111. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Sino-Soviet Relations

Attached are extracts from a perceptive CIA analysis of current Sino-Soviet relations.2 The report indicates, inter alia:

  • —Peking admits being forced into border talks and believes Soviet efforts to improve relations with the West are part of preparations for “dealing” with China.
  • —Peking’s campaign of civilian “war preparations” is designed to deter a Soviet attack as well as promote national unity and unpopular domestic programs.
  • —Moscow will continue military pressure along the frontier and pursue diplomatic efforts to isolate China.
  • —Peking will remain the vulnerable and defensive party and seek to improve its international diplomatic position.

Tab A

Extracts From Central Intelligence Agency Intelligence Memorandum


Peking’s Perspective: A Siege Mentality

A recent tour d’horizon [1½ lines of source text not declassified] has given us a good example of this conspiratorial and somewhat distorted Chinese world view. Candidly admitting that Peking had been forced into the border talks under the Soviet gun, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] launched into a fascinating Chinese-eye view of Soviet foreign policy. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] asserted that in seeking a European security conference and attempting to improve relations with West Germany the Soviets are trying to create a “quiet Western front” so as to be able to “deal with China in the East.” The clincher [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] was the Soviet-US negotiations on Seabeds and SALT: he implied that before coming to final grips with the China problem, Moscow feels compelled to reach an understanding with its sometime enemy/sometime partner in counterrevolution, US imperialism.

Meanwhile, such verbal expressions of concern over Moscow’s designs against China are being reinforced by a “war preparations” campaign that has been under way among the civilian population since the beginning of the present border conflict last spring. According to a series of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reports, the latest aspects of this drive are the digging of trenches and underground personnel shelters, frequent air raid drills in the cities, and the dispersal of a portion of the urban population. This does not mean that Peking is anticipating an imminent Soviet attack; fundamentally, much of what is billed as “war preparations” is designed to promote national unity and unpopular domestic programs. Nevertheless, such highly visible civil defense exercises also demonstrate to Moscow that China is prepared to resist Soviet pressure and is maintaining at least a minimum level of readiness against an attack. According to a recent [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] report [less than 1 line of source text not [Page 341] declassified] the Chinese leadership, has explained the “war preparations” campaign [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in precisely these terms. Noting that the campaign was aimed at the USSR rather than the US, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] expressed a belief that Chinese “readiness” would help deter a Soviet attack and added that “if we did not prepare, the Soviets would certainly attack.”

The New Sino-Soviet Equation

Whatever the course of the talks,3 this much seems clear: they are not likely to alter significantly the present realities of the Sino-Soviet dispute or in any way diminish the ideological and political gulf separating the two sides. Moscow, painfully convinced of a long-term menace posed by a Maoist China and encouraged by its success in intimidating Peking, can be expected to maintain a hard line in dealing with the Chinese. Even if the border remains calm the Soviets will almost certainly see fit to continue and perhaps increase their massive military superiority along the frontier—a very real form of military pressure. By the same token, Moscow appears committed to its diplomatic policy of “containment” and is not likely to back away from its efforts to isolate China within and without the Communist world.

It is difficult to overemphasize the impact of this Soviet policy on China’s future domestic and international course. Peking will of necessity remain the vulnerable and defensive party in the dispute and the formulation of future Chinese policy may be increasingly influenced by the shadow of Soviet hostility. On the domestic front, such questions as proper military tactics and planning to cope with the Soviet threat will almost certainly become contentious issues as Peking continues its efforts to construct a new domestic order out of the political wreckage of the Cultural Revolution. In terms of Chinese diplomacy the effects of this new Sino-Soviet equation have already surfaced. The recent attempt by Peking to repair its ties with North Korea, North Vietnam and Yugoslavia were doubtless encouraged by China’s growing awareness of its weak international position vis-à-vis Moscow. The future course of Chinese foreign policy will probably be increasingly motivated by Peking’s desire to do what it can to correct this diplomatic imbalance. The fact that Chinese diplomats in Warsaw have just received the US Ambassador for exploratory talks is further evidence of this state of mind.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1006, Haig Files, Sino-Soviet Relations. Secret; Sensitive. The memorandum indicates the President saw it. A handwritten note in the upper-right-hand corner reads, “Take to San Clemente.” Nixon arrived in San Clemente on December 30 and departed on January 5, 1970.
  2. On December 17, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms sent Kissinger Intelligence Memorandum No. 2625/69, entitled “Sino-Soviet Relations: The View from Moscow and Peking.” Helms’ covering memorandum stated, “I believe that both the President and you will find this up-dating of Sino-Soviet relations of interest.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 93–T01468R, Box 5, Sino-Soviet Border, Aug.–Dec. 1969) On December 27, Kissinger replied that, “The memorandum on current Sino-Soviet relations was very perceptive and most interesting. I appreciate your bringing the report to my attention and have forwarded it to the President.” (Ibid.)
  3. Sino-Soviet talks took place in Moscow during the first half of December.