236. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


I. The Soviet Perspective

The Chinese spectre and your initiative toward the PRC haunt Moscow and its foreign policy. Such elements as the USSR’s European moves, its bilateral relations with us, and its attitude toward Indochina are inextricably bound up with the bitter Sino-Soviet rivalry. Thus, a brief look at this feud is in order.

The Sino-Soviet Dispute. Moscow’s dispute with Peking began over differing ideological interpretations of Marxist-Leninist dogma. The major issues have included:

  • —whether there could be “different roads to Socialism” (the Chinese position) or only a single road through Moscow (the Russian position);
  • —whether there had to be revolutionary bloodshed in achieving the “victory of socialism” (the Chinese position) or a “peaceful transition” (the Russian position); and
  • —whether there could be relatively peaceful state-to-state relations with the “imperialists,” particularly the U.S., pending the “victory of socialism.” (The Russians said there could be, while, ironically, the original Chinese stand on relations with the U.S. was that a “firm line must be drawn between the enemy and ourselves.”)

This ideological dispute turned into something far more complex, and with distinct nationalistic overtones, when Khrushchev attempted [Page 909] to force the Chinese back onto the “correct” Soviet ideological line by imposing sanctions. In 1959 he tore up an agreement on Soviet help to China in developing nuclear weapons; in 1960 he withdrew all Soviet technical advisers from China and abrogated all Soviet economic aid agreements. The Chinese, as you know, neither forgot nor forgave.

Infusing the other elements in the dispute have been the personal antipathies between the top Soviet leaders and Mao Tse-tung. Khrushchev greatly offended Mao in February 1956 by denigrating Stalin without informing Mao first; the latter regarded himself as being more senior in the Communist movement than Khrushchev, and as someone who certainly should have been consulted on such a major move.2 Khrushchev’s 1959 and 1960 termination of aid, noted above, deepened the personal split. The intense Sino-Soviet polemic which developed in 1963 following the Partial Test Ban Treaty had many elements of a personal KhrushchevMao Tse-tung diatribe.

The replacement of Khrushchev in 1964 by the present Soviet leadership brought no change in Peking’s attitude. After waiting a while to see what would happen, the Chinese (probably Mao in particular) took the line that these leaders were actually worse than Khrushchev in terms of ideological deviationism although they were much more clever.3

From 1963 to the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1968 the Chinese set out to undermine Soviet pretensions to leadership of the world Communist movement by supporting anti-Soviet factions, leaders, and splinter parties everywhere. In addition, they challenged the Soviets for influence in many non-Communist areas of the world, e.g., in the Middle East and Africa. Sino-Soviet rivalry literally extended worldwide.

As China went through the Cultural Revolution period, the attention of its leaders shifted away somewhat from the dispute with the USSR towards internal political matters. Just as China was emerging from the Cultural Revolution, however, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, bringing about a renewed Chinese ideological onslaught on Moscow. The Chinese saw in the Soviet moves against a deviationist state to restore it to orthodoxy the makings of a dress rehearsal. The Soviets were no longer merely “modern revisionists” in Chinese eyes; they also became “social imperialists” and the “new Tsars”—people who were certainly no better than the “imperialists,” and perhaps a whole lot worse.4

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Other major developments also stemmed from the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia: the heating up of the Sino-Soviet border dispute,5 including outright military clashes; and the subsequent Chinese indications of receptivity to improved Sino-US relations.

These developments clearly weigh very heavily on the Soviet leaders. There has been an extensive Soviet military build-up in Mongolia and on the Sino-Soviet frontier. Since 1965 they have tripled their ground forces opposite China and the build-up is continuing. The pattern suggests that they intend eventually to have 42 to 48 divisions and close to 1,100 aircraft opposite China, or some 700,000 troops. Moscow may have even contemplated a surgical strike against Chinese nuclear centers in the fall of 1969. And, Soviet paranoia over the possibility of Sino-US “collusion” constantly has been very much in evidence.

It is therefore evident that the Soviets believe they have an intractable, long-term problem in dealing with China, an ideological quarrel, a competition for influence in various parts of the world, and a nationalistic territorial dispute with distinct military overtones. The possibility of US-Chinese collaboration against the USSR makes the problem all the more serious. Emotionalism regarding China runs very high privately in Moscow; the Soviets might be said to have something of a “yellow peril” psychosis.6

Moscow’s present course for handling China is to try to cool the most pressing source of tension, the border dispute, and to wait for the death of Mao Tse-tung. The Soviet theory is that there are many Chinese who would favor a rapprochement with the USSR but are terrorized by Mao.7 Once Mao dies, the theory goes, these people can come into positions of authority and bring about a favorable change in Chinese policy. In the meantime, great tension remains and the chances of the U.S. in some way trying to capitalize on developments cannot be discounted.

