24. Editorial Note

On May 15, 1969, the National Security Council’s Senior Review Group, chaired by Henry Kissinger, met to consider U.S. China policy. The discussion addressed the question of how to balance relations with China and the Soviet Union. Kissinger “wondered whether we really wanted China to be a world power like the Soviet Union, competing with us, rather than their present role which is limited to aiding certain insurgencies.”

“Nutter mentioned Sino-Soviet difficulties and Kissinger suggested that this was a key issue. What is our view of the evolution of Sino-Soviet relations, how much can we influence them, should we favor one or the other, etc. Brown noted that China thinks that we favor the Soviet Union, while Unger suggested that present policy gives us the flexibility to take advantage of Sino-Soviet developments. Kissinger noted that the Soviets and Chinese each think we are playing with the other.”

Kissinger added: “Some Kremlinologists believe that any attempt to better our relations with China will ruin those with the Soviet Union. History suggested to him that it is better to align yourself with the weaker, not the stronger of two antagonistic partners. It is not clear to him that you achieve better relations with the Soviets necessarily because of a hard policy toward China and vice versa. Everyone agrees that we wish to reduce the risk of war with 700 million people, but the question is whether alignment with the Soviets, more conciliatory posture toward China or some combination would best achieve this end.” [Page 82] (Minutes of Senior Review Group Meeting; National Security Council, Secretariat Files, Senior Review Group Minutes, May 15, 1969 Meeting)

The meeting was held at 2:10 p.m. in the White House Situation Room. The other members of the group cited in the discussion are Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs G. Warren Nutter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Winthrop Brown, and Lieutenant General Frederick T. Unger, Director for Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The full text of the minutes is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, China, 1969–1972.