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152. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • James C. H. Shen, Ambassador of the Republic of China
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. John H. Holdridge, Senior Staff Member NSC


  • Dr. Kissinger’s Discussions with Ambassador Shen on the President’s Visit to Peking

After a brief exchange with Ambassador Shen about the cuisine in Peking and the weight he had put on there, Dr. Kissinger said that he wanted Ambassador Shen to know that nothing in his tenure in the White House had been more painful to him than what had occurred (the secrecy over Dr. Kissinger’s trip to Peking and the announcement of the President’s visit). He was saying this not as a diplomat but as a genuine friend. There were no people who had deserved what had happened less than the ROC, because they were our loyal friends. What had happened had been brought into play by general necessities, and had nothing to do with Taiwan.

Dr. Kissinger remarked that we were under no illusions as to what we were up against on the PRC side. He had told the President that in Moscow we were up against thugs, and that in Peking we were dealing [Page 469]with fanatical maniacs; of the two, it was hard to tell which was worse. Certainly we were not beginning an era of love, but we may have to go on a line which was not parallel to one followed by the ROC which would require some wisdom on the part of all of us. But we would not betray old friends, or turn anyone over to communism to ease our problems.

Dr. Kissinger noted that he was being attacked all over for being a hard liner, but if his record (and that of the President) were looked at closely, it could be seen that every effective military program with respect to Taiwan was done during this Administration. We would stand by our friends. With respect to recent developments, we simply had to respond to other problems not connected with Taiwan, and had to do what we did. This didn’t ease Ambassador Shen’s problems, but he, Dr. Kissinger, wanted the Ambassador to know his sentiments, and to feel some of the mood and feelings on our side. He hoped that Ambassador Shen would keep this in mind.

Ambassador Shen said that he appreciated what Dr. Kissinger had said. In addition, assurances from the President would be helpful. Dr. Kissinger declared that assurances were cheap and that he wanted to express his sentiments in terms which would be more valuable than formal assurances.

Ambassador Shen asked if Dr. Kissinger could speak about some of the things which he had discussed with the Chinese in Peking, for example the question of “two Chinas” and the U.S. position on China’s Security Council seat. Dr. Kissinger informed Ambassador Shen that the PRC representatives had stated their full position on Taiwan’s being a province of China, a position which Ambassador Shen must have known from the newspapers. We took the position which we had always taken, and had said that we would not oppose any peaceful solution which the ROC and the PRC worked out; we had also said that we had a Mutual Defense Treaty with the ROC and hoped that they wouldn’t use force against Taiwan.

Continuing, Dr. Kissinger said that with respect to the UN issue, we knew that they would oppose our position, and we had not gone into it because it was being handled separately. The question of the Security Council seat simply did not come up one way or another—they simply wanted the whole thing, which we had said was not possible. There was no separate discussion about their getting the Security Council seat, and of the ROC staying in the General Assembly. So contrary to what Ambassador Shen would have read in the newspapers, there were no deals made about Formosa, and also contrary to what the newspapers had said, we didn’t go to them for the meetings, that is, take the initiative. This was not a case of our going to them and having them say that we had to give up Taiwan and the Security Council [Page 470]seat. There were no conditions, and what Secretary Rogers had told Ambassador Shen about the talks in Peking was essentially what the situation had been.2

Ambassador Shen noted that he had just had a session the previous day with Secretary Rogers, together with his colleague on the ROC UN delegation in New York, Ambassador Liu.3 This had been a very useful discussion. Dr. Kissinger said his judgment was that if we were to take the position Secretary Rogers had discussed with Ambassador Shen, the PRC would be violently opposed. They would stick for nothing less than their getting the entire China seat. The present formula which the Secretary had discussed with Ambassador Shen was never discussed in Peking, much less accepted by them. He again expressed the guess that the PRC would oppose our position.

Ambassador Shen asked, did the discussions in Peking therefore focus on the President’s trip? Dr. Kissinger replied affirmatively, adding that things were in a very preliminary state. We had not reached any substantive points, and rather were exploring technical details. Ambassador Shen wondered if the date and the month for the visit had been set, to which Dr. Kissinger replied “no.” He had told them that we might make a suggestion sometime in September. Of course they could make one of their own at any time. The visit itself, though, would probably be considerably later. Dr. Kissinger said that off the top of his head, the very earliest date was December, but he considered that it probably could not be as early as that. We did not want to sit in Peking and have them hold us up with a whole series of propositions; we wanted to know what they would want before going there.

Ambassador Shen asked, would the ROC be kept informed about these arrangements, as was the case for the Warsaw talks? Dr. Kissinger replied that we would certainly try to do so—who would this information go to in the ROC? Ambassador Shen stated that only President Chiang and Chiang Ching-Kuo would be informed. Dr. Kissinger declared that on that basis, we could do it. Ambassador Shen explained that he had a private channel to President Chiang and Chiang Ching-Kuo via the Foreign Ministry: the Deputy Foreign Minister.

