13. Minutes of the Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • US China Policy; Nuclear Planning Group Issues


  • Chairman—Henry Kissinger
  • State
  • Donald McHenry
  • Arthur Hartman
  • Winthrop Brown (China only)
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • CIA
  • R. Jack Smith
  • JCS
  • LTG F. T. Unger
  • OEP
  • Henry Loomis
  • USIA
  • Henry Loomis
  • Treasury
  • Anthony Jurich (China only)
  • NSC Staff
  • Richard Sneider (China only)
  • Morton Halperin
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Winston Lord


[Omitted here is a brief discussion of the NSC schedule.]


State will revise the summary paper and perhaps parts of the basic paper along the following lines:2

  • —A restatement, possibly with alternatives, of our longer term objectives toward China.
  • —Under the policy option of “Reduction in Tension”, a separation of those issues appropriate for early decision (trade and travel), those dependent on other issues (use of Taiwan as a base), and those of a longer term nature (US policy toward Taiwan, the Offshore Islands, the UN, and perhaps diplomatic relations).

[Omitted here is a brief discussion concerning the Nuclear Planning Group.]

China (2:10 PM–3:30 PM)

Kissinger said that the essential question is whether the NSSM 14 paper adequately presents the problem: is our current policy the best possible mix for both long and short term US interests with regard to [Page 33] China? The three principal choices are (a) continue present course, (b) intensify containment, and (c) reduction in tension.3 Are these the principal choices for the NSC, or are they phony? For example, does anybody favor intensifying our pressures on China? The President has made it clear that he does not wish to be presented with artificial options.

Lindjord wondered if intensification of pressures would moderate Chinese behavior.

Unger said that he and his staff believed that we should stay with our present policy. His staff thought that either toughening or easing up our policy could be characterized as phony options because our current policy is working so well. He believed, however, that the NSC should see the options because of the importance of the issues.

Kissinger wondered whether the basic question shouldn’t be posed differently: what do we want from China over the longer term and what can we reasonably expect to do to influence that outcome? He believed that a nation of 700 million people, surrounded by weaker states, could be a security threat no matter what type of policy it pursued.4 The paper seems to be based on the hypothesis that countries are usually peaceful; if they are aggressive, it is because of their leaders and that you therefore must change the minds of the leadership. Which of our problems with China are caused by its size and situation and which of them are caused by its leadership? Asking such questions might inform us how we can influence the Chinese leadership. Are the paper’s three options real ones in dealing with this question. A tougher policy suggests a balance of power approach; we must create a situation so that China has a minimum physical incentive to expand. A softer approach suggests our influencing leaders who are not expansionists. Brown believed China would expand its influence inevitably in trade and other fields. The issue is how the Chinese go about doing this, in a way that reflects a hostile adversary relationship with us or a more normal competitive relationship between great powers. We should be seeking, to the extent that we can, to move the Chinese away from hostility and the danger of conflict.

In response to Kissinger’s question, Brown and Unger confirmed that the East Asian IG agreed on the statement of objectives, and that [Page 34] the issues revolve around the method of pursuing those objectives. Nutter believed Kissinger’s formulation in terms of leadership or geopolitical factors was useful. He personally was reasonably impressed with the success of our present policy, believing that we have done the maximum to restrain aggressive intents while leaving ourselves flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. In response to Kissinger’s query whether Chinese lack of aggression was due to US policy or internal problems, Nutter said that it was principally the latter, but that an alternative policy would not have helped us any more.

Kissinger wondered whether the tougher policy option should not be dropped since no one seemed to be supporting it. Smith believed that the soft and tough options defined the outer limits of our choices and therefore helped to structure the paper. Sneider mentioned that some people (at least outside the bureaucracy) would support the tougher option. Halperin remarked that some specific steps that people advocate, e.g., use of Taiwan as a base, could have the effects of pursuing a tougher policy. Sonnenfeldt suggested that this option could be relevant if the Chinese change their policy, and therefore should be left in the paper, at least as a contingency. (Although no definitive decision was reached, the consensus appeared to be to leave in all the three policy options.)

Kissinger questioned whether anyone believed that the objectives in relation to China were adequately covered. For example, did the options relate to Objective B of avoiding an alliance between the mainland government and any other major hostile state. Halperin suggested that one argument for the softer option was that it could discourage the Chinese from rebuilding their ties with the Soviets, while the tougher option would be designed to make it appear too dangerous to the Chinese to have an operative alliance with the Soviets.

Loomis had some difficulty focusing the paper. His agency’s primary point of view was our China policy’s cost and our relations with third countries on other unrelated issues. To many nations we appear mired in the past, supporting Taiwan as the real Chinese Government. We are paying a greater price in other areas than we may recognize, a point that he does not believe the paper really addresses.

Kissinger wondered whether we could frame the China issues as whether our policy should be dominated by security considerations (i.e., a balance of power approach) or by desire for a more conciliatory attitude.

