107. Editorial Note

During the course of a long meeting between President Nixon and Premier Chou En-lai on February 23, 1972, the President raised the issue of a triangular relationship among the United States, China, and the Soviet Union for the purpose of assuring the Prime Minister that the United States did not intend to promote discord between China and the Soviet Union:

“I am sure the Prime Minister, who follows our press very closely has noted that some rather cynical observers have implied that it would be in our interests to have the two great socialist superpowers—the USSR is one, and China could be one—be in conflict because this would make things safer for us. Some have written this. The Prime Minister probably didn’t notice this, but I was asked in one of my press conferences a year ago about this, and I categorically said that it was not in the interest of the United States to have war between the Soviet Union and China. War between major powers can never be contained, and the whole world would become involved.

“Prime Minister Chou: Because everything is linked.

“President Nixon: Now to the assurance that I give the Prime Minister.

“Prime Minister Chou: Yes, I also read your press conference.

“President Nixon: To the assurances I already gave the Prime Minister I add this. In December, when the situation was getting very sensitive in the subcontinent—I’m using understatement—I was prepared to warn the Soviet Union against undertaking an attack on China. A warning, of course, means nothing unless the individual being warned realizes you may have the will to carry it out. Insofar as Japan is concerned and India, there is no question about where our influence will be used. With regard to the Soviet Union, I can also give assurances [Page 367] that the U.S. would oppose any attempt by the Soviet Union to engage in an aggressive action against China. This we would do because we believe it is in our interest, and in the interest of preserving peace as well, world peace.” (Memorandum of conversation, February 23, 1972; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memos for the President, Classified Material, Box 3)

The President raised the subject again in a meeting with Chou En-lai on February 25, speaking of the Soviet Union:

“I think they apparently welcomed an antagonistic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. That is why they reacted when we showed we had changed our attitude. They did not want us to have more normal relations.

“I would not try to judge motives, but based on their conduct they apparently want the People’s Republic and the United States to be at odds. However, our policy is not, as I said to the Prime Minister, to have the People’s Republic and the Soviet Union at odds. As I told the Prime Minister, I reject the proposition that it is in the interest of the United States to have the Soviet Union and China in a state of belligerency.

“In a sentence, we want good relations with the People’s Republic and we want good relations with the Soviet Union. And we would welcome better relations between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. That, however, is something the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic will have to work out.

“As I said when I was in Romania and Yugoslavia, my principle is any nation can be a friend of the United States without being someone else’s enemy. That is my view.

“I realize that is sometimes very difficult to achieve, because there is a tendency for some nations to gang up against other nations. But in the very delicate power balances in the world we in the United States would not gain in the long run by trying to stir up trouble between other nations. We, the United States, would not gain by trying to stimulate conflict between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic. The People’s Republic would not gain, the Soviet Union would not gain, and we would not gain by trying to stimulate conflict between the others.

“That is the idea, but in practicality we realize that the real world is very different than the ideal, and that is what we are concerned about, the real world.” (Memorandum of conversation, February 25, 1972; ibid.)

The full text of the conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, China, 1969–1972.