More Than a Tacit Alliance

Trade, Soft Power, and u.s.-Chinese Rapprochement Reconsidered

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations
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It is well known that President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China (prc) established an anti-Soviet alliance between Beijing and Washington that reshaped the global Cold War power balance. Naturally, scholars have focused on strategic issues such as the Sino-Soviet split, the Vietnam War, Taiwan, and other factors of “high politics” to understand the u.s.-China rapprochement. However, one can no longer dismiss u.s.-prc trade in the 1970s, albeit small in total volume, as insignificant and thus unimportant to the reconciliation. This article first examines how the Johnson and Nixon administrations conceived trade as a useful tool to improve relations with Communist China. It then explores how the Americans and Chinese carried out trade between themselves in the 1970s. It argues that many Americans were enthusiastic about u.s.-prc trade because they believed that reopened economic relations with the United States would persuade the prc to abandon its Communist model of modernization and move closer to following the capitalist example. If the United States could promote China’s attraction to its capitalist model for future development, then their shared economic interests and developmental visions would consolidate further the u.s.-China strategic alliance. In this sense, promoting trade was a way for the United States to apply soft power to change the prc.

More Than a Tacit Alliance

Trade, Soft Power, and u.s.-Chinese Rapprochement Reconsidered

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations



HardingA Fragile Relationship pp. 54–60.


FootThe Practice of Power pp. 75–77.


 For example see Nancy B. TuckerPatterns in the Dust: Chinese-American Relations and the Recognition Controversy 1949–1950 (New York: Columbia University Press1983) Chapter 7; Michael Mastanduno Economic Containment: CoCom and the Politics of East–west Trade (Ithaca ny: Cornell University Press 1992) Chapter 3; Foot The Practice of Power Chapter 3; Robert Ross (ed.) After the Cold War: Domestic Factors and u.s.-China Relations (Armonk ny: m.e. Sharpe 1998); Shu Guang Zhang Economic Cold War: America’s Embargo against China and the Sino-Soviet Alliance 1949–1963 (Stanford ca: Stanford ­University Press 2001); Ian Jackson The Economic Cold War: America Britain and East–west Trade 1948–63 (Basingstoke uk: Palgrave Macmillan 2001) 148–54; Noam Kochavi A Conflict Perpetuated: China Policy during the Kennedy Years (Westport ct: Praeger 2002) Chapter 3; James Peck Washington’s China: The National Security World the Cold War and the Origins of Globalism (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press 2006) Chapter 4; Simei Qing From Allies to Enemies: Visions of Modernity Identity and u.s.-China Diplomacy 1945–1960 (Cambridge ma: Harvard University Press 2007) 178–96; Michael Lumbers Piercing the Bamboo Curtain: Tentative Bridge-Building to China during the Johnson Years (New York: Manchester University Press 2008); Tor Egil Førland Cold Economic Warfare: CoCom and the Forging of Strategic Export Controls 1948–1954 (Dordrecht The Netherlands: Republic of Letters Publishing 2009) Chapter 10; Charles Freeman “The Commercial and Economic Relationship” in Tangled Titans: The United States and China David Shambaugh ed. (Lanham md: Rowman and Littlefield 2013); ­Gordon H. Chang Fateful Ties: A History of America’s Preoccupation with China ­(Cambridge ma: Harvard University Press 2015).


Chad J. MitchamChina’s Economic Relations with the West and Japan 1949–79: Grain Trade and Diplomacy (London and New York: Routledge2005).


Ming Song“A Dissonance in Mao’s Revolution: Chinese Agricultural Imports from the United States, 1972–1978,” Diplomatic History 32 no. 2 (April 2014): 409–30.


John K. FairbankChina Perceived: Images and Policies in Chinese-American Relations (New York: Alfred A. Knopf1974) 167–69.


J. William FulbrightThe Arrogance of Power (New York: Vintage Books1966) 152 69 139–73.


John Fairbank testimony ibid. pp. 98–106.


John Lindbeck testimony ibid. pp. 202–204.


Barnett testimony ibid. pp. 8–10.


Lindbeck testimony ibid. pp. 196–97.


Barnett testimony ibid. p. 26.


Hans Morgenthau testimony ibid. pp. 551–57.


Fairbank testimony ibid. pp. 106–107.


Richard Nixon“Asia after Vietnam,” Foreign Affairs 46 no. 1 (October 1967): 111–25.


Memorandum to Kissinger 11 June 1969nsc Files Alexander Haig Chronological Files Nixon Materials box 957 naii; nsdm [National Security Decision Memorandum] 17 “Relaxation of Economic Controls against China” 26 June 1969 nsdm Records of the National Security Council rg 273 box 1 naii.


Counterpart Meeting 22 February 1972Country Files hakof box 93 ibid; Kissinger Memorandum to Nixon 6 March 1972 Subject Files box 1036 ibid.


Meeting Record March 1972H-files nsc Nixon Materials box H-061 naii; nsdm 170 8 June 1972 frus 1969–1976 17 pp. 902–903.


Bruce to Kissinger 13 October 1973hakofnsc Files Nixon Materials box 93 naii; ­Record of Conversation 12 November 1973 box 100 ibid.


Letter November 1975ncusct Collection box 188 gfpl; “us Businessmen Find ­Haggling With Chinese Is Exhausting Work” 2 November 1972 wsj p. 1; David Buxbaum ­“Negotiating With the Chinese” in Trade With China Patrick M. Boarman ed. (New York: Praeger Publishers 1974) 111.


William Casey speech 31 May 1973ncusct Collection box 4 gfpl; Lucian Pye speech 31 May 1973 ibid.


Deng Xiaoping“Some Comments on Industrial Development,” in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (Beijing: Foreign Language Press1984) 44.


“Kwangchow Diary Spring 1975us-China Business Review 2 no. 3 (May-June 1975): 43–49; “Delegation from the Native Product and Animal By-Products Corporation” September 1975 nsusc Collection box 61 gfpl.


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