35. Editorial Note

From January 3 to 10, 1972, Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander Haig visited the People’s Republic of China to prepare for President Nixon’s visit scheduled for February. While responsible for facilitating arrangements for the trip, Haig also emphasized to Chinese Premier Chou En-lai that U.S. representations and threats had forced the Soviet Union to pressure India to end hostilities in South Asia. In a January 3 meeting with Chou En-lai, Haig stated:

“We believe and we have very strong confirmation that those steps were effective in convincing the Soviet Union to influence the Indians to accept a cease-fire rather than to proceed with attacks against West Pakistan—in other words to stop short of what had been their goal in West Pakistan. One of those steps was Dr. Kissinger’s reference to the possible cancellation of the President’s Moscow trip if the conflict continued. Since the cease-fire has gone into effect, we have made a very careful assessment of the overall implications of recent events on the subcontinent and we have concluded that up until recently the Soviet policy on the subcontinent had been, in general, to keep the subcontinent divided. This was manifested in their performance during the earlier conflict between India and Pakistan but we think they have decided on a rather precipitous shift in their policy to adopt one in which they would now seek to encircle the PRC with unfriendly states. We believe that this modified Soviet strategy has evolved as a result of recent events and has caused them to overhaul their former strategy for the subcontinent. We also noted when the crisis developed that the Soviets tried very hard to divert us from the course that would converge with the policy of the People’s Republic. In short, they sought to influence us to maintain a hands off policy. During the period when this crisis started to develop, they invited Dr. Kissinger to Moscow personally on several occasions as guest of Mr. Brezhnev. They also offered to reach agreements with us in the accidental attack and provocative attack areas, all of which we rejected. We rejected these approaches by the Soviet Union on two grounds—one was on the issue of principle. We felt we had certain obligations with respect to Pakistan and we felt we could not tolerate use of force to dismantle that country. But we also rejected the Soviet approaches because we felt that the future viability of the PRC was of the greatest interest to us and a matter of our own national interest.”

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Haig also added:

“In the context of what I have just said, we have concluded that the continuation of the war in Southeast Asia can only give Moscow an opportunity to increase its influence in Hanoi and to further the encirclement of the People’s Republic. We feel strongly that Moscow is urging Hanoi in the direction of continued military action and as such, they are forging another link in the chain which is designed to constrain the People’s Republic. In all of these circumstances, we also believe that President Nixon’s visit takes on a new and immediate significance which transcends its earlier importance. In the context of these events I have just described, i.e., the immediate effect to the People’s Republic and the revised Soviet strategy, the President’s visit is not only one of long term historic significance—the original motivation and the guiding force underlying the visit—but now we see an immediate significance which must now be considered with respect to the President’s visit. In light of our own strategic interests—America’s strategic interests which I described earlier—we are convinced of and dedicated to the proposition that the viability of the People’s Republic should be maintained.”

In turn, Chou responded that “Soviet meddling in the South Asian subcontinent and in Indochina, in my opinion, is not due to a change in the strategic policies of the Soviet Union but rather a necessary consequence of reaction on the part of the Soviet Union toward the coming closer between China and the United States.” A record of this conversation is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 183.