On this date 40 years ago, the president of the US set foot in the Middle Kingdom

Nixon with Premier Chou En-Lai

Nixon Library

President Nixon with Premier Chou En-Lai in 1972

A historic visit that began 40 years ago today planted seeds for the welcome China’s vice president Xi Jinping received in the Southland last week. US President Richard Nixon's visit to China may have been the greatest foreign policy triumph of his troubled time in office.

Shortly after Air Force One touched down in Beijing, emissaries whisked the president and First Lady Pat Nixon to a lavish banquet hosted by Chinese prime minister Chou-En-Lai. That, and a meeting at the home of Communist Party chairman Mao-Tse-Tung, launched a weeklong summit designed to begin thawing more than two decades of animosity between the two nations.

Observers at the time and since have noted that Richard Nixon, a staunch anti-Communist, seemed the least likely leader to approach the People’s Republic of China. But the visit, fostered by then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger, helped to counter Cold War-era tensions with the Soviet Union. It also opened the doors to cultural and educational exchanges, tourism and – perhaps most importantly – commerce.

It also set the stage for "Nixon in China," the first opera by modern American composer John Adams.

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