171. Editorial Note
On April 12, 1971, President Richard Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, met at 6:37 p.m. in the Oval Office to discuss various issues, including the impact of ping-pong diplomacy on Soviet-American relations. (National Archives, Nixon [Page 495] Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Six days earlier, while competing in the World Table Tennis Championship in Nagoya, Japan, the American table tennis team had unexpectedly received an invitation to visit China.
The invitation increased speculation of a rapprochement between Washington and Beijing. There was, however, a complication for Kissinger’s triangular calculations. “What made the situation more intriguing,” he later recalled, “was that we were expecting Dobrynin back from the Soviet Union any day with an invitation to a summit. An announcement of a Moscow summit might abort the Chinese overture and too active a Chinese diplomacy might frustrate our Soviet policy.” (Kissinger, White House Years, pages 710–711) Although no other record of the conversation has been found, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman reported in his diary entry for April 12 that Nixon and Kissinger were both “very pleased” with the news from China, especially since the White House was planning to announce in two days the termination of trade restrictions:
“Henry feels that our whole policy and the current moves on China will help to shake the Soviets up, as will Brezhnev’s need to make a big peace move of some kind, which should play in our favor for a SALT agreement and a Summit conference. The P got to talking about timing on these. Rogers [had] made the point to him that he felt we were at the bottom of our cycle now; we have all the worst behind us and can start moving our way upward, which is basically what the P and Henry also feel. He talked about his trip to meet with Thieu, which he’ll be taking in June, and the hope that right after the demonstrations in the early part of May, we can announce the SALT Agreement and a little later announce the Summit meeting. Then make the Thieu trip in early June, get back and get to work on Summit planning, announce the ‘No more draftees in Vietnam’ idea in mid-summer, have the Summit meeting right after Labor Day, and then a new troop announcement in December. All of which should carry us pretty far up the ladder. Henry’s basically very optimistic on this. The big thing now is to make sure we get credit for all the shifts in China policy, rather than letting them go to the State Department, who of course, had nothing to do with it—in fact, opposed every step the P took because they were afraid any moves toward China would offend Russia.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)