Visits by US presidents to China since 1972
1. Richard Nixon, 1972
 
 
Founding father of People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong (right) welcomed former US President Richard Nixon in Beijing on Feb 22 1972. Photo: AFP
 
In 1972, President Nixon became the first U.S. President to visit the People's Republic of China and his seven-day trip marked a turning point in China-U.S. relations. Nixon traveled to several Chinese cities and met with both Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. The leaders bridged the Cold War divide to sign the Shanghai Communiqué, in which they agreed to the One China policy over Taiwan. The trip's significance went beyond formal agreements to symbolize a new era of cooperation. A Nixon-Mao handshake erased China's grudge over a 1954 embarrassment when then-U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to shake Zhou's hand. Nixon not only shook hands, but he even practiced using chopsticks on the plane flight over.
 
Nixon and his wife visited the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs and the Imperial Palace during their stay in Beijing.
 
2. Gerald Ford, 1975
 
 
President Ford and Chinese Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-Ping reach for food with their chopsticks during the last banquet. December 04, 1975 Photo: the world of Chinese 
 
President Ford's trip to China was surrounded by political uncertainty. The U.S. was still reeling from the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation while the People's Republic of China's 82-year-old founder, Mao Zedong, was in increasingly failing health. Although Ford met with Mao, his main point of contact was Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (above), who as Mao's successor would later spearhead the opening up of China. The issues at hand: U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, how to deal with the Soviet Union, and perennial disagreement over Taiwan.
 
Like Nixon, US president Gerald Ford also gamely picked up chopsticks to share a meal with Deng in 1975.
 
3. Ronald Reagan, 1984
 
In April of 1984, Deng Xiaoping met President Ronald Reagan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: China News Service
 
Former US President Ronald Reagan officially visited China from April 26 to May 1, 1984. Reagan and his wife Nancy left their footprints in Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an.
 
There was a welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square, where he was greeted by Chinese President Li Xiannian with a 21-gun salute. Reagan then attended a banquet given in his honor by Li at the Great Hall of the People. 
 
Reagan also spoke through China’s national television. In his speech, he spoke about the need for “mutual respect and mutual benefit” between China and the United States and tried out, with mixed success, a few phrases in Mandarin. 
 
President Reagan's journey to China resulted in scientific and cultural exchanges, increased trade and a nuclear cooperate agreement. China even let Reagan use his own airplane — a first for a visiting U.S. politician. Previously, U.S. government aircraft had been barred from flying in Chinese airspace. 
 
According to a 1984 New York Times story, Reagan described the visit as ”a breathtaking experience—in some ways, I think, a groundbreaking experience” that achieved “a new level of understanding” between the two countries. 
 
Photographs from the 1970s and 1980s revealed a series of US presidents eager to make friends with their Chinese counterparts. 
 
4. George H.W. Bush,1989
Deng Xiaoping (left), then Chairman of the Central Military Committee of the PLA, meets with then-US President George H. W. Bush (Senior Bush) in Beijing on February 26, 1989. Xinhua
 
George H.W. Bush who was the head of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing from 1974 to 1975 wrote in the preface of the book-“The China Diary of George H. W. Bush: The Making of a Global President” that his “long history with Deng and the other leaders made it possible for us to work through the crises without derailing Sino-American relations, which would have been a disaster,” adding that he believed that “personal diplomacy can be very useful and productive.” The preface was written in October 2007. 
 
George H.W. Bush won the nickname "a bicycle-riding envoy" during the mid-1970s. 
 
One month after he was sworn in as US President in 1989, he traveled to China in February 1989 for a 40-hour "working visit." During the tour, he met with the then Chairman of the Central Military Committee of the PLA, in Beijing.
 
5. Bill Clinton, 1998
 
 
US President Bill Clinton, first lady Hillary Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, enjoy a stroll along a section of the Great Wall of China, in June 1998. Photo: IC
 
Former US President Bill Clinton visited China from June 25 to July 3 in 1998. During the nine-day visit, he went to Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Guilin and Hong Kong. The visit was marked by a joint press conference by both then Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Clinton on June 27th 1998, which was broadcast live on state television. Two days later a speech and lively question-and-answer session with students at Peking University was also broadcast live. Clinton, accompanied by then first lady Hillary Clinton and their daughter Chelsea also visited well-known tourist locations in and near Beijing, including the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China. 
 
6. George W. Bush, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2008
 
Former US President George W. Bush visited China for four times as president of the US, respectively in 2001, 2002, 2005 and 2008. In 1975, the college-age George W. Bush spent two months in China visiting his parents during his father's tenure as the director of US Liaison Office in China from 1974 to 1975.  
 
In October 2001, Bush visited Shanghai to attended APECT Summit Meeting with fighting tourist high on his agenda. In his second visit to China as president in February 2002, Bush held talks with China’s then President Jiang Zemin in Beijing, gave a speech at the Tsinghua University and visited The Great Wall. 
 
On November 20 and 21, 2005, Bush visited Beijing during his tour to 4 Asia countries which also included Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia. Bush visited the Gangwashi Church in Beijing and also took a bike ride with Chinese Olympic athletes on the Laoshan Olympic mountain bike course in Beijing. 
 
 
US President George W. Bush rides his mountain bike with Chinese Olympic hopefuls on the Laoshan Olympic mountain bike course in Beijing, November 20, 2005. Photo: Reuters
 
Bush visited Beijing again during August 7 and 11, 2008, to attend the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics, being accompanied by his wife Laura Bush and their daughter, Barbara Bush, becoming the first U.S. President to travel abroad for the Games.
 
As the US media reported, George W. Bush inherited his family's traditional policy towards China during his eight-year presidency from 2001-2009.
 
7. Barack Obama, 2009, 2014, 2016
 
US President Barack Obama tours the Badaling section of the Great Wall in suburban Beijing, Nov 18, 2009. Photo: IC
 
Former US President Barack Obama had visited China three times during his term from 2009 to 2016. The first which came in November 2009, when he visited Shanghai and took part in a town hall meeting with Shanghai students at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. In Beijing, he visited the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. 
 
Obama visited Beijing for the second time in 2014 to attend the APEC Summit. In March that year, former First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters visited China for a seven-day visit. In September 2016, Obama visited Hangzhou for the G-20 summit. 
 

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