161. Editorial Note

President Richard Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, discussed the February 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) through a series of messages and conversations during and immediately after Kissinger’s October 1971 trip to the PRC. On October 20 Alexander M. Haig sent a telegram t. Kissinger:

“The President via Haldeman asked me to convey to you on an urgent basis the following message. He did not give any explanation although I sensed it is related to the imagery problem with which we are so well acquainted: He wishes you to insure that in discussing the agenda with your hosts a specific time is arranged for two private head-to-head meetings between, in one instance, the President and Mao with no one in attendance other than interpreters, and in the second instance, with Chou En-lai under identical circumstances. I was asked to convey this to you as soon as possible and would be grateful if you could confirm for the President if and when this has been accomplished.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1035, Files for the President—China Material, China, HAK’s October 1971 Visit)

Kissinger’s response, received in the White House on October 21, reads:

“Please tell Haldeman to rest his fevered brain. Our hosts have one or two other things on their minds. Private meetings will be arranged, although I am bound to say anything except the most formal meeting along with Chou is a major mistake. Chou will know the whole negotiating history and the President cannot. Please leave the timing of raising it to me. I shall arrange it before I leave unless I hear to the contrary. Please remind Bush of our understanding with respect to the UN debate. Warm regards. To be delivered without disturbing Gen. Haig at home. No copies for distribution.” (Ibid.)

Ambassador to the United Nations George Bush, Kissinger, an. Nixon had met on September 30. At this meeting Kissinger said, “I was wondering, we were exploring all possibilities, but if the American speech [in the UN General Assembly] could be put after I’ve left there, since the debate will go on for 3 or 4 days after I’ve left there.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of conversation among Nixon, Kissinger, and Bush, September 30, 1971, 9:22–9:54 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 581–2) The United Nations vote is discussed in Document 167.

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Haig passed the information contained in Kissinger’s telegram t. Nixon on October 21. Nixon’s handwritten comments on Haig’s summary memorandum read: “Al. Wire Henry—OK for Chou and Mao together, but RN to be alone. Henry not to be present. Otherwise, we differ from RN’s style on other trips and raise the Rogers problem.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1035, Files for the President—China Material, China, HAK’s October 1971 Visit)

Haig then wired Nixon’s instructions to Kissinger on October 22, adding: “There may be more to this than that simple explanation and I suspect the Sherman story in Sunday’s Post which touched upon the genesis of the Peking and Soviet initiatives was not helpful in any sense. You will recall that Sherman suggested that both trips had long been part of ‘your’ conceptual agenda.” (Ibid.) George Sherman was a Washington Star reporter. Haig is apparently referring to Sherman’s article entitled “Kissinger Mapped Nixon Shift,” Washington Star, October 17, 1971, pages A–1, A–5.

On the same day, Haig sent a message to Kissinger that reads in part: “He [Haldeman] asked me to reiterate to you that the President’s strong preference is for a five-day visit with only one additional stop which would involve an in-and-out on the same day. I assured him you were well aware of the President’s wishes but that obviously you would have to consider Chinese attitude. He asked that I send this to you in any event. Best wishes.” (Ibid. E–13, Documents 42, 45, and 47)

Also on October 22, Nixon, through Haig, requested that Kissinger delay his return to Washington from Monday, October 25 to Tuesday, October 26. Haig wrote: “The real reason is because Rogers insists that your arrival from Peking just before the Chirep vote [in the UN], now scheduled for Tuesday morning, would seriously jeopardize the outcome and in any event would be the subject of considerable criticism should the vote go against us.” (Ibid.) On October 23 Kissinger responded that he could not delay his departure from China, and any delay in Hawaii or Alaska could only increase “speculation.” He added: “As you know, I have never believed that my visit affects the Chirep vote. Whatever impact it has had is already accomplished, it will not be compounded by my return.” After receiving another cable fro. Haig, October 23, explaining the situation on October 24 Kissinger indicated his willingness to delay for a day in Anchorage, Alaska. (Ibid.) Kissinger arrived in Washington on the afternoon of October 26 and had dinner with Nixon that evening. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–13, Documents 42, 45, 46, 47, 49, and 50.

On October 27 Kissinger and Nixon discussed the results of the trip. Kissinger affirmed: “It’s [the China trip] the keystone of your foreign [Page 497] policy, Mr. President, you get a good reception in China, which I know you will, you come out with a decent communiqué, you’re in business with the Russians. Then the Russian trip will be a great success.” Nixon observed: “He’s [Rogers] concerned with good reason about what does the communiqué say about Taiwan. But I think if we aren’t smart enough to work out some fuzzy language there then we’re, it’s my understanding that the [unintelligible] won’t be in any communiqué, it will be in the back room.” Kissinger commented:

“Mr. President, you are going to be more sensitive to what you can say than he [Rogers]. You’re not going to say anything that will hurt us. I believe actually on Taiwan they haven’t met you yet, what you should, and we may even want to leave that door open until you get there. If you tell Mao, look, this is what I’m willing to do, but in order to do it we cannot say a great deal. And once they’re seen you and seen that there’s steel there, then I think it will go. They’re not trying to screw you, that’s not the way they operate, they’re not like the Russians. The Russians get you by accumulating little things. The Chinese operate like you do, they go for the big play. They are not interested in, they do not want, when I left Chou said to me, I want you to understand that we have a big investment in President Nixon, everything we do is geared to him. They said, he said, a lot of people have promised us things, but we believe only he can actually perform. And you have to say, now Bill was making a fuss about how they were crowing [after victory in the UN vote]. That isn’t true. Yesterday, Chou and their foreign minister, meeting a group of press, had absolutely no comment. They can’t have any interest in humiliating you.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon an. Kissinger, October 27, 1971, 9:40 a.m.–12:22 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 603–1)