There is an absolute insistence that there be no weapons exports, but the question of dual-use also must not be ignored,” he said. “And it was possible to bring up everything that is necessary here in a way that it can’t be misunderstood.”

Scholz also said the use of nuclear weapons should not even be threatened, according to a German government transcript of his remarks at the start of the meeting with Xi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last month that his government is ready to use nuclear weapons if its sovereignty or independence is threatened, his latest such threat since invading Ukraine.

A Chinese statement said the two leaders noted that China and Germany stand committed to the U.N. Charter and oppose the use of nuclear weapons.

“China encourages and supports all efforts that are conducive to the peaceful resolution of the crisis, and supports the holding in due course of an international peace conference that is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine and ensures the equal participation of all parties and fair discussions on all peace plans,” the Chinese statement said.

On trade, Xi told Scholz that their two countries should stay vigilant against the rise of protectionism and take an objective view of the issue of manufacturing capacity, according to the statement.

The German leader’s visit has underscored trade-related tensions as the European Union and the United States complain that China is competing unfairly through the use of subsidies that have created massive production capacity, particularly for solar panels, electric cars and other green-energy products.

The EU is mulling tariffs to protect its producers against cheaper Chinese electrical vehicle imports , which some fear will flood the European market.

Scholz, meeting separately with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, called for concrete improvements in several areas for German companies operating in China, including market access, fair competition, intellectual property protection and the legal system.

“In order for these companies to be able to continue doing so, they need the right conditions,” he said.

Despite the political and trade frictions, China was Germany’s top trading partner for the eighth straight year in 2023, with 254.1 billion euros ($271 billion) in goods and services exchanged between the sides, slightly more than what Germany traded with the U.S. but a 15.5% contraction from the year before.

This is Scholz’s second trip to China since he became chancellor in late 2021. It is his first visit since the German government last year presented its China strategy, which met with criticism from Beijing . Li, the Chinese premier, visited Berlin in June.

Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin and Christopher Bodeen in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

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Taiwan, China can resolve differences, ex-president says after meeting Xi

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Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou speaks to the media at Taoyuan international airport after concluding his 12-day trip to China in Taoyuan

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Biden and Kishida Agree to Tighten Military and Economic Ties to Counter China

President Biden is hosting Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, for a state visit as part of a broad diplomatic outreach.

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President Biden stands with Jill Biden to his left and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife, Yuko Kishida, to his right. They are standing on the balcony of the White House, with military band members flanking them.

By Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear

Reporting from the White House Rose Garden

President Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan announced a range of moves on Wednesday to further enhance military, economic and other cooperation between the two longtime allies as part of the president’s efforts to counter China’s aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific region.

During a pomp-filled ceremony honoring the visiting Japanese prime minister, the president said the United States and Japan would create an expanded defense architecture with Australia, participate in three-way military exercises with Britain and explore ways for Japan to join a U.S.-led coalition with Australia and Britain.

Mr. Biden also announced that the United States would take a Japanese astronaut to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program, which would be the first time a non-American has set foot on the moon.

“This is the most significant upgrade of our alliance since it was first established,” Mr. Biden said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden along with the prime minister.

Mr. Kishida made a point of reaffirming Japan’s “strong support for Ukraine” in its war against Russia, a key priority for Mr. Biden, and framed the European conflict in terms of the precedent it could set in Japan’s neighborhood. “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow,” Mr. Kishida said.

Biden Hosts Japan’s Prime Minister at the White House

President biden called the united states and japan “the closest of friends” during a welcoming ceremony for prime minister fumio kishida..

Just a few generations ago, our two nations were locked in a devastating conflict. It would have been easy to say we remain adversaries. Instead, we made a far better choice: We became the closest of friends. Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Kishida, welcome back to the White House.

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Mr. Biden’s statements on Wednesday fit into a long history of American presidents declaring that the U.S.-Japan relationship was the most important bilateral alliance in the world.

In preparation for the state visit, Mr. Biden’s aides described the closer military link as one of the biggest upgrades of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which dates back to early 1960, an Eisenhower-era innovation to turn a former World War II enemy into what later presidents called America’s “biggest aircraft carrier in the Pacific.”

There has always been a bit of hyperbole to the statement. But as the perceived threat from China has grown, Japan has been the linchpin of broader U.S. efforts to unify its separate allies in the region — especially South Korea and the Philippines — into a coordinated force.

The prime minister’s visit comes at the same time Mr. Biden is strengthening the American partnership with the Philippines, which also finds itself the target of a mounting Chinese military presence in the South China Sea. On Thursday, Mr. Biden and Mr. Kishida will meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines to demonstrate their joint commitment.

The day began with a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn, where Mr. Biden hailed the relationship between the United States and Japan as a “cornerstone of peace, security, prosperity” and said that President Eisenhower’s promise of an “indestructible partnership” had been achieved.

“Just a few generations ago, our two nations were locked in a devastating conflict,” Mr. Biden said after he and Mr. Kishida watched a procession of U.S. military honor guards upon the prime minister’s arrival at the White House. “It would have been easy to say we remain adversaries. Instead, we made a far better choice: We became the closest of friends.”

