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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: July 2009

10 - “Tacit Ally,” June 1972 to 1974: Consolidating or Saving the U.S.–China Rapprochement


This chapter traces and offers some explanations for the transition, in practice, from a rapprochement relationship in which China was characterized as a “former enemy” – a fellow realist power with whom the United States cultivated a mutual distrust of the Soviet Union, and toward whom the United States “tilted” covertly while pursuing a superpower détente – to a relationship that encompassed more intimate diplomatic and military ties with a China represented as a “tacit ally.” The latter contained a much more overt anti-Soviet focus, within which Kissinger emphasized offering strategic reassurance to the Chinese and the development of conceptual and domestic opinion bases for a closer security relationship, while bargaining for more favorable terms of diplomatic normalization.

After the Beijing summit, the negotiation of the U.S.–PRC rapprochement was closely influenced both by triangular politics and by domestic politics. At the same time, the sustained interaction between the two sides had a significant impact upon the development of the discursive context and resulting policy actions. Interestingly, this process was again characterized by competing discourses: this time, Kissinger's representation of the Soviet threat and U.S.–PRC relations versus that of the Chinese leaders. Kissinger portrayed the Chinese not just as former adversaries or friends but as tacit allies, whose strategic viewpoint increasingly coincided with that of the United States and who placed their priority on anti-Soviet aspects of the relationship rather than on bilateral issues.