Photo: Nixon Presidential Materials
When US President Richard Nixon embarked on his historic trip to China 40 years ago, he could not have imagined what his gamble would unleash. The immediate diplomatic impact, of course, was to reshape Eurasia’s geopolitical balance and put the Soviet Union on the defensive. But the long-term outcome of America’s rapprochement with China became visible only recently, with the economic integration of the People’s Republic into the world economy.Had Nixon not acted in 1972, China’s self-imposed isolation would have continued. Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening of China to the world would have been far more difficult.
Four decades after the “Nixon shock,” no one disputes that China has benefited enormously. Today, the impoverished and autarkic country that Nixon visited is history. Global reintegration has turned China into an economic powerhouse. It is the world’s largest exporter in volume terms, and is the world’s second-largest economy. China’s presence is felt around the world, from mines in Africa to Apple stores in the United States.
As we reflect on China’s remarkable progress since 1972, it is also an opportune time to consider how China continues to fall short in overcoming systemic obstacles to long-term success. Because China is widely regarded as a winner of globalization, it is natural to assume that the country has developed the means to meet its challenges. But, while China has implemented policies to maximise the benefits of free trade (undervaluing its currency, investing in infrastructure, and luring foreign manufacturing to increase competitiveness), the country remains unprepared for deeper integration with the world.
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