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Chronology of China-US Relations
February 27, 2002 is the 30th anniversary of the normalization of relations between China and the United States. The past thirty years have witnessed many ups and downs. Development of China-US relations have rarely moved in a straight line but rather in swings between cooperation and confrontation, in a pattern of waves or spirals.

  • Ambassadorial Level Meeting

    During the 1954 Geneva Conference, Chinese delegates under the guidance of Premier Zhou Enlai first met on June 5, 1954 with their US counterparts. By June 21, they had met six times. Against this background, the first China-US negotiations at the ambassadorial level started on August 1, 1955. These continued through February 1972, lasting 15 years and with 136 meetings. It is rare in the history of international relations to have negotiations last over such a long time, in such a zigzag process, with such passionate argument, and to end in such a unique agreement.

  • "Ping-Pong Diplomacy"

    On April 7, 1971, Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong made a decision to invite the United States table tennis team to visit China. On April 14, Premier Zhou Enlai met with the US ping-pong players, the first visiting American guests since 1949. Zhou told the US players: "You open a new historical chapter in the bilateral relations between Chinese people and American people." Just hours after Zhou’s welcome of the table tennis players, US President Richard M. Nixon announced initiatives to trade and travel between the US and the People’s Republic of China.

  • US Security Adviser Henry Kissinger Visits China

    Henry Kissinger, security adviser to President Nixon, left Pakistan for Beijing in the early morning of July 9, 1971 as a secret envoy (code-name: "Marco Polo") to the People’s Republic of China. During his 48-hour stay in Beijing, Kissinger held nearly 20 hours of talks with Premier Zhou, which further opened the door of China-US relations.

  • US President Richard Nixon Visits China; Shanghai Communique

    From February 21 to 28, 1972, President Nixon visited China, the first leader ever to visit from a country that had not yet established diplomatic relations with China. Mao Zedong held historic and significant talks with Nixon. On February 27, China and the US issued their first joint Communique in which both nations pledged to work toward full normalization of diplomatic relations. This was the Joint Communique between the People's Republic of China and the United States of America – also known as the "Shanghai Communique." It represented the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one in China-US relations.

  • Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations

    On December 16, 1978, the 30-year abnormal situation between the two countries came to an end when China and the US signed a Joint Communique on Establishment of Diplomatic Relations. Full diplomatic relations began on January 1, 1979 after the United States severed governmental relations with Taiwan and transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The U.S. reiterated the Shanghai Communique's acknowledgment of the one-China principle that holds there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.

  • Chinese Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping Visits the US

    From January 28 to February 5, 1979, Chinese Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping made an official visit to the United States, the first Chinese leader to make a visit since 1949. His visit turned out to be a great success and made a huge contribution to the further development of China-US relations. From then on, China said "good-bye" to isolation and stepped onto the path of "opening to the world" and "opening to the future."

  • Passage of the Taiwan Relations Act

    On April 10, 1979, the US Congress approved the Taiwan Relations Act, which remains in effect today. It opposed the basic principles of the China-US Joint Communique on Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, interfered with Chinese internal affairs, and left potential problems for both China and the US in future dealings with Taiwan. The same day, the American Institute in Taiwan opened in Taipei.

  • Establishment of Sino-US Military Relations

    From January 5 to 13, 1980, US Secretary of Defense Harold Brown visited China, the first US Secretary of Defense to visit China since 1949. Vice-Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army Liu Huaqing and Vice-Premier Geng Biao led a Chinese military delegation in a visit to the US later in the year, which represented the formal establishment of military relations.

  • China-US August 17 Communique

    On August 17, 1982, the Chinese and US governments issued the China-US August 17 Communique on gradually reducing and finally resolving the issue of US arms sales to Taiwan. The US side said it did not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan and that it intended gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan. This was the third joint communique issued by the Chinese and US governments.

  • US President Ronald Reagan Visits China

    From April 26 to 30, 1984, US President Ronald Reagan visited China. During his stay, the leaders of the two countries held friendly and constructive talks on important international issues and bilateral ties. The talks deepened mutual understanding, enhanced friendship and turned out to be very fruitful in many fields. However, no progress was made on the Taiwan question.

  • Chinese President Li Xiannian Visits US

    From July 21 to 31, 1985, Chinese President Li Xiannian conducted an official visit to the United States, which was the first visit to the US by a Chinese head of state. During his stay, Li visited the White House and Capitol Hill and met with leaders in many fields in what proved to be a very fruitful visit.

  • US President George Bush Pays a Working Visit to China

    From February 25 to 26, 1989, US President George Bush (the father of current US President George W. Bush) paid a working visit to China, a return visit to China for the newly-elected President who had served under President Ford from 1974-1976 as the chief liaison officer from the US to the People's Republic of China before the establishment of diplomatic relations. His visit as president confirmed his attention to China-US relations and appreciation for the Chinese people.

  • US Announces Sanctions Against China

    On June 5, 1989, President George Bush accused China of "violating human rights" after the "June 4th" incident. The US imposed "sanctions" on China that included suspending high-level exchanges between the two countries and stopping the sale of all military equipment and weapons to China. This leads to the lowest point in bilateral relations.

  • US Sells 150 F-16 Fighter Planes to Taiwan

    On September 2, 1992, US President George Bush announced a decision to sell 150 F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan for "defensive" purposes, a move in violation of previous promises made by the US government. In addition, he sent Trade Representative Carla Hills to visit Taiwan, further subverting China-US relations.