(Incidentally, the Soviet role, if any, remains obscure in the alleged plot against Mao by his former heir-apparent Lin Piao.8 The fact that the aircraft carrying the fleeing plotters out of China was headed for the USSR, inevitably injected the USSR into this obscure episode. But there is no evidence either way that Moscow was actually involved in the plot.)

Thus, in agreeing to and carrying through with the Moscow meeting with you, the Soviets are in part seeking to assure themselves that [Page 911] we are not trying to take advantage of the Sino-Soviet dispute for anti-Soviet purposes. They are also clearly anxious to try to isolate China. (This is reflected as well in their support of India, their budding flirtation with Japan, their heavy arming of North Vietnam.)9 The Russian leaders also want to show the world and us that it is in Moscow, not Peking, that one reaches concrete bilateral agreements and transacts major substantive business. And they have continually sought—and will seek in Moscow—to engage us in agreements that have an anti-Chinese coloration. This lay behind their attempt to negotiate an agreement against unprovoked attacks from third countries and is one of their motives in pushing a nuclear nonaggression pact now.

We, in turn, have successfully countered this ploy by refusing agreements that could be aimed at third countries, keeping the Chinese fully informed, and promising them equal treatment.

Our Opening with China. Against this background of the Sino-Soviet dispute, many experts, in the government and outside, warned us that a dramatic move toward China would jeopardize our relations with Russia. To date, just the opposite has happened, thanks in part to our meticulous handling of the triangular relationship.

In the first half of your Administration, while we were taking limited steps toward the PRC in our public rhetoric and trade/travel regulations, our relations with Moscow fluctuated. There was general progress until the summer of 1970, and then we went through the crunchy phase—the violations of the Mideast ceasefire, the Jordanian crisis, Cienfuegos, some Berlin harassments, and Soviet attempts at differentiated détente in Europe. Our firm responses, the choices you posed to Moscow in your United Nations speech10 and elsewhere, and your private initiatives with Brezhnev at the beginning of 1971 began to move us ahead. We began to shape a possible summit and there was the May 20 breakthrough on SALT (which came a month after Chou invited our table tennis team to the PRC).11

The July 15, 1971 announcement of your trip to Peking, rather than setting back this gathering momentum with Moscow, had instead a very positive and rapid impact. In short order, we achieved a Berlin accord, agreements on accidental war/hot line, the productive Gromyko visit [Page 912] here, and the October announcement of the Moscow summit.12 Ever since then, the South Asian crisis notwithstanding, our various negotiations with Moscow have moved forward in parallel with the preparations and execution of your trip to the PRC.

Clearly, the Soviets have been motivated by the potential threat of a USPRC partnership against them. We, in turn, have trod a careful line: reassurance that we were not out to inflame Sino-Soviet relations, that we would not practice collusion, that we wanted better relations with both communist giants—but not overwhelming reassurance, and the steady broadening of our contacts with the Chinese. Our aim has been not to provoke the Russians and to reflect the objective situation that we have much more business to do with Moscow in the near term than in Peking. On the other hand, our actions speak for themselves.

II. Issues and Talking Points

A. The Soviet Position

Brezhnev may not raise China directly, but on the basis of his previous remarks and positions, he is bound to be preoccupied with the question.

  • —For example, when I started to respond to his remarks about your visit to the PRC, he waved me off, claiming that he did not want to discuss China.13 However, he kept coming back to the subject in one way or another, especially in connection with Vietnam. And he finally talked openly about your visit and his feelings about the Chinese.
  • —His chief concern is over the implications of US-Chinese rapproachment on the Soviet power position. Though Brezhnev did not refer to secret agreements, the Soviet leaders apparently suspect that there must have been a bargain struck in Peking. He was told that military matters were not discussed, but he probably was not reassured.14
  • —Indeed, he finally mentioned your remarks in Shanghai to the effect that we and the Chinese hold the future of the world in our hands. He said this was not the crux of the matter, that peace should be our aim, etc. But his other comments made clear his meaning: he is concerned about collusion or, as the Soviets say, “combinations” against them. He stressed that China was intent on disrupting the Summit, and that only China would benefit from a failure of your meetings in Moscow.15
  • —His attitude was that events would reveal the meaning of your trip to Peking. This was almost exactly what he said in his letter to you September 7 and he repeated it almost verbatim in his speech of March 20. His view has been that the outcome of his meetings with you would be the criterion for judging our China policy.

Thus, despite the complications over Vietnam, Brezhnev almost certainly regards this summit encounter as the opportunity to demonstrate a closer, more substantively-grounded relationship with the US than Peking can command.16 This is why the Soviets have been so anxious to line up so many bilateral agreements as well as statement of principles in our relations at the Summit.

He will be seeking both information about your policies toward Peking, perhaps some highlights of your talks there, and some signs of reassurance that we are not colluding with Mao against him.17 On this latter point, whatever you say in the private talks, you can be fairly certain that Brezhnev will exploit it inside the Politburo, where he may be under some pressures for his alleged mishandling of the triangular relationship. Moreover, we have to assume that the Soviets might leak distorted versions of your remarks and the discussions.

