136. Conversation Between President Nixon and the Ambassador to the Republic of China (McConaughy)1

[Omitted here is an exchange of pleasantries and a brief discussion of American relations with Africa, Chile, Turkey, and Iran.]

McConaughy: Am I authorized, Mr. President, to continue telling them that we do not intend our efforts to lower tensions with the Chinese Communists—

Nixon: Our intentions—

McConaughy: And to get some contacts. I mean, we do not intend for those efforts to prejudice the vital interests of the Republic of China. You authorized me to say that about 12 months ago.2

Nixon: I think that’s fair enough. Just say that we, that our—as far as the Republic of China is concerned that we have—we know who our friends are. And we are continuing to continue our close, friendly relations with them. As for their vital interests, what you really mean by vital interests, what you mean is, are we going to turn them over to the ChiComs, is that it?

McConaughy: Well—

Nixon: Is that what they’re afraid of?

McConaughy: I think they, they’d find—of course that they know we wouldn’t do that. I believe they think of that as just general support for their membership in the UN—general international backing of them.

Nixon: We will—we will certainly in the UN. We’re not going to support any proposition that would throw them out.

McConaughy: Yeah. Exactly.

Nixon: Now, whether or not we can do what they want to do, which is of course to support the proposition that they stay in the Security Council, that’s really—I think we can support them, but it isn’t really going to work.

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: I mean, if they get in—if they should—and when they—that’s why the whole two China thing is so really rather ridiculous, [Page 349] even if we eventually have to come to that. But our position will basically be that we support the Republic of China and especially in the UN. We will continue to. We will not support any resolution—our China position will not support any propositions that have the Republic of China put out of the UN.

McConaughy: Yes.

Nixon: We will be strong, steadfast on that point, so that’s one. Now when you get into the other areas, we, after all, have a treaty commitment. We won’t manage to break our treaties. We are working with them economically, too.

McConaughy: And they’re—

Nixon: But we must have in mind, and they must be prepared for the fact, that there will continue to be a step-by-step, a more normal relationship with the other—the Chinese mainland. Because our interests require it. Not because we love them, but because they’re there.

McConaughy: Yeah. Precisely.

Nixon: And because the world situation has so drastically changed. This has not been a derogation of Taiwan.

McConaughy: Exactly.

Nixon: And it’s done because, as I say, because of very great considerations in other areas.

McConaughy: Yes. Yeah.

Nixon: It’s a hard thing to sell.

McConaughy: Yes it’s a—

Nixon: I know it’s terribly difficult.

McConaughy: Yes. It’s tough.

Nixon: They’re going to see it in black and white. And they—my personal friendship goes back many years.

McConaughy: It does indeed.

Nixon: They sent the most beautiful gifts to our daughter’s [unclear] wedding and so forth. We just—that’s the way we’re gonna deal with it. The personal considerations here are—we’ll put it this way, we’re not about to engage in what the Kennedy administration did with Diem. Because they might think that way. Either physically or philosophically, we don’t do that to our friends.

McConaughy: Yeah, exactly.

Nixon: You remember that?

McConaughy: Yes. Of course they—

Nixon: The Kennedy administration has Diem’s blood upon its hands, unfortunately. That was a bad deal.

McConaughy: Yeah. The President [Chiang Kai-shek] says repeatedly that you are the President, and your administration is the [Page 350] administration that understands the China issue and really sympathizes with his government, understands its ideals and its aspirations and its role in the world better than any other American president, any preceding administration, and he’s unshaken in that view.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. That’s why, of course, it causes me great concern that we have to move in this other direction. When I say we have to move, we have to because our failure to move would be—would prejudice our interests in other areas that are overwhelming.

McConaughy: Yes. Exactly.

Nixon: Let us suppose, for example, we require some cooperation in Vietnam. Let’s suppose that we could affect other relations—see many, there are different guesses on that—all these things are there.

McConaughy: Yeah. The real crunch on the UN issue is the Security Council seat.

Nixon: Of course it is.

