Looking Back On Nixon's Trip To China

Forty years ago Tuesday, President Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China. Renee Montagne looks back on that day in 1972.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It was 40 years ago today that President Richard Nixon made history and surprised the world. He became the first sitting American president to visit China.

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ANNOUNCER: On hand to greet him in Peking were Premier Chou Enlai, other officials ,and a 500-man military guard, but no large crowds of onlookers. The president and Henry Kissinger were whisked away to a one hour meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Nixon's trip came at the peak of Cold War tensions between East and West. By 1972, the U.S. and China had gone nearly a quarter of a century with almost no official contact – not since 1948, when the communists take over of mainland China.

At a state banquet with Prime Minister Chou Enlai, Mr. Nixon predicted a transformational outcome.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Mr. Prime Minister, I wish to thank you for your very gracious and eloquent remarks. What we do here can change the world.

MONTAGNE: Relations between the two nations, at first, were mostly symbolic - pandas loaned to American zoos, ping pong tournaments, that sort of thing. But 40 years later, trade between the two countries has hit almost a half a trillion dollars a year. It's now predicted that four years from now, China's economy will be bigger than the U.S.'s. So the world does, indeed, seem to have changed.

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