159. Memorandum of Conversation1


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


  • Questions from the Chinese Ambassador Concerning Mr. Kissinger’s Visit to Peking and the Situation in the UN

The conversation began with Mr. Kissinger explaining to Ambassador Shen the itinerary which Mr. Kissinger and his party would follow from Washington beginning October 16—Hawaii, for a little rest and a review with the technical staff of matters of interest to them, then Guam, followed by Shanghai and Peking. Ambassador Shen [Page 489] commented that Shanghai was his home town, and that Mr. Kissinger should say, “hello.”

Mr. Kissinger said he knew how painful an event this trip was for the Ambassador, though the Ambassador must have known that the second visit was an inevitable consequence of the first. When Ambassador Shen asked if Mr. Kissinger could say anything about the trip which had not been mentioned in the press, Mr. Kissinger assured him that there was much less in it than met the eye. This was an abnormal situation, otherwise Mr. Kissinger wouldn’t have dreamed of going himself. The things which had to be settled were the agenda items, the technical arrangements, and the date for the President’s visit. He would see Ambassador Shen after his return, and would tell the Ambassador about the trip then. He was quite sure, though, that there would be nothing much to tell. The Chinese Communists would probably raise the Taiwan question, in fact it would be incredible if they did not, but we would not change our position and there would be no concessions with respect to Taiwan. We could not prevent them from telling us their position and would hear them out, but whatever they said would not affect our position. Taiwan was not on the agenda.

Continuing, Mr. Kissinger said that he was certain that when the Chinese Communists talked about normalization, getting control of Taiwan was what was on their minds. However, Ambassador Shen could be sure that there was no change in our position, there would be no withdrawal, no recognition of the People’s Republic of China, and so forth. Mr. Kissinger reiterated that he would be amazed if Taiwan were not raised by the Communists even though it was not on the agenda for this trip—he had never met a Chinese Communist official who didn’t talk about Taiwan.

Ambassador Shen assumed that the subject would also come up when the President went to Peking. Mr. Kissinger remarked that he would know more about it after he had been to Peking, where he would have had an opportunity for a full exchange of views. Our Taiwan position was not negotiable as far as we were concerned. Mr. Kissinger added that he didn’t know if they would raise the question, but psychologically, he felt strongly that they would. Ambassador Shen agreed, noting that that’s what they always were talking about. What about the normalization of relations? Mr. Kissinger noted that we had never defined this term. What we meant by it was a more normal relationship. We had no intention of establishing diplomatic relations for the foreseeable future, though we might have a few people in Peking from time to time.

Ambassador Shen asked how long this situation could be expected to prevail—six months, or for the next year, or what? Mr. Kissinger assured Ambassador Shen that he was talking about the remainder of [Page 490] this term of the President. He assumed that what he was saying here would be kept strictly confidential. Ambassador Shen said that he would report through “our man,” and not through the normal side.

Ambassador Shen referred to the President’s proposed visit to Moscow next May. Did Mr. Kissinger think this would reduce or increase the Chinese Communist interest in the President’s visit to Peking? Mr. Kissinger asked the Ambassador what he, as a Chinese, thought. According to Ambassador Shen, the result of the announcement of the President’s Moscow visit would be a reduction in Chinese Communist interest in the President’s visiting Peking. They wanted to get the greatest mileage out of the visit, and if the President was going to Moscow in May, this might follow fairly closely on his visit to Peking. When would the President, in fact, be going to Peking? Ambassador Shen remarked that the Chinese Communists would ask a lot of questions—he himself would do the same. Mr. Kissinger observed that it might be his fate to have both Chinas hating him.

Ambassador Shen asked, did Mr. Kissinger have any news from Peking about what was going on there? Mr. Kissinger replied that we had received three contradictory reports: one that Lin Piao was sick; one that Lin Piao was ill; and one that Lin Piao had been on the plane which went down in Mongolia. What did Ambassador Shen think? Ambassador Shen replied that he would choose the middle option— Lin Piao was ill. Mr. Kissinger said that he thought the same, although all our reports were fourth-hand, and we had no direct reports.

