The Nation: Nixon's Coup: To Peking for Peace

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It was a very moving occasion. It is not often one can say he has participated in turning a new page in history.

—Henry Kissinger

THE words seem slightly grandiloquent in a McLuhanesque age when all is known at once, the future long discounted, and uninformed options line up by the numbers. Yet the words were justified. In just 90 seconds of television time, President Richard Nixon last week made an announcement that altered many of the major assumptions and patterns of postwar diplomacy. The President would go to Peking to meet with China's Mao Tse-tung and Premier Chou En-lai before next May. The arrangements had been made by his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, during a secret meeting with Chou in Peking the week before.

The aim of the meeting, said the President, "is to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and also to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides." The deceptively modest formulation brought an instant and exuberant response. "This is a turning point in world history—I cannot remember anything in my lifetime more exciting or more encouraging," declared England's Lord Caradon, former Ambassador to the United Nations. "This is one of the great moments in the world's history," echoed The Netherlands' Joseph Luns, new Secretary-General of NATO.

Nixon and Kissinger, who had helicoptered together from the Western White House at San Clemente to make the announcement in the same Burbank studio where the slapstick Laugh-In show is taped, knew that the understated declaration had startled the world. With four aides, they skipped off in high spirits to Perino's, a fashionable Los Angeles restaurant, where Nixon gleefully shook hands with bystanders on the sidewalk and his party celebrated inside with a $40 bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild (1961) during dinner. Happy, too, was Kissinger; at the height of a brilliant career, he enjoys a global spotlight and an influence that most professors only read about in their libraries.

New Perspectives

Nixon's elation was appropriate. Unless some unforeseen and unlikely event aborts his trip, he will become the first Western head of state to visit Peking since Mao Tse-tung's revolutionaries drove Chiang Kai-shek's government out of power and off the mainland in 1949. He will thus dramatically shatter nearly a quarter-century of total official estrangement between the two powers. Certainly, that refusal to deal directly with each other has been blindly unrealistic, and in a sense Nixon's overture was only a move long overdue; it was high time for both nations to change their stance. Yet Nixon acted with determination and courage. The mere announcement of a summit meeting throws relationships among many nations, large and small, into wholly new perspectives.

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