‘China’s Mao defied illness to meet Nixon in 1972’
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Last Updated: Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 23:04
  
Beijing: Chairman Mao Zedong, known for his strident anti-American stance, surprised his aides by showing eagerness to meet the then US President Richard Nixon in 1972 despite being seriously ill, but collapsed soon after that.

The meeting held on Feb 21, regarded as the most defining in US-China relations which in the following years prompted Beijing to open up in a big way to Washington, stepping political and trade ties was narrated in detail by Mao's interpreter, Tang Wensheng.

Mao, 78, the founder of the ruling Communist Party of China, was so ill that he seldom met foreign leaders in person in his later years, at least not before any negotiation had started, Tang said on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Nixon's landmark visit to China, which marked the beginning of the normalisation of bilateral ties.

"Chairman Mao had been unconscious nine days before this meeting," she said, but both the US and China were eager to see each other to normalise relations that had been frosty for 25 years.

Considering the longstanding differences between the two, including the Taiwan question, Nixon insisted that only a face-to-face meeting with his counterpart in China could bring a breakthrough, Tang was quoted by the state-run China Daily Tuesday.

China also was willing to talk to Washington in any form it preferred and was open about the results of the meeting, she said.

The moment Nixon met Mao in Zhongnanhai, the central headquarters of the Chinese government, he spoke about the goal of his visit, brief and to the point.

"Obviously, Nixon was firm about his objective - to develop China-US relations," Tang said.

Mao, on the contrary, talked in a light-hearted and interesting way about international affairs and philosophy with Nixon, said Tang.

"Chairman Mao's face was flushed with enthusiasm during the meeting, like another person who was absolutely healthy," she said. The meeting, original planned to last 15 to 20 minutes, went on for 70 minutes.

Out of concern that a lengthy meeting would worsen Mao's physical state, even Premier Zhou Enlai, an extremely considerate and polite diplomat, frequently looked at his watch to remind former US national security adviser Henry Kissinger, who was also there, not to go on too long.

The meeting was historic and successful, but as soon as the US officials left the room, Mao sank back feebly in his chair, with a big oxygen mask on his pale face, she said.

When asked whether he would like to talk about the meeting, Mao gave a limp wave signaling no, Tang said.

"Chairman Mao had devoted all his failing strength to China-US relations, one of the most important relationships in the world," Tang recalled, with tears in her eyes.

The hardline communist leader died in 1976, after which China and US opened up further.

Tuesday, US is China?s biggest export market fetching over USD 400 billion revenue while Beijing is also the biggest holder of US debt amounting to USD 1.2 trillion.

The three decades of opening up saw China emerging as the second largest economy next only to US.

Considering the benefits in bilateral ties, the differences between China and the US should not hinder the pursuit of expanding common ground, Tang said.

"A responsible leader in any country has to act based on national interests, and I believe boosting China-US ties through discussing differences and seeking common ground is in line with both countries' fundamental interests," she said.

PTI


First Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 23:04


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