Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at Andrews Air Force Base on Returning From the People's Republic of China.

February 28, 1972

Mr. Vice President, Members of the Congress, members of the Cabinet, members of the diplomatic corps, and ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express my very deep appreciation, and the appreciation of all of us, for this wonderfully warm welcome that you have given us and for the support that we have had on the trip that we have just completed from Americans of both political parties and all walks of life across this land.

Because of the superb efforts of the hardworking members of the press who accompanied us--they got even less sleep than I did--millions of Americans in this past week have seen more of China than I did. Consequently, tonight I would like to talk to you not about what we saw but about what we did, to sum up the results of the trip and to put it in perspective.

When I announced this trip last July, I described it as a journey for peace. In the last 30 years, Americans have in three different wars gone off by the hundreds of thousands to fight, and some to die, in Asia and in the Pacific. One of the central motives behind my journey to China was to prevent that from happening a fourth time to another generation of Americans.

As I have often said, peace means more than the mere absence of war. In a technical sense, we were at peace with the People's Republic of China before this trip, but a gulf of almost 12,000 miles and 22 years of noncommunication and hostility separated the United States of America from the 750 million people who live in the People's Republic of China, and that is one-fourth of all the people in the world.

As a result of this trip, we have started the long process of building a bridge across that gulf, and even now we have something better than the mere absence of war. Not only have we completed a week of intensive talks at the highest levels, we have set up a procedure whereby we can continue to have discussions in the future. We have demonstrated that nations with very deep and fundamental differences can learn to discuss those differences calmly, rationally, and frankly, without compromising their principles. This is the basis of a structure for peace, where we can talk about differences rather than fight about them.

The primary goal of this trip was to reestablish communication with the People's Republic of China after a generation of hostility. We achieved that goal.

Let me turn now to our joint communiqué.

"We did not bring back any written or unwritten agreements that will guarantee peace in our time. We did not bring home any magic formula which will make unnecessary the efforts of the American people to continue to maintain the strength so that we can continue to be free.

We made some necessary and important beginnings, however, in several areas. We entered into agreements to expand cultural, educational, and journalistic contacts between the Chinese and the American people. We agreed to work to begin and broaden trade between our two countries. We have agreed that the communications that have now been established between our governments will be strengthened and expanded.

Most important, we have agreed on some rules of international conduct which will reduce the risk of confrontation and war in Asia and in the Pacific.

We agreed that we are opposed to domination of the Pacific area by any one power. We agreed that international disputes should be settled without the use of the threat of force and we agreed that we are prepared to apply this principle to our mutual relations.

With respect to Taiwan, we stated our established policy that our forces overseas will be reduced gradually as tensions ease, and that our ultimate objective is to withdraw our forces as a peaceful settlement is achieved.

We have agreed that we will not negotiate the fate of other nations behind their backs, and we did not do so at Peking. There were no secret deals of any kind. We have done all this without giving up any United States commitment to any other country.

In our talks, the talks that I had with the leaders of the People's Republic and that the Secretary of State had with the office of the Government of the People's Republic in the foreign affairs area, we both realized that a bridge of understanding that spans almost 12,000 miles and 22 years of hostility can't be built in one week of discussions. But we have agreed to begin to build that bridge, recognizing that our work will require years of patient effort. We made no attempt to pretend that major differences did not exist between our two governments, because they do exist.

This communiqué was unique in honestly setting forth differences rather than trying to cover them up with diplomatic double-talk.

One of the gifts that we left behind in Hangchow was a planted sapling of the American redwood tree. As all Californians know, and as most Americans know, redwoods grow from saplings into the giants of the forest. But the process is not one of days or even years; it is a process of centuries.

Just as we hope that those saplings, those tiny saplings that we left in China, will grow one day into mighty redwoods, so we hope, too, that the seeds planted on this journey for peace will grow and prosper into a more enduring structure for peace and security in the Western Pacific.

But peace is too urgent to wait for centuries. We must seize the moment to move toward that goal now, and this is what we have done on this journey.

As I am sure you realize, it was a great experience for us to see the timeless wonders of ancient China, the changes that are being made in modern China. And one fact stands out, among many others, from my talks with the Chinese leaders: It is their total belief, their total dedication, to their system of government. That is their right, just as it is the right of any country to choose the kind of government it wants.

But as I return from this trip, just as has been the case on my return from other trips abroad which have taken me to over 80 countries, I come back to America with an even stronger faith in our system of government.

As I flew across America today, all the way from Alaska, over the Rockies, the Plains, and then on to Washington, I thought of the greatness of our country and, most of all, I thought of the freedom, the opportunity, the progress that 200 million Americans are privileged to enjoy. I realized again this is a beautiful country. And tonight my prayer and my hope is that as a result of this trip, our children will have a better chance to grow up in a peaceful world.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 p.m. at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. He spoke from a prepared text. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew had welcomed the President as follows:
Mr. President, Mrs. Nixon, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

For more than a week we have witnessed through the miracle of satellite television, the sights and sounds of a society that has been closed to Americans for over two decades. We have been made aware of many new things in that society through this visit, Mr. President. We have witnessed much of what you have done with feelings of pride and pleasure and an immense curiosity that has certainly not been diminished by the amount of attention paid by the media to this visit.

I must confess that we have been surprised to some extent by your facility with chopsticks, Mr. President, and by the equal facility of the Chinese orchestra which rendered "America the Beautiful."

But I will say that the week's undertakings were intensively covered--I think that is the understatement of this week, Mr. President-and we enjoyed every minute of it as we watched with pride and approval the way you and the members of your party and our gracious First Lady conducted yourselves.

Speaking of our First Lady, I don't think I can let this occasion pass without reminding you that I predicted what a tremendous asset she would be in the future to American diplomacy and she didn't let me down a bit. As a matter of fact, she did an absolutely outstanding job under the most difficult, unpredictable circumstances.

Mr. President, just before you left to go to China, you stated that although the Chinese and the American people were separated by a vast ocean and by great differences of philosophy, there was no reason why with effort we could not undertake to diminish the tensions between our countries. I believe you have crossed that ocean in a successful effort to do just that.

Because of your visit, the Chinese and the American people stand further removed from the kind of confrontation that the world has feared for many decades. And we, the American people, are tremendously grateful for that effort on your part.

With due regard to the lateness of the hour and the fatigue that you must feel after so much intensive discussion, preparation, and the time changes and the long flight, I think I can close by simply saying that we are glad to have you back, and we feel easier tonight because of the trip that you took.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at Andrews Air Force Base on Returning From the People's Republic of China. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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