Zhou Enlai and the Sino-American Rapprochement, 1969–1972

Authored by: Yafeng Xia

The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War

Print publication date:  May  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415677011
eBook ISBN: 9781315882284
Adobe ISBN: 9781134700653


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Zhou Enlai was first foreign minister (1949–58) and first premier (1949–76) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). China’s paramount leader, Mao Zedong, as the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), had sufficient power to set the foreign policy agenda and guidelines on his own. He consigned Zhou to the role of a manager overseeing day-to-day aspects of foreign affairs. 1 Zhou won both domestic and international recognition as being responsible for formulating and carrying out China’s foreign policy during the Cold War. Among the PRC leaders, Zhou was known for his negotiation skills, personal patience and attention to detail. In this regard, Zhou was “indispensable” in Mao’s eyes. The question of Mao’s and Zhou’s individual roles in the Sino-American rapprochement and their real attitudes during this period, is still a hotly debated topic. In my previous work, I have argued that “Mao was the behind-the-scenes strategist and final decision-maker.” 2 Zhou was “obviously a sponsor and promoter of” China’s policy of reconciliation with the United States, but “not an initiator and final decision-maker.” 3 Zhou’s strength lay in the execution rather than the conception of policy.

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