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PostPresident Richard Nixon in China (Ronald Hilton, USA, 11/19/99 7:12 am)
WAISers: Please excuse my defense of Richard Nixon, an underfox whom I
must defend, being an underdog, the only living member of the Mugwump
Party. Mention Nixon to some of my colleagues and they start baying
"Helen Gahagan Douglas!, Cambodia! Watergate!", while others jump on
their hobby horses and blow their hunting horns. A real blood sport.
You must admire Nixon's stomach, as you do those of all travelling statesmen (except George Bush). After the Havana Ibero-American summit, Fidel Castro headed a baseball team against one headed by Hugo Chaves of Venezuela. The Spanish envoys, full of Cuban food, headed off in all directions: King Juan Carlos to open an olive festival in Jaén, Andalusia, and to praise the merits of olive oil in cooking. Queen Sofia flew to Madrid to open the tenth conference of the Save the Children Fund. Prime Minister José María Aznar had the longest flight: to Istanbul to attend the OSCE conference, and to enjoy Turkish food and the company of Yeltsin.
The first program in the C-Span series on President Nixon dealt with his trip to China, an even longer flight. Most of the program dealt with the banquets, at which Nixon, his wife and other Americans each sat between two Chinese, while girls acting as interpreters bobbed around translating their pleasantries. During the translations the Americans struggled to eat with chopsticks. Many toasts, the clinking of glasses and the exchange of smiles and laughs overcame the barrier of mutual unintelligibility.
Henry Kissinger, one of the three men forming the Berlin Wall protecting Nixon, ponderously addressed a news conference. After listening to Germanic English and the Chinese translation, I say give me Castilian Spanish. It was much less fun than the banquets.
In his formal farewell speech, Nixon admitted that there were differences in his conversations with the Chinese leaders, but gave no details. It was undoubtedly the least fun of all. Diplomacy is not yet characterized by transparency, but Nixon and wife Pat, always smiling and well-mannered, carried off the day. Even Nixon's critics concede that. But in the distant background you could hear the hounds baying and the hunting horns blowing.