304. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Henry Grunwald
    • Hugh Sidey
    • Jerry Schecter

[Omitted here are “light patter” on Kissinger’s secret trip to China and “further banter,” including discussion of the “tameness of the Russian reaction to the Chinese mission.” Before the “serious questioning” began, Kissinger confirmed that his answers would be “off the record.”]

[Page 897]

Q: How would you compare the Russians with the Chinese?

A: The Russians are tough, you know. They grab you by the balls first and then ask you if it hurts. Dealing with the Russians gives you a feeling that they have an inferiority complex. They seem constantly trying to prove themselves to the bureaucracy and to themselves. You never can conclude that they have thought things out well in advance. The Chinese appear more set on a particular course of action. There is less gamesmanship. They are tough, but not as abrasive. They are not as skilled as the Japanese. In the Russian case, for example, if I were to talk to Arbatov, I would receive canned Leninist analysis. I would, of course, disagree; and Arbatov would then play the psychiatrist role. He would constantly give the impression that my comments had not made any impact on him. In their rhetoric, Russia is never wrong; the United States is never right. The Chinese interpretation is never as crude or as unreal as the Soviet version, even though it may be Leninist. There are no slogans. My alternative interpretations of events, for instance, meet different responses from the Chinese. The Russians don’t debate an issue. When you state one side, they return to their original position. The Chinese will discuss the issue as a serious proposition. I had no idea what to expect when I went to China. I had never been to China nor met a Chinese Communist before. I had no briefing other than minimal materials about the personalities involved. I was surprised that they were not more like the Russians. The Chinese are willing to speak of their own failures. A European Communist leader could never admit to failures. The Chinese, for example, volunteered to talk about the cultural revolution and its problems.

[Omitted here is discussion of China and small talk.]

Q: Is this China affair a message to Russia from China that China is leaning on us.

A: That puts it too starkly. China needs to overcome the sense of isolation. This is the big factor.

[Omitted here is discussion of China, Vietnam, and American politics and small talk.]

Q: What effect will all this have on the SALT negotiations?

A: Empirically, we have noted that the official Soviet reaction has been more circumspect, more reciprocal, more forthcoming than before. Now David Rockefeller is told that the Russians want the SALT settlement as soon as possible.2

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Q: Should the President go to Moscow before he goes to Peking? Doesn’t it hurt the Russians psychologically to have him go first to China?

A: It’s too late for that now. They simply blew it. They can’t expect a trip to Moscow now.

Q: Is it in Moscow’s interest to have the Vietnam war continue?

A: Are you asking if Moscow wants to screw it up for China by prolonging the Vietnam war? Well, Hanoi won’t prolong the Vietnam war any more than it will settle the Vietnam war on the orders of its allies. Hanoi, like China, must be concerned about Japan. The Japanese have enormous economic power, and economic power can become military power. Hanoi is aware that if they continue to fight us, they may become so weak that they will fall prey to the Japanese or others. Everything must be weighed in the balance. For the Soviets, they have to balance whether it is worth it to embarrass us with the Vietnam war when the price they pay is something like the President’s going to China before he goes to Moscow. The President would go to China anyway even if the Vietnam war did not exist, but the Russians aren’t clear on that.

[Omitted here is discussion of China, Vietnam, Japan, and President Nixon and small talk.]

Q: What is this “new historical epoch” that you speak of?

A: China has not been participating for 22 years in the world. Now they are coming into international politics. We have 750 million new people in the world. They are going to have a big effect on world politics. We wouldn’t use the China effort in an anti-Soviet way. What could we do? What would we have to gain? But, of course, this does change our relationship with the Soviets.

Q: Is this protection for the Chinese against a nuclear strike by the United States?

A: You have focused on another reason why the trip will succeed. They don’t want to get the President to Peking in order to humiliate him. The big picture in Asia opens new perspectives. This may help European unity, in fact, though that wasn’t intended at the time, and it will clearly have an effect on India.

Q: You mean Eastern Europe will be able to use this against the Soviets?

A: True.

Q: Is this the old balance of power again?

A: Yes, it is something like the old system, but now war is not possible. The Vietnam war is not the important thing; what is urgent is a macro-grip on world politics.

[Omitted here is discussion of President Nixon, American politics, and Vietnam and small talk.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1026, Presidential/HAK Memcons, May 1971–December 1972. No classification marking. Drafted on August 13. The conversation took place in the Time–Life Washington office. The full text of the memorandum is published in Aijazuddin, ed., The White House and Pakistan, pp. 221–228
  2. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met David Rockefeller on July 20 from 4:13 to 5 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) No record of the conversation has been found.