Nixon broke the ice with China.
President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China, made for a eight-day television extravaganza -- and a public relations coup for hosts and guests alike. For eight days and nights, American television audiences tuned in to a spectacular parade of images from China, the first they had seen in more than twenty years.
Nixon deplaned in Beijing on February 21, his flair for both diplomacy and drama well in evidence. Notes Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose, "He knew that when his old friend John Foster Dulles had refused to shake the hand of Chou En-lai in Geneva in 1954, Chou had felt insulted. He knew too that American television cameras would be at the Peking airport to film his arrival. A dozen times on the way to Peking, Nixon told Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers that they were to stay on the plane until he had descended the gangway and shaken Chou En-lai's hand. As added insurance, a Secret Service agent blocked the aisle of Air Force One to make sure the president emerged alone."
Soon after their arrival, Nixon and Kissinger were summoned to a previously unannounced meeting with Chairman Mao, which Kissinger later referred to as their "encounter with history." Next came a formal welcome banquet hosted by Chou En-lai, broadcast live on the American morning news thanks to the 13-hour time difference. In the Great Hall of the People, as the People's Liberation Army band played such American favorites as "America the Beautiful" and "Home on the Range," course after course was followed by seemingly endless rounds of toasts. "aACAySeize the hour! Seize the day!'" Nixon quoted from Mao, raising his glass to his Chinese hosts. But beyond the pomp and spectacle, the banquets sent a clear and dramatic message to everyone watching that a new relationship was being forged.
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