RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It was 40 years ago today that President Richard Nixon made history and surprised the world. He became the first sitting American president to visit China.
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ANNOUNCER: On hand to greet him in Peking were Premier Chou Enlai, other officials ,and a 500-man military guard, but no large crowds of onlookers. The president and Henry Kissinger were whisked away to a one hour meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong.
MONTAGNE: Mr. Nixon's trip came at the peak of Cold War tensions between East and West. By 1972, the U.S. and China had gone nearly a quarter of a century with almost no official contact – not since 1948, when the communists take over of mainland China.
At a state banquet with Prime Minister Chou Enlai, Mr. Nixon predicted a transformational outcome.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Mr. Prime Minister, I wish to thank you for your very gracious and eloquent remarks. What we do here can change the world.
MONTAGNE: Relations between the two nations, at first, were mostly symbolic - pandas loaned to American zoos, ping pong tournaments, that sort of thing. But 40 years later, trade between the two countries has hit almost a half a trillion dollars a year. It's now predicted that four years from now, China's economy will be bigger than the U.S.'s. So the world does, indeed, seem to have changed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.