Ambassador Shen wondered how big an area would be covered in the agenda—would Asian questions of a broad nature be touched upon? Mr. Kissinger declared that we would try to confine the agenda to bilateral relations. We couldn’t negotiate about our friends; for example, we couldn’t discuss Korea. Ambassador Shen expressed some surprise at this, wondering if some indirect reference might not be made to Korea or Taiwan. What else would there be to talk about? Mr. Kissinger indicated that the general evolution of the world situation would certainly be talked about, and agreed to a suggestion from Ambassador Shen that the relaxation of tensions would also be a subject for discussion. There would, in addition, be the subject of cultural and other exchanges.

Ambassador Shen asked, would the subject of the off-shore islands come up? Mr. Kissinger termed this an interesting point, although it had never been mentioned by the Chinese Communists. Ambassador Shen surmised that this probably was because they thought that Taiwan was now within their reach, “so why bother about the off-shore islands?” What about the subject of the U.S. treaty relations with the ROC? Mr. Kissinger stressed that the Ambassador should have absolutely no doubt that we would reaffirm the treaty relationship.

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Ambassador Shen queried Mr. Kissinger as to whether anything new had come up in Peking’s relationship with Moscow. Mr. Kissinger declared that we couldn’t notice anything. Something might be going on, but if there, was, we couldn’t notice it. Ambassador Shen cited a report from Hong Kong to the effect that the Chinese Communists had moved troops from Kirin to the region of the Amur River, and also from Shensi in northwest China toward the border with Inner Mongolia. Mr. Kissinger observed that, so far as we could tell, the build-up of Soviet forces was continuing. He had not followed the movements of the Chinese Communist forces, but their weight obviously was toward the north, and not toward Fukien. Ambassador Shen expressed the opinion that the Chinese Communists may have taken units out from this area—a regiment here, and a division there. Mr. Kissinger said he felt that the ROC didn’t have anything to worry about in the form of a Chinese Communist attack within the next two or three years. He did not believe the Communists could manage an army outside their borders.

Reverting to the topic of the President’s visit to Moscow, Mr. Kissinger observed that our judgment of the impact of the announcement of this visit was similar to that of Ambassador Shen’s. It certainly had not been received with undiluted joy in Peking, but we had gone ahead anyway. It had the advantage of putting the President’s visit to Peking into a better perspective.

Responding to a request from Ambassador Shen for an evaluation of the UN situation, Mr. Kissinger told the Ambassador that the President had personally talked to the Italian and British Foreign Ministers about the Chirep issue, so we were personally putting ourselves behind our resolutions.2 What was Ambassador Shen’s judgment? We had received conflicting reports about the way the vote stood. Ambassador Shen said that he had talked to his Foreign Minister that day, who had felt a little better following a talk with Secretary Rogers.3 However, quite a few UN delegations had noted that the President had not personally spoken out. Mr. Kissinger retorted that this was not true; the President had spoken to the Israelis, the Italians, the Irish, and the [Page 492] UK. Moreover, the other day he had received a delegation of 350 Congressmen. According to Ambassador Shen, the President’s remarks had been very brief, and left an impression that they were not positive enough.4 Ambassador Shen hoped something more could be done to make the U.S. stand more positive. The issue was coming up the following Monday, the debate might last for two or three weeks, and a positive word from the President would do the trick. It would dispell all lingering doubts about the sincerity of the U.S. in supporting the ROC position.

Mr. Kissinger declared that if Ambassador Shen would give us the name of a delegation whose support the ROC needed, he had no doubt that the President would speak to this delegation. We were working among all uncommitted delegations, such as the Israelis, the Irish, the British, and the Italians. As far as the British were concerned, we did not expect to get their vote, but were telling them to keep quiet in their contacts with other countries.

Ambassador Shen said that he still felt that a word from the President would be desirable. Many delegations were holding off in making their decision until the time came for them to cast their vote. The show was not over until these votes were really cast—the ROC had had some experience about this in previous years. Mr. Kissinger noted that he was leaving the next day, but would talk to the President before his departure. Continuing, Ambassador Shen again asked for a positive statement from the President, saying that no one could then ever suggest that the U.S. was simply just going through the motions.

Mr. Kissinger indicated that he had personally talked to five delegations, to which Ambassador Shen referred to the President’s having used a quotation to the effect that a 5,000 mile journey began with the first step. He himself felt that a journey of this length had to be completed with the last step, and that no stone should be left unturned. Mr. Kissinger again said that he would speak to the President on this subject.

