‘China’s Mao defied illness to meet Nixon in 1972’

Mao was so ill that he seldom met foreign leaders in person in his later years.

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

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.


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