Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor, made a secret trip to China to meet with Premier Zhou Enlai.
Even before Nixon became president in 1969 he had expressed a desire to improve American relations with China. The USA had been virtually isolated from China since the Communists came to power in 1949, and Nixon was keen to end these two decades of mutual hostility. While part of his motivation was to contain China’s potential nuclear threat, he also sought to use China to find a way to end the Vietnam War while exploiting the increasingly poor relationship between China and the USSR.
Kissinger was given the delicate task of making contact with the Chinese government and, following the Chinese invitation to the American ping pong team in April 1971, it was clear that China was also interested in improving the relationship. However, without any direct channels of communication between the two countries, Kissinger was forced to use Pakistan as a third party through which the diplomatic visit would be organised.
Kissinger set out on a publicly announced trip to Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Pakistan in early July 1971. At the conclusion of his meetings in Pakistan, it was then announced that Kissinger was ill and would recuperate in a hill station. In reality the motorcade was a decoy, since Kissinger and a small group of advisors had boarded a Pakistani plane to Beijing.
They landed at noon, and spent a total of 49 hours in China. During this time they held a series of talks with the Chinese government that set out the parameters for a visit by President Nixon himself. On 15 July Nixon appeared on television from the Oval Office to announce that he would visit China the following year.