After Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, Washington joined forces with China’s Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek to drive Japan’s invading forces out of China. This 1942 photo, taken in Burma, shows U.S. Gen. Joseph Stilwell with Chiang and Madame Chiang, aka Soong May-ling. At this meeting, Chiang informed his military staff that Stilwell would lead them against the Japanese forces. The Nationalist and rival Communist forces cooperated in fighting the Japanese invaders, but ultimately turned against one another to battle for control of China.
Soviet-backed Communists, led by Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, won the nation's power struggle -- ultimately putting Beijing and Washington on opposite sides in the Cold War. In this Oct. 1, 1949 image, Mao proclaims the founding of the People's Republic of China. With the Communist victory, Chiang and many influential Nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan, where they set up a rival government in hopes of one day regaining control of the mainland. Despite its close wartime ties with the Nationalists, U.S. President Truman initially took a position of nonintervention in the bitter dispute between Beijing and Taipei. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 prompted Washington to get more involved in the region’s conflicts and to strengthen its military presence in the Taiwan Straits.
Conflict erupted between Russian-backed North Korea and U.S.-backed South Korea, creating a hot front in the Cold War. The Korean War pitted American-led U.N. troops and South Korean forces against North Koreans and their allies, including Chinese forces. The Korean War ended with a cease-fire — but not a peace treaty -- cementing the division of the Korean peninsula at the 38th parallel. It also established a substantial U.S. military presence in Asia — a long-term irritant to U.S.-China ties. In this image from the Korean War, U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, right, commander of U,N. forces in Korea talks with Maj. Gen. Doyle Hickey.
In the early 1950s, Moscow provided hundreds of advisers and substantial financial support for China’s new Communist leaders. But after Joseph Stalin died in 1953, the Sino-Soviet relationship deteriorated steadily over differences in ideology and international relations. Tensions escalated into military buildups along the Sino-Soviet border. After armed clashes erupted between Chinese and Soviet forces along China’s northeast border, many observers predicted war. Ultimately, the two sides backed down. But Mao came to realize that he could not confront both the U.S. and the Soviet Union simultaneously and decided that Moscow posed the greater threat. Here, a Chinese soldier stands guard in China's Xinjiang region on the Soviet-Afghan border in April 1969.
In a symbolic opening of communication with Washington, China invited the U.S. table tennis team to visit Beijing. The team, which was already in the region competing in Japan arrived on April 10, 1971, becoming the first U.S. sports delegation to visit Beijing since the Communists took power in 1949. The decision reportedly came directly from Mao. In this image, members of the American ping pong team watch a match between a teammate and a Chinese opponent in Beijing.
In February 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon, who had a reputation as a tough anti-communist, traveled to China to hold talks with Communist Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. On the final stop of the trip to Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai, the U.S. and Chinese governments issued the Shanghai Communiqué — a pledge to work toward the normalization of diplomatic relations. Nixon later said of the trip: "This was the week that changed the world,” in which the two sides agreed “to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past.” In this Feb. 22, 1972, image, Mao and Nixon shake hands after their meeting in Beijing.
The death of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976 marked the end of an era of radical politics and isolation from the West. In just a few years, Deng Xiaoping triumphed over conservative ideologues who had surrounded Mao, and rose to leadership of China's Communist Party and government. While beginning experiments with economic reforms, Deng also opened the doors to broad cultural and educational exchange with the United States. In this image, Chinese citizens file past Mao as he lies in state in Beijing on Sept. 12, 1976.
Formal diplomatic relations were restored between Beijing and Washington on Jan. 1, 1979. Simultaneously, Washington severed formal relations with Taiwan (Republic of China), while continuing business and cultural ties. Through the Taiwan Relations Act, Washington also promised to supply defensive weapons to Taiwan. Shortly after the resumption of ties with Beijing, Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping visited the United States, meeting with top U.S. officials and business leaders. Deng was pressing economic reforms in China and preparing to greatly expand his free market experiment in the 1980s. In this image, Deng, right, and his wife Zhuo Lin, far left, appear with U.S. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter on Jan. 31, 1979.
Popular protests in Beijing and other cities were crushed by a military crackdown, leaving hundreds of people dead. In response, the United States imposed economic and trade sanctions on China and many U.S. citizens working or studying there left the country. Beijing remained unrepentant in the face of the sanctions and criticism over its human rights record, which the Chinese government rejected as “interference” in China’s internal affairs. In this June 4, 1989, photo, dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
China protested vehemently when U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which had been hovering around $500 million a year, suddenly jumped more than 1,000 percent with the sale of 150 F-16 fighter jets. China charged that the sale violated a 1982 agreement with Beijing in which Washington said it would not increase weapons sales to Taiwan in either quality or quantity. Supporters of the sale said it was in line with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, in which the United States pledged to provide arms to Taiwan seen as necessary for its defense. In this Sept. 12, 2007, image, missiles are arrayed next to an F-16 fighter jet at the Chiayi air force base in southern Taiwan.