Smith thought that the paper correctly places the problem in a longer term perspective, stating that little could be done in the near future, and considering policies which some day might yield a return when changes in Chinese leadership or circumstances occurred. The essential issue is how to get China to relate to the rest of the world [Page 35] community. Kissinger noted that this is where foreign policy only starts, and Sneider/Halperin remarked that that is the problem—we are trying to move relations toward a situation of “normal” hostility. Hartman suggested that a more normal relationship would entail greater predictability. Halperin suggested greater communication and Sneider suggested less isolation.5

Kissinger asked whether we care if China maintains her policy of isolation so long as this is coupled with a relatively low level of aggression. Loomis suggested that isolation means wrong information and therefore a greater chance for erratic behavior. In response to Kissinger’s remark that few crises have been started by China, Loomis mentioned India and Unger noted Thailand, Burma and aid to North Vietnam and North Korea. Kissinger wondered whether such policies were prompted by lack of understanding or rather by good understanding. Brown and Halperin noted that Chinese policies make us maintain large forces and spend perhaps $15 billion per year. In response to Kissinger’s query whether the relationship of “normal” hostility would put an end to subversive threats, Halperin said it would not while Brown opined that a softer US approach increases that possibility while a tougher one decreases it.

Halperin noted two aspects of our relations with the Soviet Union which could be useful in a changed relationship with China. Our bilateral relations in certain ways moderate Soviet behavior and provide for communication and understanding that reduce uncertainties. If these are desirable objectives with China, the question is whether you achieve them through a softer or a tougher policy. In response to Kissinger’s question, Halperin thought the basic choice is really between status quo and some easing. Unger pointed out that the paper emphasizes that easing up our policy will bring us little in return in the near future because of the present Chinese leadership.

Kissinger wondered whether we really wanted China to be a world power like the Soviet Union, competing with us, rather than their present role which is limited to aiding certain insurgencies. Smith suggested that bringing China into the world community might make her more manageable and her policies less prone to erratic uncertainty while Sneider emphasized possible long term changes.

[Page 36]

Kissinger stressed that it is important that the President, in order to make a choice, have a feel for what his decision is likely to accomplish. Brown said that the paper admits that there would not be much short term change, but tries to consider certain elements which might have long run effect, which might improve our relations with other countries, and which might satisfy certain aspects of public opinion.

Kissinger wondered what operating decisions the NSC could make, and Sneider mentioned trade and the Offshore Islands. Sneider said that the paper asks (a) what is our preferred long term strategy, and (b) what if anything can we do in the short term given the inflexibility of the situation. Kissinger formulated the basic problems as being (a) what do we want China to be like, and (b) what US policies help to bring this about.

Nutter mentioned Sino-Soviet difficulties and Kissinger suggested that this was a key issue. What is our view of the evolution of Sino-Soviet relations, how much can we influence them, should we favor one or the other, etc. Brown noted that China thinks that we favor the Soviet Union, while Unger suggested that present policy gives us the flexibility to take advantage of Sino-Soviet developments. Kissinger noted that the Soviets and Chinese each think we are playing with the other.

In response to Kissinger’s suggestion that the policy options in the paper might result in an academic decision by the NSC, Brown stated that he thought that selection of the third option (Reduction of Tension) would be a major move. Kissinger agreed that it would be major, but suggested that it is difficult to ask people to make such a decision without giving them a picture of the world that we wish and how we go about getting there.

Sonnenfeldt listed several issues outside of our direct China policy that bear very heavily on our relations with that country, e.g., SALT; security guarantees for India in relation to the NPT; arms policy toward Pakistan; post-Vietnam security guarantees in Asia; and recognition of Mongolia. We can take these questions piecemeal on their merits or we can attempt to weave them into a coherent policy whole. Brown agreed that the very importance of China means that it interrelates with many other issues. How might we make this looming presence less hostile?

Kissinger wondered how we want to go about this. Some Kremlinologists believe that any attempt to better our relations with China will ruin those with the Soviet Union. History suggested to him that it is better to align yourself with the weaker, not the stronger of two antagonistic partners. It is not clear to him that you achieve better relations with the Soviets necessarily because of a hard policy toward China and vice versa. Everyone agrees that we wish to reduce the risk of war [Page 37] with 700 million people, but the question is whether alignment with the Soviets, more conciliatory posture toward China or some combination would best achieve this end. Smith believed that Soviet concerns about improving relations with China could be somewhat moderated by measures that we could take such as consultation. He would not agree that better Chinese US relations automatically means worse US Soviet relations.

There was further discussion on how to recast the summary, including Kissinger’s view that there should be focus on the picture of the Chinese US relations we desire and the policy to achieve these over the middle-longer range. Hartman and Smith pointed out that the paper makes clear that there is little prospect for near term change in our relations with China but the question is what policies might we pursue to put ourselves in a position to influence future Chinese leaders or take advantage of other long term changes.

