Updated:
Original:
Year
1978
Month Day
December 15

United States announces that it will recognize communist China

In one of the most dramatic announcements of the Cold War, President Jimmy Carter states that as of January 1, 1979, the United States will formally recognize the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) and sever relations with Taiwan.

Following Mao Zedong’s successful revolution in China in 1949, the United States steadfastly refused to recognize the new communist regime. Instead, America continued to recognize and supply the Nationalist Chinese government that had been established by Chiang Kai-shek on the island of Taiwan. In 1950, during the Korean War, U.S. and PRC armed forces clashed. During the 1960s, the United States was angered by PRC support and aid to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

By the 1970s, however, a new set of circumstances existed. From the U.S. viewpoint, closer relations with the PRC would bring economic and political benefits. Economically, American businessmen were eager to try and exploit the huge Chinese market. Politically, U.S. policymakers believed that they could play the “China card”—using closer diplomatic relations with the PRC to pressure the Soviets into becoming more malleable on a variety of issues, including arms agreements. The PRC also had come to desire better relations with its old enemy. It sought the large increase in trade with the United States that would result from normalized relations, and particularly looked forward to the technology it might obtain from America. The PRC was also looking for allies. A military showdown with its former ally, Vietnam, was in the making and Vietnam had a mutual support treaty with the Soviets.

Carter’s announcement that diplomatic ties would be severed with Taiwan (which the PRC insisted on) angered many in Congress. The Taiwan Relations Act was quickly passed in retaliation. It gave Taiwan nearly the same status as any other nation recognized by the United States and also mandated that arms sales continue to the Nationalist government. In place of the U.S. embassy in Taiwan, an “unofficial” representative, called the American Institute in Taiwan, would continue to serve U.S. interests in the country.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

On This Day in History: The US declares an end to the War in Iraq

U.S. declares an end to the War in Iraq

In a ceremony held in Baghdad on this day in 2011, the war that began in 2003 with the American-led invasion of Iraq officially comes to an end. Though December 15, 2011 was the official end date of the Iraq War, violence continued and in fact worsened over the subsequent years. ...read more

Kidnapped grandson of Getty billionaire found

Jean Paul Getty III, the grandson of American billionaire J. Paul Getty, is found alive near Naples, five months after his kidnapping by an Italian gang. J. Paul Getty, who became the richest man in the world in 1957, had initially refused to pay his 16-year-old grandson’s $17 ...read more

Architect of the Holocaust sentenced to die

In Tel Aviv, Israel, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” is condemned to death by an Israeli war crimes tribunal. Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906. In November 1932, he joined the Nazi’s elite SS ...read more

Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens

On this day in 2001, Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens after a team of experts spent 11 years and $27 million to fortify the tower without eliminating its famous lean. In the 12th century, construction began on the bell tower for the cathedral of Pisa, a busy trade center on ...read more

Jockey Sandy Hawley wins record 500th race

On December 15, 1973, Sandy Hawley becomes the first jockey to win 500 races in a single year. Born in Ontario, Canada, Hawley began working at Toronto race tracks when he was a teenager. He won his first race in October 1968 at Toronto’s Woodbine race track and quickly racked up ...read more

James Brown begins his prison sentence

Legendary singer James Brown, also known as the “Godfather of Soul” and the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” becomes inmate number 155413 at the State Park Correctional Institute in South Carolina. Brown had had several run-ins with the law during the summer of 1988 that ...read more