52. Editorial Note
President Richard Nixon visited China during the last weeks of February 1972. With a party of over three dozen government officials that included Secretary of State Rogers, Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger, and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, the President left Washington on February 17 and returned February 28. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
Prior to the visit, Nixon received extensive preparatory briefings. Among the papers the President reviewed were reports on China’s perception of Soviet actions in various regions of the world and recommendations for the position that Nixon should take during his discussions with Chinese officials while in Peking. The briefing books for the trip are ibid., NSC Files, Box 847, China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, China Trip Books I–VI.) Documentation on the trip, including the conversation among Nixon, Kissinger, and Chou quoted below, is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972.
The morning of their departure, Nixon, Kissinger, and Rogers briefed the Congressional leadership on the context of the China trip: “They, naturally, wondered if it was an anti-Soviet move. The Secretary said we assured the Russians that it certainly was not and until recently the Russian press has been quite restrained on the matter. The President interrupted to say that we are trying to embark on a very limited and very even-handed policy with China and the Soviet Union. He noted that the administration was playing them very equal.” (Memorandum for the President’s Files by William Timmons, February 17; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 87, Memoranda for the President, December 12, 1971—February 20, 1972) Kissinger also made a final telephone call to Dobrynin that morning to bid farewell. (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Dobrynin, February 17, 8:25 a.m.; [Page 184] Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
Among the various meetings in China, Nixon and Kissinger’s discussion with Premier Chou En-lai on February 23 dealt most directly with the Soviet Union and its triangular relation to Sino-American relations. Chou recapitulated the history of recent Sino-Soviet relations, especially the Sino-Soviet border dispute during 1969 and the perceived threat on both sides. Kissinger stated that the “Soviets are a little bit hysterical on this subject.” Nixon added: “Certainly China is not a threat to the Soviet Union at this point because of the nuclear superiority of the Soviet Union over China. So what we think is that they are not so concerned about the border, which is a pretext, but about the leadership and doctrine of what they say is the socialist camp, which you don’t accept. They also must be afraid of whether China could become powerful in the future, because the Soviet leaders in my experience tend to take a long view. Certainly we will conduct ourselves with complete correctness in dealing with them and will make every effort to see that no pretext will be created by this meeting to indicate we are setting up a condominium against them.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 87, Memoranda for the President) Drawing on the experiences of the China trip, Nixon insisted that when he went to Moscow he would not be available to the press and would not include the rest of the party in his sightseeing tours. (Haldeman’s diary entry for February 26; The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, and in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Subject Files, Staff Memos and Office Files, Haldeman Files, Box 45, Haldeman Notes, Jan.—March 1972 [Part 2])