119. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Special Assistant (Price)1

[Omitted here is commentary on domestic politics.]

As we look at what happened with the Chinese and Soviets, the reason China and the U.S. finally got together is not because we or they finally reached the conclusion that we had been mistaken. It was because at this juncture in history there were very fundamental shifts in the world balance of power that made it imperative that they look elsewhere, and useful to us to have better relations with them.

The leaders of the Chinese government are more dedicated to Communism as an ideology than the Soviets, because they are in an earlier stage. Also, they are more dedicated to supporting the “third world.” They consider themselves weak. When it comes to Africa, to Southeast Asia, to the Middle East—the Chinese speak out strongly to those nations. Also, for another reason—not because they love all those people, but also because the overriding Chinese and Russian concern is the fact that both are in competition for the leadership of the Communist world. When the Russians are trying to make an accommodation with the major powers, the Chinese see this as an opportunity to make gains with minor powers around the world. This hasn’t worked very well.

The fundamental point, however, is why the Chinese felt it was in their interest. Put yourself in the position of the Chinese leaders—with 800 million people, on one border they see the Russians, with more men there than against Western Europe. To the south, there is India. The Chinese have contempt for the Indians, after the 1962 war. But it gives them pause to see what India could do with the support of the Soviets against China’s friend, Pakistan. To the northeast, they see Japan. They have no reason to fear Japan, because Japan has no nuclear weapons. But they have enormous respect for Japan, which has invaded and occupied China. Also, Japan is now the third and will soon be the second economic power in the world, and they could well develop nuclear weapons soon on the industrial base that they have.

[Page 409]

Then there’s the U.S. As far as our system is concerned, we are much more antagonistic toward them than anyone else. Mao and Chou make no decisions on a personal basis—only on cold calculation—which is true of most world leaders.

So, if you were the Chinese—you would welcome better relations with the U.S.—given on one flank not an enemy at the very least, and also a nation that because of its interest might restrain some of China’s neighbors.

One of the major Chinese doctrines is that Japan must never rearm. Also they say that the U.S. and Japan should dissolve our defense arrangement. But they don’t want this. Japan, unprotected, facing Russia and China with its enormous economic capacity is not going to be neutral—it will either go with one of the others or rearm. The Chinese know that.

These clowns who write for the media do not understand this. They see it all in terms of their own prejudices from the past.

Now look at the Soviet Union—why is the Soviet Union interested in talking to the U.S. in a number of fields? While they of course jump through the ceiling if you talk about linkage, they link everything.

What are the Soviet Union’s problems? They look at China—they know they have nothing to fear now from China, but they also know what they themselves have done economically in 50 years in a relatively backward country. They respect the Chinese people. They know that a billion Chinese in 25 years could be an enormous threat in the future.

The Soviets’ major purpose with the U.S. is to weaken the European alliance, and to erase the idea that the Soviets pose any threat to NATO.

As they look to the future, they realize their interests at this time would not be served by allowing the U.S.-Chinese opening to ripen into, not friendship, but a possible accommodation which down the road might threaten them.

So—did we go to China to play against the Soviets, and vice versa? We have to say no. If we ever said yes, they’d have to react the other way. But put yourself in their position.

On arms control, there would have been no agreement whatever if we hadn’t had ABM. And we won that by only one vote in the Senate.

The Soviets are no more interested in peace as an end in itself than the Fascists were. They prefer it. Their people don’t want war. But the leaders—their goals, while not as violently expressed as the Chinese, have not changed. They still want Communism to spread to other countries, by subversion perhaps. They play it down. No Soviet soldier has been lost since World War II. But, because they have avoided a military confrontation with the U.S., this does not mean that the Soviet leaders [Page 410] have abandoned their ultimate goal—the victory of Communism in other areas of the world.

Every one of the Eastern European countries is a potential problem for the Soviet Union except for perhaps Bulgaria.

These countries are pulled toward Western Europe. They have differences with the Russians. Communism hasn’t sunk in there. So the Russians have Eastern Europe on one side, China on the other—and also internal problems.

Anyone who has gone to the Soviet Union 12 years ago, and again now, has to be impressed by the changes. But theirs is still a very primitive society by our standards. They want more consumer goods. So—where’s the logical place to turn? France and England don’t matter any more. The Soviet and Chinese leaders are total pragmatists. They know where the power is.

Unless the U.S. has not only military strength, but also leadership that makes us respected and credible, they wouldn’t be interested in talking to us.

That’s why I took the action I did in mining Haiphong.2 If we were to lose in Vietnam, it would have pleased the Soviets and the Chinese, but there would have been no respect for the American President, no matter who he was—because we had power and didn’t use it. When U.S. does become involved, we must be credible. We must stand by our commitments, our allies, our friends.

So the Soviets look at the situation—the arms race—in major categories, they have caught us. They do respect our enormous economic power, and they believe if they get into a race with us on the military side, they cannot hope to gain an advantage and win it.

Therefore, we have reached these agreements.

[Omitted here is commentary relating to defense issues.]

I’m convinced that as a result of what we have done, the chances of having a more peaceful world 50 years from now are substantially increased. But this would not have been done with woolly-headed idealism. If we’ve come this far, it is because we have not been belligerent, we have avoided exacerbating the problem by engaging in a shouting match. Our personal relationship is as good as it can be. I never believe in letting personal relationships make difficult decisions more difficult. But—you’ve got to put yourself in their position—how are they going to evaluate us? If they think we are weak, they are going to pounce on us. If they think we are strong, they are going to deal with us.

[Page 411]

[Omitted here is brief discussion on defense matters and domestic politics.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, B Series Documents, Box 7 (“B” Box 59, Folder 14). Confidential. The President addressed the Cabinet and selected members of the White House staff in the Cabinet Room. According to the Daily Diary, the meeting convened at 8:37 and ended at 10:17 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 113.