President Richard Nixon entered office with a grand plan to reshuffle the geopolitical deck. China had top billing in his designs, and an opening to Beijing was within reach.

Nixon’s strategic opening to Beijing in 1972 marked a momentous change in U.S. foreign policy. It realigned China from a Communist revolutionary adversary to a “normal” authoritarian partner in the Cold War.  Today, many in the U.S. believe that strategic bet has failed. China has become much richer, but it has not become freer. If anything, its increased wealth has equipped the Chinese Communist party to devote even more resources to maintaining its authoritarian rule and monopoly on power.

This Weekend Seminar, led by Asia expert Dan Blumenthal, will explore the historic circumstances and strategic conditions that led to rapprochement between the U.S. and China. Did we get China wrong in 1972?   Is it fair to judge a policy from the height of the Cold War by today’s circumstances? And in light of that question, how should we think about the U.S.-China relationship today?

Images courtesy National Archives via WikiCommons | Nixon White House via WikiCommons

Daniel Blumenthal on the rise of China


Daniel Blumenthal

Daniel Blumenthal is the Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and Sino-American relations. Mr. Blumenthal has both served in and advised the U.S. government on China issues for over a decade.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session




  1. What was the geopolitical situation in the late 1960s? In the global Cold War, who had the strategic upper hand—the US or the Soviet Union?
  2. What was President Nixon’s initial approach to China upon taking office in January 1969? What was the Soviet approach? How did each relate its China strategy to its Cold War strategy?
  3. Describe China’s strategic situation during this period. How did Mao understand the Cold War and China’s role in the conflict? Why did China enter the Vietnam War, and how did the war alter the strategic environment?
  4. How did domestic political concerns shape each country’s strategy or decision-making? What role did ideology play?




  1. With what objectives did the US and China enter into negotiations — especially as they concerned Vietnam (Indochina), Taiwan, the Soviet Union, Korea, South Asia, and normalizing relations? What were the underlying strategic assumptions of each side?




  1. Why did Mao invite Nixon to China? What was his rationale in accepting? What was Nixon’s strategy going into the negotiations? What was Mao’s?
  2. How did the Soviet Union respond to Nixon’s visit? US allies, like Japan and Taiwan?
  3. What was the Shanghai Communiqué, and what did it achieve? How does it compare to the objectives of the key players at the beginning of US-China negotiations?
  4. Who emerged as the winners and losers post-negotiations? How do you judge the performance of the key decision-makers in Washington and Beijing?



  1. How did the geopolitical situation change following US-China rapprochement? Did any country emerge with the strategic upper hand?
  2. Did Deng’s strategy represent a break with Mao? Why or why not?
  3. How did Nixon’s visit shape US policy toward China in the years to come? In what ways was “engagement” a success; in what ways, a failure?
  4. What different decisions might the US and China have made over the past 30 years that would have produced a better outcome in Sino-American relations today?

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