93. Editorial Note

On July 16, 1971, Henry Kissinger provided a briefing on a background basis to members of the press on his visit to Peking and the upcoming Presidential visit to China publicly announced the previous evening. In response to a question about recent public statements by the [Page 325] administration cautioning against exaggerated expectations of improved relations with China, Kissinger explained:

“Well, we have had a difficult problem with maintaining a public posture on this issue. The relationships with the People’s Republic have gone in essentially two phases: (1) In the first year and a half of the Administration, there was a general attempt on our part to communicate to Peking that we were prepared to have a serious dialogue, and that we were not prisoners of history.

“We also took, in addition, a series of unilateral steps that were public that symbolized this. Then, starting this spring, about concurrently with the visible manifestation of the ping-pong diplomacy, the manifestations having been in a general framework of trying to express a general attitude, both sides moved into a more concrete phase.

“On the other hand, there are a number of really interesting aspects. When you have not been in touch with a country for 25 years, it is amazing how technically difficult it is to simply find out where you should talk, and with whom. That is something that we don’t teach in textbooks on diplomacy.

“When you are nursing a rather tenuous dialogue, you don’t want to create excessive expectations of how it might go. Even after we knew, for example, that a visit by the American envoy in Peking would be welcome, there still remained a lot to be discussed about how to work it out; what should be discussed; what the objectives should be.

“The President felt that until we know that, it would be best not to raise undue expectations, excessive speculation, for each side to take a public position that it might then regret, and if it turned out that a later moment would be more propitious, we could then do it without embarrassment or without a sense of failure.”

Kissinger also addressed the impact of the opening to China on U.S.-Soviet relations, particularly a prospective summit:

“The President’s view on a meeting with the Soviet leaders has been frequently stated. It is one that, of course, he has always been, in principle, willing to undertake. It would seem to me that the occasion of a visit to Peking is not the best to also visit Moscow. The issues to be discussed between the two countries are too various. But in principle, we are prepared to meet with the Soviet leaders whenever our negotiations have reached a point where something fruitful can be accomplished.

“Let me make one other point: Nothing that has been done in our relations with the People’s Republic of China has any purpose or is in any way directed against any other countries, and especially not against the Soviet Union. We are taking these steps because we cannot imagine a stable, international peace in which a country of 750 million people is [Page 326] kept in isolation. We believe that by improving relations with the People’s Republic of China we are contributing to peace in the world, and therefore are contributing to all nations.”

Returning to his earlier theme, Kissinger expanded on the two phases in the development of informal relations with the People’s Republic of China:

“I was saying that there were two phases in our relationship with the People’s Republic of China: One, a period in which a general framework was established, first through a series of communications in various ways on our part that indicated that we were not bound by previous history and that expressed general philosophy. That also was expressed in the President’s annual foreign policy report and was expressed in the first public use of the phrase, ‘People’s Republic of China’ last October in a toast of President Nixon to President Ceausescu, and was repeated in February in the President’s World Report, even in the middle of the Laotian operation. There was also a series of steps which the Department of State took to indicate a general willingness to open relations as well as public statements by the Secretary of State and others.

“The second phase started in April when we moved from this general framework to a more specific exploration of where we might go from here. Then in April, May, and June this meeting was set up through a series of exchanges and very detailed preparations which were made. The preparations had been somewhat handicapped by the fact that the only senior officials who knew about it were the President, the Secretary of State and myself.”

Toward the end of the briefing, Kissinger discussed the opening to China within the context of world affairs:

“We knew that making this decision would hurt some old friends. It is always difficult to break away from a well established pattern, which at least has the advantage that its framework has become very familiar. It forced us to re-think the whole nature of the world in which policy had been conducted more or less as if the People’s Republic of China did not exist.

“I don’t want to speak for the People’s Republic of China, but I don’t doubt that for their leaders there were some enormously complex decisions to be made, given their image of the United States and given the fact of this long-time hostility and, indeed, confrontation in so many parts of the world, sometimes physically and always ideologically.

“So it was a complex, and I am frank to say, in many respects a moving occasion to have the privilege of seeing the beginning of this and dealing with what are no doubt very dedicated and very serious [Page 327] people, and we both recognized that we were engaged on a very difficult path which had many pitfalls and which would take an enormous sense of restraint and responsibility on both sides.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 426, Subject File, Background Briefings, December 1970-December 1971) The briefing took place at the Western White House in San Clemente, California, between 9:15 and 10:10 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time. White House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler introduced Kissinger.