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Remembering John H. Holdridge

Remembering John H. Holdridge
by Wang Chi

In July, the U.S.-China Policy Foundation was deeply saddened by the loss of John H. Holdridge, one of the most dynamic American diplomats, one of the foundation's original founding members, and an old friend. We have great respect for his 38 successful years in the Foreign Service. He was an accomplished Chinese linguist, an expert in Asian affairs, and an advocate for improved understanding between the United States and other Asian countries.

I had known John since the early 1970s. In June 1972, I was sent on a cultural mission to Beijing to negotiate the opening of exchange of publications between the Library of Congress and the National Library of Peking (now the National Library of China). After my return, National Security Adviser Dr. Henry Kissinger read my report and asked John, his senior staff assistant for Asian affairs, to write me a letter of congratulations for a successful trip.

From that time on, John and I became friends, and we had many opportunities to see each other at official occasions as well as many informal get-togethers. The early 1970s were a time of great improvement in relations between the United States and China, and John played a leading role in that development.

In 1937, when he was a young man, John visited China shortly before the infamous July 7 Marco Polo Bridge incident. He was very impressed by the old city of Peking, with the friendliness of the Chinese people, and with Chinese culture. This early experience made him want to grow up to be a diplomat and to bring about a better understanding between the Chinese and American peoples.
He began his public service as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from 1941 to 1945. His first military posting in 1945 took him to Korea, where he successfully completed the U.S. Foreign Service exam and eagerly accepted the State Department's offer to study Mandarin. During the 1950s, he became an accomplished Foreign Service officer and developed a great deal of knowledge about China. He then focused closely on China-related issues as a China Desk Officer in the State Department, Chief of the Mainland Reporting Unit in Hong Kong, and Chief of the Office of Research and Analysis for East Asia/Pacific in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He helped numerous Chinese and other Asian students to come to the United States to study.

In 1969 John began serving under Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council staff. During the next few years, he played a significant advisory role in the Nixon administration as the United States attempted to forge diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. In that capacity, John accompanied Kissinger on his secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 and later accompanied President Nixon on his historic trip to China in February 1972. He was one of the individuals who drafted the Shanghai Communiqué signed by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and President Richard Nixon.

When the American liaison office opened in the spring of 1973, John served as its first Deputy Chief under Ambassador David Bruce, our former ambassador to France. During my first visit to the office in 1974, I had lunch with John and Donald Anderson, who was then political officer in Beijing. During that visit I also had an opportunity to meet with future president George H.W. Bush, who was then the Chief of Mission.

In 1975, John Holdridge served as ambassador to Singapore under President Ford. Later, from 1981 to 1983, he served as assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific. It was during that time that he was a key player, along with Ambassador Arthur W. Hummel, Jr., in negotiating the third U.S.-China Joint Communiqué, signed by President Ronald Reagan on August 17, 1982. In that document, the United States declared that it intended to reduce and ultimately end the sale of arms to Taiwan. John frequently praised Nixon, Kissinger, and Alexander Haig, Reagan's secretary of state, as the three individuals most instrumental in developing better relations between the United States and China.

After serving as ambassador to Indonesia (1983-86) under President Reagan, John retired from the Foreign Service. Although after his retirement John and Martha Holdridge spent most weekends at their beautiful cattle farm in West Virginia, he remained active in various organizations relating to U.S.-China relations. He also wrote his memoirs, Crossing the Divide, an Insider's Account of the Normalization of U.S.-China Relations, which was published in 1997. In late February and early March of 1997, John, the late Arthur W. Hummel, Jr., and I represented the U.S.-China Policy Foundation on a trip to China with members of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Shanghai Communiqué. It was a memorable trip. John gave a speech reflecting on the Shanghai Communiqué at a dinner chaired by current Vice Premier Qian Qichen at the Diaoyu Tai Guest House Ballroom in Beijing.

John took his last trip to China in October 2000 on behalf of the foundation, visiting Shanghai, Beijing, and Dunhuang. He had a pleasant trip reminiscing with old friends about the 1970s and 1980s. He was planning another trip to China in 2002 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Shanghai Accord.

John held a deep love for Chinese civilization. He strongly urged the creation of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation to improve mutual understanding between the United States and China and to better relations between these great nations. John will be sorely missed, and his contributions to America, Asia, and U.S.-China relations will be fondly remembered. I have lost a great friend and the foundation has lost a valuable supporter.

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