The Biden administration signaled the importance of its relationship with Tokyo by holding an official state dinner on Wednesday evening in honor of Mr. Kishida, something reserved for America’s closest allies.

The visit comes amid hand-wringing in Washington and Tokyo over the possibility of a return to power by former President Donald J. Trump, whose unpredictable foreign policy kept many world leaders on edge. One goal for Mr. Biden, officials said, is to create as much permanence in the Japanese relationship as possible before the election in November.

One administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the upcoming meeting, said there was “anxiety in capitals” around the world, including in Tokyo, about whether Mr. Trump would continue the international engagement that Mr. Biden and prior presidents have embraced. Another official said there was a real risk that Mr. Trump, if re-elected, could move to undo what the leaders of the two countries announced on Wednesday.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Kishida outlined greater coordination and integration between the military forces of both countries, including the formation of a joint defense council that could support more defense-related exports of equipment produced in Japan. And officials agreed on new cooperation on ventures in space and collaboration between research institutions working on artificial intelligence, semiconductors and clean energy.

“The American alliance system has helped bring peace and stability to the Indo-Pacific for decades, and now we need to update and upgrade that alliance network for the modern age,” said Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser. “It goes way beyond security. It’s economics. It’s technology. It’s infrastructure development. And it’s diplomacy. And that’s all going to be on display in the meeting with the prime minister.”

Rahm Emanuel, the United States ambassador to Japan, called the meeting a chance for the two nations to go beyond America’s work to protect Japan and to “write the first chapter of the next era” of cooperation as they work together to project power throughout the region.

That would be a more far-reaching relationship than the United States has historically had with Japan, which for decades after World War II restricted its spending on defense and its engagement around the world.

That began to change during the past several years, under Mr. Kishida, who pushed to expand defense spending and participate in global efforts like the sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Administration officials said Japan’s new willingness to become a full partner with the United States on the global stage has taken the alliance between the two countries to a new level.

But there are still some tensions. The two leaders had to dance carefully around Mr. Biden’s reluctance to let a Japanese firm buy a storied U.S. steel maker. That struck national security experts as strange, since such deals are usually blocked only when they give critical technology to adversaries, not allies.

“The idea that you block the acquisition of a company by one of your closest allies makes no sense in alliance-building terms,” said Joseph S. Nye Jr., an emeritus professor at Harvard who designed many of the defense cooperation strategies with Japan in the Clinton administration.

The meeting on Thursday between Mr. Biden, Mr. Kishida and Mr. Marcos represents a more aggressive effort by the United States and its allies to isolate China — rather than allowing the Chinese leadership to intimidate and isolate its neighbors in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

The Thursday meeting will be the first time that the leaders of the three nations have met together, officials said.

“We’re continuing to deepen our cooperation with our closest partners to ensure what we’ve talked about many times from this podium and elsewhere: a free, open and prosperous Indo Pacific,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters during a briefing at the White House on Tuesday.

Mr. Sullivan declined to say whether Mr. Biden would raise with Mr. Kishida the issue of plans by Nippon Steel, a Japanese corporation, to acquire U.S. Steel , the struggling manufacturer based in Pittsburgh. Mr. Biden has publicly said that he will have “the backs” of union steel workers, indicating his opposition to the deal.

“You guys all know Joe Biden,” he said. “You’ve seen Joe Biden. He’s been very clear that he’s going to stand up for American workers. He’s going to defend your interests. He’s also been very clear that he is going to make sure that the U.S.-Japan alliance is the strongest it’s ever been.”

But administration officials said later on Tuesday that they did not think the subject would come up between the two leaders on Wednesday because both men already know the position of the other.

Mr. Biden greeted Mr. Kishida on Tuesday evening for a brief arrival at the White House. Later, the two leaders and their wives went to BlackSalt, an upscale seafood restaurant in Washington, for a more casual dinner ahead of the formal events on Wednesday.

White House officials said the couples had exchanged a series of gifts on Tuesday evening, a diplomatic tradition for such events. The official gift from Mr. Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, was a three-legged table that was handmade by a Japanese American-owned company in Pennsylvania.

Other gifts included a lithograph and a two-volume LP set autographed by Billy Joel and a vintage vinyl record collection. Dr. Biden gave Ms. Kishida a framed painting of the Yoshino cherry tree that the two had planted on the South Lawn last spring, and a soccer ball signed by the U.S. women’s national soccer team and the Japanese women’s team.

At the state dinner, the White House was scheduled to serve a meal that would include house-cured salmon and dry-aged rib-eye steak with blistered shishito pepper butter.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

An earlier version of this article misstated which countries belong to a security pact that Japan may join. Its members are the United States, Australia and Britain, not the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of a home page headline with this article misstated the surname of Japan’s prime minister. He is Fumio Kishida, not Fushida.

How we handle corrections

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The Times. He has covered the last five presidents and sometimes writes analytical pieces that place presidents and their administrations in a larger context and historical framework. More about Peter Baker

Michael D. Shear is a White House correspondent for The New York Times, covering President Biden and his administration. He has reported on politics for more than 30 years. More about Michael D. Shear


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