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The Worst Part of Nixon’s Legacy Isn’t Watergate. It’s China.

Intelligence Briefings Nixon

On July 15, 1971, President Richard Nixon shocked the world by announcing that he, who had built his political reputation on fighting Communism (and earned the incandescent hatred of the American Left in doing so), would become the first president to visit Communist China. And that, my friend, is where our present troubles began.

The visit took place in February 1972 and led, several years after Nixon was out of office, to U.S. recognition of the Beijing government as the sole legitimate government of China and the withdrawal of that recognition of the Taiwanese government, the Chinese Nationalists who maintained a relatively free society on that island after the fall of the mainland to totalitarianism.

For opening the U.S. to Communist China, Nixon has been heralded as a great, far-seeing statesman. A common assessment of his presidency goes along the lines of “Well, yes, he was a crook, but on the other side of the ledger, he did reach out to Mainland China.” Nixon himself was aware of the significance of what he was doing, saying while in China: “This was the week that changed the world.”

Writing in the Washington Post in February 2012 to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the event, David Ignatius opined that “Richard Nixon is hardly a role model, overall; he was a devious president who encouraged illegal actions by his subordinates. But he was a clever strategist — never more so than in the opening to China that culminated in his February 1972 visit to Beijing.” The composer John Adams even wrote an opera, Nixon in China, celebrating the visit; in it, the Nixon character sings triumphantly that he has now made history.

No doubt about that. But not all history that is made is good. The coronavirus pandemic has finally made it clear, if it wasn’t already, that Nixon’s visit to China, insofar as it paved the way for the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic, was one of the most misguided and damaging aspects of his presidency, far outstripping Watergate.

The outreach to China enabled the legitimization of a bloodthirsty Marxist-Leninist regime that enslaves and brutalizes its own people. That Chinese people were “willing” to work for starvation wages led to the wholesale destruction of numerous American industries, as it became much more common in the United States to see goods of all kinds labeled “Made in China” than “Made in the USA.” Trump was the first President to address this problem, and was roundly excoriated as a racist for doing so.

But imagine how much better off economically the United States would be today if our manufacturing that was outsourced to China had remained in this country. What’s more, we wouldn’t be dependent upon a rapacious Communist dictatorship for basic necessities.

Even worse, Nixon’s cozying up to the People’s Republic was another exercise in abandoning allies and embracing enemies. It may have been historically inevitable in the sense that Communists controlled the entirety of mainland China, with the Republic of China restricted only to a small island. The Communist government was indeed the ruler of most Chinese; it was, however, as clear in Nixon’s day as it is in ours, if not clearer, that China was also a repressive totalitarian state that was viciously hostile to the U.S. and American interests, whereas Nationalist China had been a reliable ally of the United States since the end of World War II.

Taiwan has again proven its reliability as an ally during the coronavirus crisis. This crisis should be the occasion to right the wrongs set in motion by Nixon’s visit to China. The United Nations expelled Nationalist China, a founding member, on October 25, 1971. The world body, never one to show any moral courage, may have been emboldened to do this by Nixon’s then-imminent visit to Red China and the legitimization it represented. In any case, the Nixon administration, although it voted no on the expulsion resolution, did nothing to counter the acceptance of the Communist regime, and quickly jumped on the bandwagon. When the UN resolution passed, the Albanian ambassador to the UN, Reis Malile, hailed it as a “great victory” for “peace-loving Member States” and “a great defeat for the United States of America.” Yes, that it was.

Someday the coronavirus pandemic will be over. When that day comes, President Trump should correct the historical injustices Nixon enabled: break diplomatic relations with Communist China and work toward the expulsion of the Marxist regime from the United Nations, and the restoration of Taiwan there. Or better yet, he could remove all US funding from the UN and expel it from New York. While we’re righting injustices, why not aim high?

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.