The eight-day visit would open the door for the formation of diplomatic relations between the world's richest country and its most populous. It would also reshape the world order as it was known: shifting the power dynamics of the Cold War and playing a part in China's transition from impoverished isolation to a new role as a growing global power broker and economic partner to the United States.
But 50 years on, that milestone is likely to be marked by little fanfare from Beijing or Washington.
Instead, the anniversary of Nixon's historic visit comes at a low point in US-China relations. Many in Washington now view China as a growing economic and military threat, while an increasingly assertive and nationalistic China under leader Xi Jinping has pushed back on what it sees as American interference in its affairs and region. Strained ties have narrowed leeway for cooperation -- with the US even keeping its diplomats home from Beijing's Olympics earlier this month in protest of China's human rights record.