Nutter suggested that emphasis on balance of power considerations leads to one set of conclusions while emphasis on better relations leads to another set. Sneider said that these need not be inconsistent and he cited our present relations with the Soviets which mix cooperation, competition and attempts to undermine influence.

Kissinger still believed that the paper did not make clear what the desirable role of China in the world should be nor explore fully enough the US-China-Soviet Union triangular relationship, to which Sneider added Japan. Kissinger noted that he had no quarrel with the desirability of reducing tension, but he persisted in wondering whether an isolated China, so long as it caused no major problems, is necessarily against our interests. A China that was heavily engaged throughout the world could be very difficult and a dislocating factor. Why is bringing China into the world community inevitably in our interest?

Smith suggested because we think she will be less dangerous, and Brown stated that we assume that she is going to expand her world role in any event and our objective is to influence the way she acts. Kissinger suggested that while this could be one objective, an alternative formulation could be that it is not in our interest—or at least our task—to bring China in. We need not strive to isolate her, but it may not be worth great investment in US policy to move positively. Fifteen years from now we may look back with nostalgia on the Chinese role today in the world. Brown noted that the paper assumes that China will not remain isolated because of its very size and population and that therefore the question remains how we might be able to bring about better Chinese behavior as they emerge from present isolation.

Halperin suggested that there were four principal criteria for policy, based on the assumption that we cannot have much short [Page 38] term impact: how does our China policy affect our objectives with non-Communist countries; how does it affect our relations with the Soviets; what impact does it have on a sudden irrational Chinese entrance on the world scene; and how does it affect the eventual emergence on the world scene. Arguments about alternative policies could be structured around these criteria. Loomis suggested adding Communist Asian countries, while Kissinger noted that there was insufficient treatment of the Soviet Union and Japan.

Brown said that State would take another crack at the section on objectives. Nutter noted that it is important to fit China into the great power relationships, including the Soviet Union. There was further discussion of specific elements including the issue of using Taiwan as a base which is keyed to Okinawa decisions. Halperin suggested that the question of Taiwan bases should be considered in the context of overall China policy while Unger pointed out the short term military imperatives in contrast with only long term political changes.

Sneider noted that China policy is difficult because the short term threat is much less than the longer term threat; we have more flexibility in the short term because of the nature of the threat but we have less flexibility because of the Chinese attitudes.

It was agreed that because there is no urgent need for decisions and because of the need to redo parts of the paper, that China would not be on the NSC schedule next week.

Kissinger mentioned that his staff appeared to prefer the option of a gradual movement toward reduction in tension. Brown confirmed that this was State’s inclination and noted that Secretary Rogers had already suggested this publicly.6

There followed some discussion of which issues, under this option, were appropriate for near term decisions and which could or would have to wait for the longer term. There was consensus at the close with Kissinger’s categorization of the three sets of issues under the option of reducing tensions: [Page 39]

Those that could be taken immediately if it were decided to change our policy—trade and travel.
Those dependent on other decisions—use of Taiwan as a base.
Longer range problems—overall policy toward Taiwan, Offshore Islands, United Nations and possible diplomatic recognition.

As a result of the Review Group discussion, it was therefore decided that State would revise the summary paper, and perhaps sections of the basic paper in order to recast US objectives and to separate the short run and longer range issues under the policy option of moving toward a reduction in tension.

[Omitted here is discussion concerning the Nuclear Planning Group.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1969. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. Lord forwarded the minutes through Halperin to Kissinger on May 19 under a covering memorandum. A notation on the memorandum indicates Kissinger saw it.
  2. Reference is to the response to NSSM 14 (Document 4). The April 29 response was forwarded to the NSC on April 30 by Brown who was serving as the “Acting Chairman, East Asian and Pacific Interdepartmental Group.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1969) The final version of this paper is printed as Document 23.
  3. Reference is to the three major options presented in the April 29 draft response to NSSM 14: A. “Present Policy,” B. “Intensified Deterrence and Isolation,” or C. “Reduction of Points of Conflict and International Isolation.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1969)
  4. Kissinger inserted the word “external” immediately before the word “policy” in this sentence (Ibid.)
  5. On the day of this meeting, Halperin sent a memorandum to Kissinger with Sneider’s concurrence, stating that “we feel that the ‘Movement towards Reduction of Tension’ option presents the most prudent course toward the PRC. However, as it is now presented in the paper, the option mixes short-range and longer-range considerations without adequate differentiation between the two.” (Ibid.)
  6. On March 27 Rogers told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, despite the PRC cancellation of the Warsaw meetings and its internal political conflicts, “We nevertheless continue to look forward to a time when we can make progress toward a more useful dialogue to reduce tensions, resolve our differences, and move to a more constructive relationship.” (Department of State Bulletin, April 14, 1969, p. 312) In his April 21 speech at the Associated Press annual luncheon, Rogers declared that the United States “shall take initiatives to reestablish more normal relations with Communist China and we shall remain responsive to any indications of less hostile attitudes from their side.” (Ibid., May 12, 1969, p. 399)