  • US-Hong Kong Policy Act

    On October 5, 1992, US President George Bush signed the 1992 US-Hong Kong Policy Act over China’s strong opposition. The main contents established the authority of the U.S. government to treat Hong Kong as a non-sovereign entity distinct from China for purposes of American domestic law. China lodged a stern protest, expressing strong dissatisfaction.

  • "Galaxy" Incident

    On September 4, 1993, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied a claim by the US that a Chinese merchant ship "Galaxy" at Daman Port in Saudi Arabia was carrying chemical materials. The Chinese charged the US with provoking a serious incident.

  • Chinese President Jiang Zemin Attends Seattle Summit

    On November 19 and 20, 1993, Chinese President Jiang Zemin met with US President Bill Clinton during the informal Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in Seattle, which was the first formal meeting since February 1989 between leaders of the two countries. It was a turning point in China-US relations.

  • US Adjusts Its Taiwan Policy

    On September 7, 1994, the US announced it was raising the official level of its Taiwan Office, allowing meetings between high-ranking officials of the US and Taiwan. It also changed the name of the "Taiwan Negotiation Committee in North America" into "Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in US." For China, this demonstrated a further withdrawal by the US from its policy agreements on the Taiwan issue.

  • Taiwan Leader Pays "Private Visit" to US

    On May 22, 1995, the US government announced its decision to permit the Taiwan leader Lee Teng-hui to pay a "private visit" to the US. For the Chinese, this action violated the basic principles of the three China-US joint communiques, infringed upon China’s sovereignty, damaged China’s peaceful reunification process, and promoted the idea of "Two Chinas." China-US relations fell to 1989 lows.

  • Chinese President Jiang Zemin Visits the US

    From October 29 to November 4, 1997, Chinese President Jiang Zemin made a state visit to the United States, which was his first visit to US. During the visit, President Jiang and President Bill Clinton issued a joint communique that called for strengthened cooperation toward a constructive strategic partnership in the 21st century. Jiang’s successful visit ushered relations between China and the United States into a new era of development. It greatly promoted exchanges and cooperation between the two countries in such fields as politics, economy, science and technology, culture and education, military affairs, environmental protection, and judiciary.

  • US President Bill Clinton Visits China

    From June 25 to July 3, 1998, US President Bill Clinton visited China, the fifth US president to do so. Jiang and Clinton had an in-depth exchange of views on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues. The exchange of visits by the two heads of state signified the return of China-US relations to a path of healthy and stable development. Clinton publicly reiterated his "three no's" on Taiwan by saying: The United States does not support the independence of Taiwan; does not support any notion of "one China, one Taiwan," or "two Chinas;" and does not support Taiwan's membership in any international body whose members are sovereign states.

  • Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji Visits the US

    At the invitation of US President Bill Clinton, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji paid an official visit to the United States between April 6-14, 1999. This was the first visit by a Chinese premier in 15 years. It aimed to put into effect the agreements reached by Jiang and Clinton in the successful exchange of visits between the two heads of state, and to enhance mutual understanding and expand mutually beneficial cooperation.

  • Chinese Embassy Bombed

    Early on the morning of May 8 (Beijing time), a US-led NATO force launched a missle attack that hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing 3 Chinese reporters, causing numerous other casualties and leaving the embassy building devastated. The Chinese government condemned the brutal act of NATO headed by the United States, which claimed the strike on China’s embassy was an accident. Huge protests were held outside the American embassy in Beijing, and China announced it was postponing planned cooperation with the US on human rights and military matters. China-US relations faced another serious crisis.

  • The Cox Report

    On May 25, 1999, the US House of Representatives issued the "Cox Report" which accused China of stealing US nuclear technology. Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji reacted by saying that the US had made two mistakes -- underestimating its own abilities in confidentiality and underestimating Chinese ability to develop military weapons.

  • Wen Ho Lee "Spy" Case

    On December 11, 1999, the US government arrested Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese-American scientist who was accused of leaking American nuclear information to China. Eventually, Dr. Lee was completely exonerated. The incident adversely affects China-US relations.

  • Anti-China Human Rights Proposal

    On March 26, 2001, the US put forward a proposal expressing concerns about "human rights" in China at a session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, the 11th such proposal from the United States since 1990. As previously, the motion failed. This was just before May 2001 when the United Nations Commission on Human Rights ousted the United States from its membership.

  • Air-Collision Incident

    On April 1, 2001, a US spy plane bumped into a Chinese Air Force plane over China’s South China Sea, causing it to crash and killing its pilot Wang Wei. The incident again ruined China-US relations.

  • President George W. Bush Attends Shanghai APEC 2001

    From October 18 to 20, 2001, US President George W. Bush attended Shanghai APEC 2001, his first visit abroad following September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. As a young man, George W. Bush in 1975 visited his parents when his father, President George Bush, served earlier in his government career as the US liaison officer in Beijing. Chinese President Jiang Zemin and US President George W. Bush held a 3-hour talk on China-US relations and Taiwan issue.

  • US Grants China Permanent Most Favored Nation Status

    On December 27, 2001, US President George W. Bush decided to grant China permanent trade status, formerly called the “most-favored-nation treatment.” Bush’s proclamation ended a long history of an annual review in the US Congress of China’s permanent trade status, removing a major obstacle to the development of bilateral economic relations and trade between the US and China.

    (Edited by Lu Qichang, researcher of Modern International Relations Institute, translated by Zheng Guihong for china.org.cn)

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