106. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 13–10–71


  • SNIE 13–10–71: Communist China’s Reactions to Developments in Laos
[Page 267]


Chinese Response Thus Far

Peking trailed both Hanoi and Moscow in reacting to recent developments in southern Laos.2 The Chinese did not speculate publicly on the possibility of cross-border operations into Laos until 2 February when they began to cite press commentary from Hanoi, which had begun some days earlier. Since then Peking has issued a number of authoritative commentaries as well as several Foreign Ministry statements. At first, these pronouncements dwelt on the same themes: the US is expanding the war in Indochina; the people of Indochina will certainly surmount the new challenge; and China will continue to provide “powerful backing and support.” More recently, Peking has strengthened its rhetoric, claiming that the allied move into Laos is “a menace to China” and that it “definitely poses a grave threat to China.” The latter statements are an escalation of the rhetoric that followed Cambodia last spring, and suggest that Peking now takes a more serious view of the situation in Indochina.
Large rallies have been held in Peking and Shanghai to condemn allied actions in Laos, a pattern that will no doubt be repeated throughout the country. Nevertheless, all authoritative comment on the situation in Indochina since the beginning of the month has placed Chinese assurances of assistance in terms of rear base support.
It is reasonable to assume that Peking and Hanoi have been consulting on the present situation, but there is no evidence of a high-level conference. Rumors of important Chinese—e.g., Chou En-lai and Chief of Staff Huang Yung-sheng—attending communist strategy sessions in Hanoi in late January and early February appear to be unfounded. A Vietnamese negotiator, however, has been in Peking recently to sign a supplemental agreement on military and economic aid to North Vietnam.
No unusual military movements—either on the ground or in the air—have been detected in South China.3 [4 lines of source text not declassified] It could, however, presage an expansion of the Chinese roadbuilding activity.4 The recent discovery of heavier anti-aircraft guns [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in the area of the road- building can not be related to developments in southern Laos [1½ lines of source text not declassified].

[Omitted here are paragraphs 5–15, under the subheadings of Chinese Options and Probable Courses of Action, and a 5-page annex, Chinese Communist Military Forces in Laos.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 14, Geopolitical File, China, Chronological File, Trips, July 1971, Background Materials, 1970–71. Top Secret; Umbra; Controlled Dissem. Another copy is in Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–R1012, NIE and SNIE Files. According to a note on the covering sheet, the Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and the NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the USIB concurred with the estimate except for the representatives from the FBI and AEC, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside their jurisdictions. For the full text of this NIE, see Tracking the Dragon, p. 678.
  2. Consul General Osborn submitted a report from Hong Kong on PRC intentions and capabilities in Indochina that was forwarded to Kissinger on January 18. Osborn noted: “Peking possesses limited leverage with which to force events in Indochina to conform to its desires, and the intentions and behavior of other will largely shape the eventual outcome of the struggle.” He continued: “If, as seems likely, the Chinese fear that total victory for Hanoi would perhaps be a mixed blessing, they should be further encouraged in their flexibility and restraint.” Osborn predicted that the PRC would send combat troops only in response to a “fundamental shift in the balance of forces in the area” that Beijing saw as threatening its security interests. Osborn concluded that “the longer a negotiated political settlement in Indochina is delayed, the greater will be Chinese influence in the area, and the less likely China itself will be to favor accommodating but neutralist governments in the area.” (Airgram A–2 from Hong Kong, January 7, and Summary Memorandum from Holdridge to Kissinger, January 18; both in Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 11 Chronological Files, 2 Jan.–16 Feb. 1971)
  3. This judgment is based primarily on information [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]; no photography is available to confirm this. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. This roadbuilding activity is discussed in the Annex. [Footnote in the source text.]