Forty years ago this month, former US president Richard Nixon made an historic visit to Beijng. On the prompting of then-US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Nixon flew to China and the world has not been the same since. Neither has Taiwan.
To put things in perspective, Nixon’s visit was 19 years before the former Soviet Union collapsed and almost 17 years before the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing.
Fast forward 40 years into the future — to 2052: What will the relationship between Taiwan and China look like then? And will China even exist as a communist state like it is today?
Taiwan watched in dismay as Air Force One made its slow descent into Beijing on that winter day 40 years ago. While Nixon’s trip was an important step in formally normalizing relations between Washington and Beijing, it also marked the first time a US president had visited China and it put US relations with Taiwan in an entirely new light. Taipei was put on alert and 40 years later, the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region are in the spotlight for all the world to see and ponder.
Nixon used his visit to Beijing to take his own place on the world stage and tell then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) that it was time for the US and China to stop being “enemies” and “build a new and better world.”
Has that happened yet? Many observers in the West would say no, although how Taiwan deals with the issues involved is still being hotly debated on television talk shows and in news columns.
Today there are two “Chinas,” one communist and populated by more than 1 billion people, and the other a small island nation with a democratic backbone and a strong will to make its mark on history. So far, so good.
However, what does the future hold? Where do things go from here?
China still takes up a disproportionate amount of time and focus from US foreign policy strategists, while Taiwan has been left to endure being caught in the diplomatic nightmare that Nixon and Kissinger put into play.
In 2052, where will Taiwan be? It is something to ponder this month as TV news shows replay old footage of the Nixon-Mao meetings and talking heads on TVBS and CNN go at it.
Nixon remapped Taiwan’s place on the world stage with the stroke of a pen in Beijing in 1972. However, did he err on the side of fear and trembling, as many observers feel? Or did he — and Kissinger — see the future and act correctly?
Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is no longer on the sidelines of history and this proud democracy is forging its own destiny on the world map. Anniversaries come and go, but Taiwan is forever.
Dan Bloom is a freelance writer in Taiwan.