A word about atmospherics. With some exasperation Brezhnev exclaimed that understanding the Chinese was beyond his “European mind.” Racism, of course, is a strong element of the Sino-Soviet dispute. Brezhnev claimed the Chinese planned to shoot him, hang Kosygin, and boil Mikoyan alive.18 And the Russians are a match for the Chinese in chauvinistic arrogance and pride. During your visit they will pull out all stops to contrast Western culture with the Oriental. (They will certainly relish the inevitable comparisons between the Bolshoi’s “Swan Lake” and the “Red Detachment of Women.”)

In sum, your policies and trip have put enormous pressure on the Soviets, and on Brezhnev personally, and in this regard you have an edge on him.

B. Your Position

After the visit is well-launched, and the Soviets have a feel for the outcome of the talks, you might volunteer your views on China policy, preferably in strict privacy to Brezhnev.

Your objective should be to make clear that we have important concerns both in Moscow and Peking which we intend to pursue. Neither country will be allowed to dictate our policy toward the other. You should not to go any great lengths to reassure Brezhnev, though he will [Page 914] try to elicit that. Rather, you should emphasize the importance of your PRC visit in establishing contact at the highest levels and initiating a dialogue. And you should state that this in no way need distract us from the major substantive business in USUSSR relations.19

You could stress the following points:

  • —The long term prospects for world peace obviously require contacts among the great powers, particularly the nuclear powers. This meant that at some point the US and China would have to begin talking, lest there be a confrontation.
  • —Your trip to Peking was a result of certain unique circumstances. China was emerging from self-imposed isolation and resuming an active foreign policy. You were the only President in recent times in a political position to make the necessary changes in US policy.
  • —Given the 20-year gap in communications, a new dialogue with Peking could be launched only at the highest levels.
  • —You are well aware that there is considerable speculation—almost entirely unfounded—about what happened during your visit. The fact is that the substance was accurately reflected in the final communiqué. Military matters, for example, were not touched on. On many issues there was profound disagreement which neither side attempted to hide.
  • —The overall results were constructive. Contacts have been established and a dialogue is proceeding.
  • —We do not intend to allow our relations with China to dictate our relations with other countries, including the Soviet Union.
  • —As Brezhnev knows better than you, we could not bring pressures to bear on the USSR even if we wanted to. In any event, it is clearly in our interest not to try.20
  • —Now, and for the near term, the major concrete negotiations are between Moscow and us. We recognize that world peace today depends heavily on US-Soviet relations. We do not see our opening with China as incompatible with these objectives.
  • —Over the long term, you think that the Soviet leaders, despite their problems with China, will see that a positive US-Chinese relationship is in the interest of a more peaceful world order, and, therefore, in Moscow’s interest as well.21
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[—If asked about what the Chinese told you about the USSR, you should probably limit yourself to saying that:

  • • The Chinese view of recent history obviously differs from the Soviet view.
  • • The Chinese profess their willingness to be reasonable on Sino-Soviet issues if Moscow shows a reciprocal attitude.]22

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 487, President’s Trip Files, For the President’s Personal Briefcase, May 1972, Part 1. Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. A notation on the paper indicates the President saw it. According to a May 16 memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, this was part of the fourth briefing book for the summit sent to the President. (Ibid., RG 59, S/P Files: Lot 77 D 112, Box 335, Lord Chronology, May, 1972)
  2. The President underlined “denigrating Stalin” and “Mao” as well as the second half of this sentence.
  3. The President underlined the portion beginning with “the Chinese” in the last sentence.
  4. The President underlined “the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia” as well as the last sentence in this paragraph.
  5. The President underlined “Sino-Soviet border dispute.”
  6. The President underlined the second part of this compound sentence.
  7. The President underlined the previous two sentences.
  8. The President underlined this sentence.
  9. The President underlined this sentence.
  10. For text of Nixon’s address to the UN General Assembly on October 23, 1970, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 926–932.
  11. On May 20, 1971, the President announced that the United States and Soviet Union had agreed to negotiate agreements for the limitation of ABM systems and limiting certain strategic offensive weapons. For text of the announcement, see ibid., 1971, p. 648. The President underlined the last two sentences of this paragraph.
  12. For text of Nixon’s announcement of his trip to Peking, see ibid., pp. 819–820. The President underlined the first two sentences of this paragraph.
  13. The President underlined this sentence.
  14. The President underlined the first and last sentences of this paragraph.
  15. The President wrote “number of people” in the margin next to this paragraph.
  16. The President underlined this clause.
  17. The President underlined this sentence.
  18. The President underlined the previous two sentences.
  19. The President underlined most of this paragraph and wrote “Pacific powers—fought in Korea” in the margin next to it.
  20. The President underlined the two previous paragraphs.
  21. The President underlined this paragraph.
  22. Brackets in the source text. The President underlined the two bulleted sentences.