144. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

[Omitted here is a 23-page narrative review of the July meetings under the following headings: What Happened, The Chinese, Summit, Taiwan, Indochina, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Communications, Great Power Relations, Arms Control, and Americans Detained in China.]


  • My Talks with Chou En-lai


My two-day visit to Peking resulted in the most searching, sweeping and significant discussions I have ever had in government.2 I spent seventeen hours in meetings and informal conversation with Chou Enlai, flanked by Marshal Yeh Chien-ying, member of the Politburo and of the Military Commission; Huang Hua, the new Chinese Ambassador [Page 454] in Ottawa; and Chang Wen-chin, head of the West European and American Department in the Foreign Ministry. Another four hours was spent with Huang and Chang, mostly on drafting a communiqué. These meetings brought about a summit meeting between you and Mao Tse-tung, covered all major issues between our two countries at considerable length and with great candor, and may well have marked a major new departure in international relations.

It is extremely difficult to capture in a memorandum the essence of this experience. Simply giving you a straightforward account of the highlights of our talks, potentially momentous as they were, would do violence to an event so shaped by the atmosphere and the ebb and flow of our encounter, or to the Chinese behavior, so dependent on nuances and style. Thus, this memorandum will sketch the overall sequence of events and philosophic framework, as well as the substance of our exchanges. For the intangibles are crucial and we must understand them if we are to take advantage of the opportunities we now have, deal effectively with these tough, idealistic, fanatical, single-minded and remarkable people, and thus transform the very framework of global relationships.

[Omitted here is a discussion of the talks between Kissinger and Chou En-lai.]


I am frank to say that this visit was a very moving experience. The historic aspects of the occasion; the warmth and dignity of the Chinese; the splendor of the Forbidden City, Chinese history and culture; the heroic stature of Chou En-lai; and the intensity and sweep of our talks combined to make an indelible impression on me and my colleagues.

These forty-eight hours, and my extensive discussions with Chou in particular, had all the flavor, texture, variety and delicacy of a Chinese banquet. Prepared from the long sweep of tradition and culture, meticulously cooked by hands of experience, and served in splendidly simple surroundings, our feast consisted of many courses, some sweet and some sour, all interrelated and forming a coherent whole. It was a total experience, and one went away, as after all good Chinese meals, very satisfied but not at all satiated.

We have laid the groundwork for you and Mao to turn a page in history. But we should have no illusions about the future. Profound differences and years of isolation yawn between us and the Chinese. They will be tough before and during the summit on the question of Taiwan and other major issues. And they will prove implacable foes if our relations turn sour. My assessment of these people is that they are deeply ideological, close to fanatic in the intensity of their beliefs. At the same time they display an inward security that allows them, within [Page 455] the framework of their principles, to be meticulous and reliable in dealing with others.

Furthermore, the process we have now started will send enormous shock waves around the world. It may panic the Soviet Union into sharp hostility. It could shake Japan loose from its heavily American moorings. It will cause a violent upheaval in Taiwan. It will have major impact on our other Asian allies, such as Korea and Thailand. It will increase the already substantial hostility in India. Some quarters may seek to sabotage the summit over the coming months.

However, we were well aware of these risks when we embarked on this course. We were aware too that the alternative was unacceptable— continued isolation from one-quarter of the world’s most talented people and a country rich in past achievements and future potential.

And even the risks can be managed and turned to our advantage if we maintain steady nerves and pursue our policies responsibly. With the Soviet Union we will have to make clear the continued priorities we attach to our concrete negotiations with them. Just as we will not collude with them against China, so we have no intention of colluding with China against them. If carefully managed, our new China policy could have a longer term beneficial impact on Moscow.

With Japan our task will be to make clear that we are not shifting our allegiance in Asia from her to China. On Taiwan we can hope for little more than damage limitation by reaffirming our diplomatic relations and mutual defense treaty even while it becomes evident that we foresee a political evolution over the coming years. With our other Asian allies we will need to stress both our continued bonds and our hope that reconciliation between us and the Chinese will serve the cause of regional peace. And in India, after the initial shock, our China moves might produce a more healthy relationship.

For Asia and for the world we need to demonstrate that we are enlarging the scope of our diplomacy in a way that, far from harming the interests of other countries, should instead prove helpful to them.

Our dealings, both with the Chinese and others, will require reliability, precision, finesse. If we can master this process, we will have made a revolution.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1032, Files for the President—China Material, Polo I, Record, July 1971 HAK trip to PRC. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Printed from an unsigned copy, which is 27 pages long. Nixon and Haig were in San Clemente, California, from July 6 through July 18. A 21-page version of this memorandum, July 17, contains less information on commitments made by the Kissinger or Chou on behalf of their respective nations, for example, information on U.S. officers to inform the PRC leaders of any agreements reached with the Soviet Union is absent from the shorter version. (Ibid., RG 59, Office Files of William P. Rogers, Entry 5439, China) See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 9.
  2. An undated message from Haig “for Henry A. Kissinger very first opportunity on his return from destination” reads in full: “Leader has requested that you flash me via this channel, as first priority of business and regardless of hour, cryptic assessment of outcome. He is particularly interested in status of July 15 announcement.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 432, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, HAK, Very Sensitive Trip Cables) In response Kissinger cabled a short report on his talks while in the People’s Republic of China, which was forwarded by Haig to the President. (Ibid., Box 1031, Files for the President—China Material, Exchanges Leading up to HAK Trip to China—December 1969–July 1971) See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 7. Nixon’s July 11 response to Kissinger’s initial reports on talks in the PRC began: “Your reported conversations were the most intensive, important and far-reaching of your White House experience. If we play the game up to the hilt from now on out, history will record your visit as the most significant foreign policy achievement of this century. When you return, I plan to give you a day off in compensation for your superb service to the nation—far beyond the call of duty. Please extend my appreciation to the dedicated members of your staff whose superb efforts have contributed to this achievement.” Copies of Nixon’s message, sent through Haig, are in National Archives. Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 432, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, HAK, Very Sensitive Trip Cables. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 8.