For the first time since it re-established formal diplomatic ties with China, Washington granted a visa to a sitting Taiwan president. The move drew a harsh protest from Beijing, which also suspended nuclear and missile control talks with the United States. Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's first democratically elected president, especially angered Beijing because of his ambivalence to reunification with China. Breaking from decades of Nationalist Party rhetoric, Lee stressed the right of Taiwan people to determine their future. Some feared that if Lee or newly empowered Taiwan voters made a formal call for independence, it could prompt military action by Beijing and pull the U.S. into the conflict. In this June 10, 1995, photo, Lee chats with Cornell University President Frank Rhodes after speaking at the school.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin and U.S. President Bill Clinton held formal talks in Washington in late 1997, marking the first state visit by a Chinese leader since before the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. The meetings covered trade tensions, nuclear technology, human rights abuses and religious persecution in Tibet. In this image, Jiang and Clinton share a toast during a state dinner on Oct. 29, 1997 in the East Room of the White House. A year later Clinton traveled to Beijing for formal discussions, signaling that relations between the two countries were getting back on a more normal footing after a decade of tension.
During NATO air raids on Serbia, U.S. warplanes bombed China’s embassy in Belgrade, killing three journalists in the building. U.S. President Bill Clinton and other U.S. officials apologized for what NATO described as a tragic error. But Beijing and many Chinese citizens believed the strike to be intentional, and the incident sparked anti-American protest in China. In this image, taken May 9, 1999, a day after the bombing, thousands of Chinese protesters march on the U.S. and British embassies in Beijing.
After years of negotiation with Beijing, U.S. lawmakers granted China Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, allowing unconditional, unlimited access for Chinese-made goods into the U.S. market. It also ended an annual review of China’s human rights record, upon which continuation of trade access had been conditioned. The action also paved the way for China’s entery into the World Trade Organization in September 2001. From 2000 to 2008, U.S.-China trade volume soared from $116 billion to $409 billion. In this image from May 2000, Chinese workers produce shoes for a U.S. company at a factory in northeast China’s Shenyang city.
A U.S. spy plane made an emergency landing on Hainan Island off China’s southern coast after a collision with a Chinese F-8 fighter jet. One Chinese pilot died after parachuting into the South China Sea. China detained the 24-member U.S. crew of the EP-3 Aries II reconnaissance aircraft for 11 days, releasing them only after the U.S. sent a letter of apology. Beijing also suspended all U.S. military visits to Hong Kong, a key stopover point, for three months. In this image from an April 13, 2001, briefing at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tells reporters that the Chinese jet became aggressive and hit the U.S. plane from below.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, who assumed control of the Communist Party, the government, and the military between 2002 and 2004, made his first visit to the United States as president. Hu, a member of what is known as China’s “fourth generation” of leaders, was generally seen as more pragmatic and less driven by ideology than past leaders -- Mao, Deng and Jiang. Hu’s four-day visit, which included a tour of Boeing, dinner with Bill Gates, a speech at Yale University, and talks with President George W. Bush, departed from the heavily scripted state visits of past Chinese leaders. In this image, Hu, second from left, listens to a presentation about new technology at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash. on April 18, 2006.
The 14th Dalai Lama greets supporters October 17, 2007 in front of the U.S. Capitol during a trip to Washington, D.C., to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by U.S. lawmakers. The award infuriated Chinese leaders who had long accused the Tibetan spiritual leader of seeking independence for Tibet, which China claims as part of its territory. The Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959 when China's military crushed the Tibetan resistance movement. He denies advocating independence for Tibet and instead accuses Beijing of committing cultural genocide in the region.
Amid global recession, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner traveled to China to discuss economic issues with China's top leaders. Washington pressed Beijing to let its currency trade more freely to help correct the trade imbalance. The U.S. also urged Beijing to encourage Chinese citizens to save less and spend more to help boost the global economy. An increasingly assertive Beijing also presented its agenda, calling on the United States to "guarantee the safety of China’s assets" in the U.S. Beijing worried that Washington’s policies would cause the dollar to depreciate, with dire consequences for its investments. Beijing holds $1.45 trillion in U.S.-denominated assets. In this June 2, 2009, image, Geithner meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing.
U.S. President Barack Obama meets China's President Hu Jintao on November 11, 2010 during a G20 Summit in Seoul amid the continuing global financial crisis. China was under criticism for keeping its currency artificially low against the dollar and other currencies to boost exports. Facing domestic pressures, President Obama urged China to continue movement on its exchange rate, while the Chinese leader pledged cooperation and a more flexible currency policy.
China's Vice President Xi Jinping talks with local people in the home of Roger and Sarah Lande in Muscatine, Iowa on February 15, 2012. Xi first visited the city in 1985 as a young man and stayed for two days to research Iowa's agriculture. The vice president's sentimental return visit was choreographed to show that China's leader-in-waiting can connect with the people of the American heartland, at a time of tensions between China and the United States.
Chinese blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, left, talks with U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, on May 2, 2012 in Beijing. Chen made a dramatic escape from house arrest and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy just days before the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A potential diplomatic crisis was averted when China and the United States negotiated an agreement to allow Chen to travel with his family to the United States.