147. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt and William Hyland of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

    • Moscow–Peking–Hanoi: A new Crisis?

We think it is quite possible to read the latest Chinese ideological attack against the USSR not solely in terms of their continuing dispute with Moscow.2 Rather it can be seen as the latest move in a developing crisis between Hanoi, Peking and Moscow brought on by the Laotian operations and intimations of an attack against North Vietnam.

For Hanoi the Laos operation raises in an acute form questions about its ability to continue protracted war, and if it chooses to do so, what it could expect if, in fact, South Vietnamese forces launched an attack on the North.

  • Xuan Thuy’s3 repeated efforts to link DRV and Chinese security was a manifestation of the private pressures the North Vietnamese must have been putting on China for a clear-cut commitment.
  • Chou En Lai visit went far behind “showing the flag.”4
  • —He was forced to officially identify Chinese and North Vietnamese security, for the first time in years. It seems clear from the record of Chou’s remarks and those of his hosts that he tried to hedge on such a commitment but was forced to agree in the end (e.g. the official communiqué).
  • —Moreover, this decision already has produced a major crisis in Peking, which was reflected in the new quote from Mao denouncing those “among us” who are reluctant to give aid to Hanoi. This can only be read as “among us Chinese,” i.e. not Moscow. It could mean that a group in Peking resisted giving a firm commitment, and this is why the Vietnamese had to force the issue.

The crisis was aggravated by Soviet tactics.

  • —This is good evidence that the Soviets immediately unearthed their old proposals to send in more aid, if they had unhindered access across China, including Soviet railway guards, or to participate in “joint action” with Peking.
  • —The Soviets knew the Chinese would turn this down, and in doing so would lose credibility in Hanoi.
  • —In these circumstances we can be reasonably sure that, when the Chinese resisted, the Soviets argued with Hanoi that they simply could not count on Peking or continue a protracted war and must therefore become more flexible politically.

This is the background for reading part of the new Chinese polemic. It really attacks Hanoi, and indicates that the price the Chinese have exacted for their new military commitment is that Hanoi must persist in the fighting and not fall under the spell of revisionism.

This seems a valid interpretation of the following long statement, which if read in light of the proposals for coalition government, are almost certainly directed at Hanoi:

“In some cases where the revolutionary people had already taken up arms and their armed forces had grown considerably, certain parties handed over the People’s Armed Forces and forfeited the fruits of the revolution because they sought official posts in bourgeois governments or were duped by the reactionaries.

“In the past decade many communist parties have participated in elections and parliaments but none has set up a dictatorship of the proletariat by such means. Even if a communist party should win a majority in parliament or participate in the government, this would not mean a change in the character of bourgeois political power, reactionary ruling classes can proclaim the election null and void, dissolve the parliament, or directly use violence to kick out the communist party. If a proletarian party does no mass work, rejects armed struggle and makes a fetish of parliamentary elections, it will lull the masses and corrupt itself. The bourgeois buys over the communist party through parliamentary elections and turns it into a revisionist party …”

As for the Sino-Soviet aspect of this diatribe, it is notable that the ideological aspects are not carried over into state relations. The border problem is not mentioned, nor is there any breath of Chinese charges of Soviet military pressure on Peking.

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The Chinese were careful to pull some of their punches in a way that the Soviets will detect. It is still strong language especially on Brezhnev, but it is not even close to some of the old attacks on Khrushchev.

In sum, we think there may be a struggle of some kind going on over Hanoi’s policies. It may already be over, with the Chinese viewpoint again predominant. But the need to launch this polemic suggests that it is not over, and will continue, with the next round probably to take place in Moscow, if the Vietnamese attend the 24th Congress.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 714, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XII. Secret. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum. According to an attached correspondence profile, the memorandum was “noted by HAK” on March 30.
  2. On March 17, the Chinese Communist press agency released a statement on the centenary of the Paris Commune of 1870, scoring the Soviet Union for trying to “reduce revolutionary violence to the minimum.” (New York Times, March 18, 1971, p. 1) Kissinger mentioned the statement during a meeting with Nixon that evening: Kissinger: “The Chinese really blasted Russia.” Nixon: “The Chinese did?” Kissinger: “Yeah. And—” Nixon: “About what?” Kissinger: “About, oh, bourgeois—a real all-out blast just before their Party Congress. So—” Nixon: “It’s a real fight.” Kissinger: “Yeah.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 470–8) In its reply on March 22, Pravda noted that the Chinese statement was “filled with crude attacks and slander” and had been well-received in the “press of a number of imperialist states.” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 12 (April 20, 1971), p. 30)
  3. Xuan Thuy was the head of the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris peace talks.
  4. Zhou visited North Vietnam March 5–8.