Ambassador Shen asked Dr. Kissinger for his impressions of ho. Chou En-lai had looked—was he in good shape? Dr. Kissinger said that Chou En-lai had seemed to be in very good shape, and had impressed him as being very intelligent.

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Ambassador Shen recalled that he had met Chou during the war years in Hankow and Chungking. He agreed that Chou was a very intelligent person. He went on to ask if Chou En-lai had appeared to be worried about the Soviets. Dr. Kissinger observed that he guessed relations with the Soviets had been on Chou’s mind. Of course, the Chinese had not survived for three thousand years as an independent people by telling foreigners what they thought. This reminded Dr. Kissinger of a story concerning a Westerner who had been called to a police station for some reason in a provincial Chinese village. A Chinese bystander, seeing the Westerner, had wondered if he was a foreigner from the next province. Another villager had said, “no, he was a foreigner from the North.” Finally, a third villager had said that the Westerner was a foreign foreigner. Dr. Kissinger asked Ambassador Shen where he was from. Ambassador Shen said that his home was Shanghai, on the coast.

Dr. Kissinger reverted to the subject of the Soviet Union, saying that Ambassador Shen must know that the question of the various great powers surrounding the PRC was no doubt of some concern to them. Ambassador Shen then wondered what, in Dr. Kissinger’s opinion. Chou En-lai hoped to get out of the President’s visit? Dr. Kissinger gave as his personal evaluation, since the Chinese hadn’t told him this, that they basically believed the Taiwan problem was an historical one and not a military one which would settle itself over a period of years, and were more concerned over great power relationships, that is, over not being carved up. They were more interested in the US in this context than they were with respect to Taiwan and the US relationship with it. What did Ambassador Shen think?

Ambassador Shen remarked that he knew the people in the PRC were worried about the Soviets and Japanese, but not about the U.S. They saw that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Far East, although they didn’t know if this was partial or total. Dr. Kissinger assured Ambassador Shen that it was not going to be total. Continuing, Ambassador Shen said that those in Peking knew that the U.S. had no designs against them. The U.S. message had gotten through, and they knew that they had more serious problems with the Soviet Union and Japan. Dr. Kissinger commented that this was his analysis, too. Ambassador Shen surmised that the people in Peking also hoped to improve their position with respect to the Soviet Union via the U.S. Dr. Kissinger remarked that he did not know what they wanted vis-à-vis the Russians, but he personally believed that we should keep cool on this and see where we were going.

Referring again to the recent events, Ambassador Shen stated that the initial shock in Taiwan had been terrific. Dr. Kissinger should understand, though, that the official reaction had been quite restrained. Dr.

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Kissinger declared that this had been a tough thing for the ROC, but Ambassador Shen should believe that it had been tough for us, too. They hadn’t had an American President before who liked Taiwan so much as our present President. As for himself, although he had never been to Taiwan, his friendships with senior officials there were very close.

Ambassador Shen expressed the view that the things discussed during the President’s visit would raise more serious problems in Taiwan. Dr. Kissinger assumed that the President would restate the U.S. position on Taiwan again, but the Ambassador could be assured that there would be no concessions. Ambassador Shen wondered if this, then would spoil the visit, to which Dr. Kissinger replied that he doubted it. Ambassador Shen thought that the Chinese in Peking felt that time would take care of the issue.

Dr. Kissinger said that time was not on their side—we were not going to Peking to turn Taiwan over to them, and if they didn’t understand this, then human language was not capable of containing it.

Ambassador Shen noted that Huang Hua, the new PRC Ambassador in Ottawa, had been four or five classes ahead of him in Yenching University in Peking. Was he the man with whom Dr. Kissinger would deal in arranging the visit? Dr. Kissinger replied that he didn’t want to discuss this point. However, Ambassador Shen was Chinese enough to know that the most obvious place is not always the one picked.

Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Shen discussed briefly Chou Enlai’s origin and educational background. Chou En-lai had been born in Anhui Province, but considered himself as being from Tientsin, where he has been educated. He was a graduate of Nankai University in Tientsin.

In conclusion, Dr. Kissinger observed that one thing had struck him while in Peking—even 25 years of communism had not been able to destroy the elegant Chinese mannerisms. Perhaps these had been better before, but they were still good.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 63, Memoranda of Conversations, September–December 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive. According to Kissinger’s record of schedule, the meeting lasted from 12:05 to 12:31 p.m. (Ibid., Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) A 2-page memorandum of talking points, prepared by Holdridge on July 26, is ibid.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 145.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. V, Document 382. Rogers was attempting to obtain ROC support for the U.S. position that would oppose the expulsion of the ROC, while accepting the admittance of the PRC to the United Nations.