14. Editorial Note
President Nixon met again with President De Gaulle on March 1, 1969, at the Grand Trianon Palace in Versailles. Among the topics discussed was Nixon’s desire to develop “parallel relationships” with China and the Soviet Union:
“The President said that if the General agreed they might talk for an hour on Sunday [March 2]. He would like to have the General’s views at that time on Vietnam and Southeast Asia. By that time the President would have been briefed by Lodge and his team. There was one other matter about which they might talk if time permitted. In 1963 when he had talked to the General, and he was talking privately now, not for public announcements that might embarrass the Soviet Union, whether it might not be wise to develop lines of communications with the Soviets and the Chinese and so to speak not put all of our eggs in one basket. There was considerable sentiment in the U.S. State Dept, not only in favor of a Soviet-U.S. détente but also for a lineup of the Soviets, Europe and the U.S. against Chinese. His own view was that while this might be a good short-range policy, he felt that for the longer range it was more important to recognize that our interests might perhaps best be served by recognizing that China and the USSR were two great powers [Page 64] and it might be better to develop parallel relationships with them. This was of course in some measure largely theoretical as it was difficult to have relations with the Chinese.”
After a digression on developments in Vietnam, De Gaulle and Nixon returned to a discussion of the possibility of improving relations with China without adversely affecting relations with the Soviet Union:
“General De Gaulle then said that they had been talking about China. What about the possibility of relations with China and how would this affect relationships with the Soviets? Some said that one should try and play the Chinese off against the Soviets and try to divide them. Others felt that it was worth trying to improve relations with both. The French had relations with the Chinese and it had not brought them much advantage except perhaps economically and a bit culturally, but mostly economically and in some cases some exchanges. They had some and might perhaps have more. The Chinese had great economic requirements and diplomatic relations facilitated economic relations. The French had renewed relations with China but had not expected much of it as the Chinese had appeared to be in a state of ebullition. The Cultural Revolution had been accompanied by great agitation and they had done nothing else except agitate. This was not satisfactory for political relations with them. They now appeared to be calming down and returning to a more normal situation. He believed that there was advantage in having relations with them. They were a huge entity and certainly had great resources. They were working and making progress in industry, in technology, in nuclear matters. They had ambitions and actions everywhere, even in Paris, in Africa and in Asia. As time passed they would have more political weight. What attitude should we adopt—that of isolating them and letting them cook in their own juice—of having no opening or contacts with them? He had no illusions but did not feel that we should isolate them in their own rage. We should have exchanges at all levels and we might eventually see the beginnings of a détente. How this would affect the Soviets was difficult to know. The Soviets usually recommended that one should have normal relations with the Chinese. They had such relations themselves even though these were not always easy. That, however, was their business. The West should try to get to know China, to have contacts and to penetrate it. We should try to get them to sit at the table with us and offer them openings. The French felt that this was the best policy and we could see what conclusions could be drawn. If the U.S. began to have relations with China this would mean that China would probably get into the UN. This would have much effect and a lot of dust would be stirred up but he did not believe that the overall results would be bad. The Prime Minister queried on this but the General agreed with him.[Page 65]
“The President said that he had talked to [André] Malraux on the previous evening. He had seen Mao on the eve of the Cultural Revolution and Mao had said that he had to stir up everything otherwise China would go to sleep.
“The President said that as he saw it, there were two policies which might be followed, a short range policy and a long range policy. In the short range policy there could be no changes for a number of reasons relating to their impact on Asia. On a long range policy he felt that it would be detrimental to the interests of the U.S. in 10 years for it to appear that the West was ganging up with the Soviet Union against China. He felt that it was important for the French to extend their communications and keep a line open into China and in looking down the road towards talks with the Soviet Union we might keep an anchor to windward with respect to China. This did not mean that we would do anything so crude as to suggest we play China off against the Soviet Union. The Soviets would resent this bitterly. In 10 years when China had made significant nuclear progress we would have to have more communications than we had today.
“General De Gaulle said that the French already had relations with the Chinese and it would be better for the U.S. to recognize China before they were obliged to do it by the growth of China. He felt that this would be better and that was why the French had chosen to do it earlier.” (Memorandum of conversation; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 447, President’s Trip Files, Memcons-Europe, Feb 23-Mar 2, 1969)
The meeting was held at 10 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)