McConaughy: I’m convinced we can keep them in if there’s no tender of the Security Council seat to the Chinese Communists. If there is—as of now it looks like they would withdraw.

Nixon: Yeah.

McConaughy: That would mean they’re giving up on the thing. They’ve pretty well convinced themselves they could make a go of it without UN membership.

Nixon: Oh, hell yes. To be perfectly frank with you—

McConaughy: And that would be—

Nixon: To be perfectly frank with you, if I were to be, if I were in their position, and the UN, as I say, the UN moves in that direction, I would just say the hell with the UN. What is it anyway? It’s a damn debating society. What good does it do?

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: Very little. [unclear] They talk about hijacking, drugs, the challenges of modern society, and the rest just give hell to the United States. That’s all they do.

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: No, my views about the UN, I must say, despite publicly I have to go through the usual facade, the act of praising the UN, but it’s had it.

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: Every sophisticate knows it.

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: I mean, it does not serve our interests to put anything up to the UN. As you know, none of our vital interests have ever been submitted to the UN and will never be while I’m here.

[Page 351]

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: So as far as they’re concerned, I think they ought to not give much of a damn what happens in the UN. I don’t think it hurts them one bit, but that’s for them to decide.

McConaughy: They recognize that it’s got a certain psychological importance, I think. They don’t want to be isolated—

Nixon: They don’t want to be isolated. They don’t want to be outside the community of nations.

McConaughy: A sort of a pariah. And they—they’re afraid that other countries might use their absence from the UN as sort of a pretext for discriminatory actions against them, even in the trade sector. And there might be some danger of this. For instance, the European Economic Community is rather inclined to exclude Taiwan from the list of preferential countries, the less developed countries that get preferential treatment on import duties. And they’re afraid that there’d be an extra argument for the EEC to cut them out if they’re not members of the UN. They might say, “Well then, who are they? They don’t even have UN status. Why should they go on any sort of a preferential list for concessions?”

Nixon: Uh-huh. Oh, I see.

McConaughy: That sort of thing. They’re just afraid that their efforts to keep up their exports might suffer.

Nixon: No, I—

McConaughy: And they’ve got to export to live, of course.

Nixon: Oh, yes.

McConaughy: And they’ve been phenomenally successful, as you well know. And that remarkable rate of growth is continuing. Their foreign—total foreign trade last year was greater than that of entire England and China.

Nixon: Yeah. Sure.

McConaughy: Just over $3 billion, which slightly exceeded the total import and export trade of the Chinese Communists.

Nixon: Just think of that.

McConaughy: Fourteen million [people on Taiwan] against 750 million [people on the mainland]—they had a little larger foreign trade.

Nixon: Well, you can just stop and think of what could happen if anybody with a decent system of government got control of that main land. Good God.

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: There’d be no power in the world that could even—I mean, you put 800 million Chinese to work under a decent system—

McConaughy: Yeah.

[Page 352]

Nixon: —and they will be the leaders of the world. The Indians— you could put 200 billion Indians to work, and they wouldn’t amount to a goddamn.

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: You know, basically they’re different kinds of people.

McConaughy: That’s right. Yeah.

Nixon: But the Chinese, they’re all over Asia. I know. They’ve got what it takes.

McConaughy: Yeah, with an elected system of government. The one thing that—

Nixon: [unclear]

McConaughy: I’m just back from New York on some trade conference work for the Businessmen’s Council for International Understanding, Mr. President. I’ve assured them that we are well disposed toward continued American investment there. You know—

Nixon: Absolutely.

McConaughy: This very loyal American investment. I’ve encouraged them to continue. I’ve told them so far as I know the political climate is going to remain favorable if they can make an independent business judgment, which they must make for themselves. It’s good business risk. Then as far as we know, the political climate certainly would argue for their going in. We don’t foresee any change there. We anticipate it will be, continue to be a good climate. We’re continuing to give our export guarantees there, in concurrence the Ex–Im Bank program has done an awful lot there—wonderful job. Also, the AID guarantees on investments apply—the same as in other countries. So I encouraged them to continue their interest in investment.