Ambassador Shen raised the question of whether, if we got through the UN issue this year, we would need to fight it all over again next year. Mr. Kissinger thought that we would have to go through a fight every year unless we came to an understanding with Peking. Ambassador Shen asked, did Mr. Kissinger feel that Peking would [Page 493] enter the UN if the dual representation resolution passed? Mr. Kissinger said, “no.” This was his personal judgment, although the Chinese Communists had not discussed this with him. Ambassador Shen referred to a speech by the Australian Ambassador expressing a little more optimism about what Peking would do. What was Mr. Kissinger’s sense about this? Mr. Kissinger replied by asking the Ambassador if it would be bad for the ROC if Peking did, in fact, come in. Ambassador Shen’s response was that if Peking came in, the whole ROC approach to the UN would have to be changed—a change in tactics would be necessary. Mr. Kissinger expressed the belief that Peking wouldn’t come in unless it could get the ROC out, and was more interested in this goal than in taking its place in the UN. Ambassador Shen wondered if this, in Peking’s thinking, might be tied to getting Taiwan, and Mr. Kissinger declared that this was his judgment.

Ambassador Shen speculated that if the dual representation resolution passed, and the Chinese Communists didn’t come in and the ROC remained in the UN, this would provide the ROC with added assurance as to its UN position. Mr. Kissinger agreed that this would be a great gain. It would be a good development if we won and they didn’t come in. Ambassador Shen went on to note that if Peking had a seat in the General Assembly and a place in the Security Council and then didn’t come in, there would be an anomalous situation. Their position couldn’t be one-half valid and one-half invalid, and wouldn’t they be throwing themselves open to questions so far as their membership was concerned. Mr. Kissinger felt that this was an interesting point.

Ambassador Shen remarked that some of his people had said that the ROC should speak up first (on the question of whether the ROC would stay in the UN if Peking entered), while others said that they shouldn’t take the initiative in speaking up. Mr. Kissinger said he personally thought that the ROC should keep quiet, and let the Chinese Communists speak up. He saw nothing to gain by showing reasonableness. The ROC’s enemies didn’t care about this. James Reston wanted the ROC out of the UN no matter how reasonable it was. Being in or out of the UN was not important, what our enemies wanted was for us to give up our defense relationship. And although the ROC had been unhappy with us the last six months, it would find that it could count on us. Ambassador Shen observed that the real crunch was coming.

The discussion briefly turned to the weather in Peking this time of year (“beautiful” according to Ambassador Shen) and the circumstances under which Mr. Erlichman had shown up at a dinner in the Chinese Embassy by mistake which was being held for a group of “old China hands” who were not necessarily supporters of the Administration. According to Ambassador Shen, Mr. Erlichman had enjoyed the affair immensely.

[Page 494]

Mr. Kissinger concluded by stressing to the Ambassador that no task was more painful for him than the things we were now doing. All his friends on Taiwan would tell the Ambassador that he, Mr. Kissinger, didn’t want to be doing this, and would certainly do nothing to sacrifice our central interests. This was a painful period. Mr. Kissinger also explained briefly the necessity for his staying on in Peking for the length of time scheduled; this was to assure that none of the members of technical staff got into trouble. Or, if they did get into trouble, Mr. Kissinger would be there to take care of the situation. He assured Ambassador Shen that he would speak to him very soon after his return from Peking.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 522, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. IX. Secret; Sensitive. According to an October 21 covering memorandum from Froebe, Kissinger did not want the memorandum of conversation distributed outside the NSC. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office from 4:33 to 5 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule)
  2. Nixon met with Italian Foreign Minister Aldo Moro in the White House on October 11. A record of the meeting is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XLI.
  3. Rogers, De Palma, McCloskey, and Murphy met with Chow, Ambassador Liu, and Frederick Chien in New York on October 5. (Reported in Secto 71, October 6; National Archives, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 73 D 323, Secretary’s Participation in UNGA, vol. II, memcons) Rogers, Pedersen, De Palma, and Murphy met with Chow, Liu, an. Chien again on October 14 in New York. (Telegram 3549 from USUN, October 15; ibid., Central Files 1970–73, UN 6 CHICOM) In the latter meeting, Rogers stated that he still expected the United States to prevail on the “Important Question” vote. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. V, Document 419.
  4. On October 13 Nixon met with a delegation of House members who presented a petition to “Save the Republic of China’s UN Seat.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) During his September 16 news conference, Nixon had announced that the United States would support the PRC’s admission into the UN General Assembly and Security Council, while opposing any effort to expel the ROC. (Public Papers: Nixon , 1971, pp. 950–951)