The Communique issued in Shanghai, in February 1972 at the conclusion of President Richard M. Nixon’s astonishing visit to China, is instructive, reinforced as it is by the transcripts of the extended conversations engaged in on that occasion at the highest levels of the Chinese and American governments of that day. Particularly instructive for us was Mr. Nixon’s performance on that occasion, an occasion being celebrated here in Chicago today on its fortieth anniversary.
We can be challenged to wonder about the tolerance shown then by the Chinese leaders for a projected involvement by the United States in the affairs of Taiwan, even to the extent of continuing to provide American military as well as economic aid to the Taiwanese authorities. The Chinese seemed only to require for the time being what they did get with respect to this matter, an explicit American recognition that Taiwan is to be regarded by everyone as forever a part of China.
The Chinese participants in that 1972 Conference seem to have been moved to accept (at least for the time being) this remarkable arrangement with respect to American-Taiwanese military relations by two critical factors—the desire to advance their country’s interests in the world economy and a growing concern to protect China from what they considered ominous military movements along its northern border by the Russian (movements which the American military had been able to track better than the Chinese could, it seems). What the United States was doing (or not doing) in Indochina (and especially in Vietnam) seemed of secondary interest in February 1972, at least for the Chinese.
There can be for an American reader, previously unfamiliar with these 1972 documents, a feature which is both instructive and sobering—and that is how astute, and even statesmanlike, President Nixon could appear during the many hours of conversation recorded on that occasion. It can be chastening for all of us to be reminded of perhaps inherent human limitations that could lead a gifted politician to allow himself to be mired down (and thus to be politically destroyed) by something as trivial (and yet as obviously suicidal) as the now-notorious Watergate Cover-up.
Also sobering is the apparent willingness of American officials, eager to advance their important foreign policy goals (especially with respect to Vietnam), to ignore, if not even to sacrifice, the legitimate concerns of the Tibetans and others about the Western-territories measures of the Chinese regime (concerns of which we have been reminded recently by a series of dreadful fiery suicides as protests). Even more sobering, of course, is the pervasive tyranny to which hundreds of millions of Mainland Chinese have been subjected for decades, something that it would be unnatural to expect the Taiwanese Chinese to look forward to sharing. Should it not be expected that Chinese living elsewhere, in far more relaxed regimes such as the United States, would not want a substantial extension of such tyranny (dramatized by the 1989 Tiananman Square massacres) to peoples (such as on Taiwan) accustomed to a much freer way of life?
The heartless follies of Mao Tse-tung [Mao Zedong] and his successors have been matched somewhat by the misadventures of American governments in recent decades. Particularly destructive was the unbelievably suicidal drive up to the Yalu River by American forces understandably responding (at least originally) to North Korean aggression in South Korea in 1950, a drive which in turn provoked an irrational Chinese response that severely distorted American-Chinese relations for a generation.
Then, a half-century later (after what should have been an instructive debacle in Vietnam) there was the bizarre American drive (in 2003) into Iraq, as a result of which (it has been estimated) perhaps as many as 100,000 innocent Iraqis have died. It remains to be seen, of course, how that long-troubled and curiously immature people will conduct themselves (on their own) during the next decade.
Our Iraqi follies have been perhaps our most dubious response to the criminal September Eleventh assaults which took four thousand American lives a decade ago. Also dubious have been many of the Security measures resorted to by us in a misconceived “War on Terror,” measures which include highly questionable executions worldwide (by drones and otherwise) of persons unilaterally designated by us as appropriate targets.
It can be hoped that American follies may be curbed with the aid of reminders of the salutary guidance provided us for centuries by Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. It can also be hoped (a hope reinforced, for me personally, by your willingness to hear me out on this and other occasions)—it can also be hoped that Chinese follies may in turn be curbed with the aid of reminders of the salutary guidance provided Asians for millennia by the humane legacies of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
[Remarks made at a One China Committee gathering, Chicago, Illinois, February 18, 2012. Two earlier discussions by George Anastaplo of Modern China have been posted on http://www.anastaplo.wordpress.com.]