Nixon: They should.

McConaughy: I got a very good response.

Nixon: I consider [unclear] a stable country and I certainly would not fault any course but that.

McConaughy: Yeah.

Nixon: But it’s a delicate line.

McConaughy: It is.

Nixon: And you’re going to have to—we’re going to depend on you to be as, you know, as effective as you can be under difficult circumstances to keep them from, well, just throwing up their hands. There isn’t anything they can do to us, of course. It isn’t that so much. But the point is we take no comfort in seeming to hurt our friends.

McConaughy: Yes.

Nixon: No comfort at all.

McConaughy: Right.

[Page 353]

Nixon: But the world is—their’s is a very delicate problem.

McConaughy: It’s something not to be talked about now, of course, Mr. President, but I conceive of Taiwan as gradually developing its own orbit, separate from that of the mainland.

Nixon: That’s what—

McConaughy: And I think this is going to be in our national interest too. We don’t need to talk about formal independence now or sovereignty questions. I think we’re wise to leave this open.

Nixon: That’s right.

McConaughy: In public.

Nixon: That’s right. They should—they should go on. I think that’s their whole—their whole line of their thinking should be along that line.

McConaughy: Of course, the Generalissimo couldn’t come to that now. But someday I think they are going to accept a separate status, independent of the mainland, in a different orbit and a separate status. But Taiwan is a part of the general equilibrium in the Far East, and I think that’d be seriously disturbed, apart from every humanitarian consideration, if the Chinese Communists took it over. It’d be a disaster.

Nixon: If Chinese Communists took it over [unclear].

McConaughy: Yeah. Of course, it’d be a bloodbath, the same as Tibet. But from the geopolitical standpoint it would just change the sensitive equipoise in the area, I think. And I know the Japanese would be greatly disturbed, too.

Nixon: Yep.

McConaughy: The Filipinos would be. And of course with the reversion of Okinawa, the Japanese are all the more sensitive to any change there. I think we’ve got a real ally in the Japanese. [unclear], they’re basically with us.

Nixon: They sign on?

McConaughy: The LDP is. I don’t know how the Japanese Socialists would be, if they came into power. They never do. But the LDP is with us.

Nixon: Sure. Sure. Sure. Sure. The Socialists [unclear]. Well, you don’t have—there isn’t any more delicate assignment, or I must say, as events unfold here, any one that will be more difficult than yours. And I just wish you the best. It’s just one of those things, as I say. I look around the world, and you have to deal sometimes with a bunch of damn bandits. We do. And we’re dealing with bandits, thugs, international outlaws, and so forth. But sometimes you have to because our interests are so deeply involved. With the Soviet—they’re really a despicable [unclear], but you’ve got to deal with them.

McConaughy: That’s right.

[Page 354]

Nixon: You’ve got to talk with them.

McConaughy: Yeah. And we’ve got a complex interplay here—the Soviets and the Chinese Communists. They’ve obviously got very mixed feelings about the prospective entry of ChiComs into the UN. They don’t really want it, but they think they’ve got to give lip service.

Nixon: Sure.

McConaughy: I guess they’ll vote for the—

Nixon: Oh sure.

McConaughy:—resolution, they don’t really want it.

Nixon: Boy, they just love sitting there with them. That’d be the worst thing that [unclear].

McConaughy: Well, you know that I will use every resource in my power, Mr. President, to keep them confident and reassured. [Unclear exchange]. You’ve given me a lot to work with.

Nixon: Well, I can’t say much more to be quite—just say as little as you can. Reassure them. But on the other hand, they have a friend, but we have to continue our other thing for other reasons that have nothing to do with our friendship with Taiwan.

[Omitted here are goodbyes and a gift presentation to McConaughy.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 532-17. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation published here specifically for this volume.
  2. McConaughy accompanied Chiang Ching-Kuo on his April 1970 visit to the United States. He also returned to Washington during the fall of 1970. No record of a private meeting between him and President Nixon has been found.