US-China Relationship (1949-2000)

Flags of the US and China

This is 3rd article in a series of 3 Articles in which we will try to understand: How did US became US? How did global power dynamics worked during cold War? and About the US-China relationship

In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took the power of mainland China by eliminating the Nationalist government (under Chiang Kia-Shek) and declared China as the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The nationalist government left the administration of the Republic of China (ROC), as it was called, and fled to Taiwan, from there they tried to gain power on the mainland.

Until 1972, US and its allies recognized the Republic of China government as the true government of the whole China. US tried to break, disrupt, destabilize, weaken China’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In order to do so, it formed military alliances with its closer countries like Japan, North Korea, Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. US stationed a huge number of military resources (troops, arms, and ammunition, etc.) in this region, especially Japan and South Korea.

 In 1954, the First Taiwan Strait crisis occurred, PRC forces massed along the coast opposite Taiwan, against Nationalist-led Taiwan. US-supported Taiwan by blocking the entrance of PRC troops. In the same year, US-led Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) was formed in order to combat the spread of communism in the region, nations like Thailand and Philippines were members of it. Pakistan too joined SEATO as it wanted US support against India. US also refrained itself and its western allies from having any diplomatic and trade relations with China.

Till the 1950s, China and Soviet were considered natural allies. However, due to ideological disputes, differences over the right economic model and failure in recognizing each other as equals, etc. led to an intense rivalry between the two communist nations. As 1960 came, Soviet replaced US as being China’s biggest threat. China had an ambition to lead the communist world as a result it started interfering in conflicts of other nations like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Korea. In 1964, China did its first nuclear test, this test came when US-China tensions were at their peak due to China’s interference in Vietnam.

Chinese communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong shakes hands with American president Richard Nixon in
Peking (Beijing) during his visit to China.

But Sino-Soviet rivalry pushed China towards US for technological, economic, and military support. As 1970 approached, conflicts between these two nations started reducing. In 1971, China invited US ping-pong team to have a game with the Chinese team, it also allowed journalists to accompany US team. This was happening first time since 1949. US President Richard Nixon (1969-1974), after a visit to China in 1972, encouraged the UN to recognize its communist Chinese government. Also, signed Shanghai communique under which both nations promised to move towards normalization of the US-China relationship and reduce international military conflicts. US also agreed with China’s position over Taiwan and promised to withdraw its troop from the island in a progressive manner.  

In 1979, US-China established full diplomatic relations, but in order to do so US has to break its diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, US congress passed Taiwan Relations Act which allowed US to maintain a friendly, commercial, and cultural relationship with Taiwan, further US will help Taiwan maintaining its self-defense and also declared if mainland China attacks Taiwan, US will come for its aid. China was left only with the ‘Peaceful’ option for resolving the Taiwan conflict. US wanted China to open up politically and economically and involve in the global economy and institution and accept the international status quo. China too cooperated as it wanted advanced technology and technical support from US.

CHINA – MAY 28: Chai Ling, student movement leader in Beijing, China on May 28, 1989.

In 1989, thousands of students protested in Beijing Tiananmen Square against the government for democratic reforms and end of corruption, but the Chinese government dealt with this by sending military troops and killed hundreds of protesters. In retaliation to this breach of basic human rights, US and its allies, imposed sanctions on China like stopping the sale of arms, etc. although diplomatic relations were maintained as before.

In 1999, During NATO airstrikes on Serbia, U.S. planes accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three and wounding twenty. This sparked a wave of anti-U.S. demonstrations throughout China, with multiple attacks on U.S. diplomatic properties, in particular the embassy in Beijing. Tensions eased after an apology from President Bill Clinton and the visit of a special envoy to Beijing.

Other than these few incidents, no major dispute happened between US and China

In 2000, President Clinton signed the U.S.-China Relations Act, granting Beijing permanent normal trade relations with the United States and paving the way for China to join the World Trade Organization in 2001. Between 1980 and 2004, U.S.-China trade rises from $5 billion to $231 billion. In 2006, China surpasses Mexico as the United States’ second-biggest trade partner, after Canada. 

Categories: History, International Affairs

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