Nixon's grandson retraces 1972 tour

Updated: 2013-05-02 11:29

By Chris Davis in New York (China Daily)

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A delegation of 40 US dignitaries led by a grandson of Richard Nixon arrived in Beijing on Wednesday to retrace the 37th president's 1972 visit to China.

That diplomatic coup ended 25 years of mutual silence and cleared the way for the establishment of formal ties between the United States and the People's Republic of China.

Four decades later, the 10-day "Nixon Centennial Legacy Journey" will feature visits to the same venues in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai that Nixon and his entourage toured. One stop will be the site of the meetings that produced the Shanghai Communique, a joint announcement that it was in the interest of all nations for the US and China to normalize relations and establish economic and cultural ties.

To kick off the commemorative tour, China's consul general in Los Angeles Qiu Shaofang hosted a reception last week at his official residence.

"We cannot think of a better way to celebrate the centennial of president Nixon," Qiu said. "Richard Nixon's visit changed the course of history." (Nixon was born in 1913 and died in 1994.)

"Nixon wanted to bring China into the brotherhood of nations," said Sandy Quinn, president of the Richard Nixon Foundation in the late leader's birthplace of Yorba Linda, California. "When you look at what has occurred, the advances in every way, it's amazing."

Christopher Nixon Cox, 34, who is the son of the president's older daughter, Tricia, and her husband, Edward Cox, described the trip as a tribute to Nixon a century after his birth.

"With this visit, the United States and China come together to honor my grandfather on his 100th birthday and celebrate another generation of friendship between our two nations," said Cox, an investment banker with OC Global Partners in New York.

The delegation touched down on Wednesday at Beijing Capital International Airport, the same place Nixon stepped off Air Force One on Feb 21, 1972, and shook hands with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. The airport, now one of the world's largest, was little more than an airstrip 41 years ago.

The Americans will then visit the Forbidden City, which served as the Imperial Palace for 500 years, and Tiananmen Square, China's largest public space. A welcome banquet will be hosted by Yang Jiechi, a member of China's State Council and a former foreign minister, in the Great Hall of the People, where President Nixon and first lady Pat Nixon were guests at a state dinner in 1972.

In the days following that stop, the group will follow Nixon's walking route along the Great Wall and see giant pandas at the Beijing Zoo. During the 1972 visit, Mrs Nixon was so taken with the pandas that Zhou promised to lend Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing to the National Zoo in Washington. The pair arrived two months later.

Next stop for the delegation will be Hangzhou, capital of eastern China's Zhejiang province, and a visit to the Six Harmonies Pagoda. That will be followed by a banquet at the Hangzhou State Guesthouse, where Nixon wrote the first draft of what would become the Shanghai Communique.

From there it's a ride on the bullet train to ultra-modern Shanghai, with visits to the old parts of the city that Nixon visited as well as a tour of the World Financial Center, the world's fourth-tallest building. This will be capped by a sunset cruise down the Yangtze River.

Other notable figures in Cox's group include KT McFarland, a Fox News national-security analyst and former aide to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Colonel Jack Brennan, a former Marine Corps aide who accompanied Nixon to China in 1972; Robert "Bud" McFarlane, president Ronald Reagan's national security adviser; and Marjorie Acker, who worked as a secretary for Nixon when he was a senator, vice-president and president.

The tour is co-sponsored by the Richard Nixon Foundation and the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. The association's President Li Xiaolin is the daughter of Li Xiannian, who before serving as China's president during the 1980s was among delegates who greeted Nixon in 1972.

In a statement, the Nixon Foundation called the current tour "a rare and special arrangement made exclusively for the VIP delegation".

Upon his departure, Cox said he was "eagerly looking forward" to retracing his grandfather's footsteps.

"His vision in opening the door to China, of breaking down the wall that had separated two great peoples from one another, inaugurated a new era of mutual respect and cooperation that not only endures but also continues to strengthen and mature," said Cox, who was born in 1979, the year US-China relations were formalized.

"By reliving the week that truly did change the world, we are commemorating one of the most seminal events of the 20th century," he added. "What's more, we are strengthening the bonds of friendship that president Nixon and Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou first forged more than 40 years ago.

"I know that the spirit of both my grandfather and my grandmother, who shared with the Chinese people the same gracious warmth she extended to the people of more than 75 countries throughout her public life, will be with us." (Pat Nixon died in 1993, a year before her husband.)

It was Nixon himself who, at a farewell dinner in Beijing on Feb 28, 1972, called his visit "the week that changed the world". Its significance continues to reverberate today, with the expression "Nixon goes to China" having become shorthand for a bold, unexpected political move.

Werner Escher, head of domestic and international markets for South Coast Plaza, an upscale shopping mall in Orange County, California, is in Cox's delegation. He said his company worked with the Nixon Foundation to host a reunion of Chinese and American table tennis players years after their historic "ping-pong diplomacy" matches in China in 1971.

"Friendship between China and the US is further served on this occasion by not only tracing the steps of president Nixon's 1972 visit but by providing additional opportunities to know the people of China and for South Coast Plaza to enjoy another of its many China visitations," Escher said.

Wang Jun in Los Angeles contributed to this story.