165. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • My October China Visit: Drafting the Communiqué2

Prime Minister Chou En-lai and I negotiated a tentative draft communiqué for your China trip (attached at Tab A) in the course of going through seven drafts and eleven hours of meetings during the last two and a half days of my visit.3 During this process Chou was extremely tough and skillful but also reasonable and broad in outlook. The result of our efforts is an unusual communiqué that clearly states differences as well as common ground between the two countries and reassures the friends of both sides rather than raising anxieties because of the compromise language, which would be subject to varying interpretations. A communiqué along these lines should portray your conversations with Mao and Chou as being between leaders who stuck by their principles but had the largeness of perspective to move relations forward despite profound disagreements.

[Page 560]

Our position on Taiwan (page 6) is the only remaining issue.4 Although we significantly narrowed our differences on this most painful issue, including a clear effort by Chou to show some restraint, I said that I could not accept the final Chinese compromise formulation, that I would have to check with you, and that we would go back to them with counter-language. The rest of the communiqué remains tentative, of course, and is subject to change because of events during the next four months and your talks with the Chinese leaders. But we now have a working draft which should be acceptable to both sides, though causing both some domestic problems, and which could never have been produced under the time and publicity pressure of your stay in China.

The Process

Tabling of Conventional U.S. Draft

As reported in separate memoranda, we spent the first three and a half days of talks establishing the basic framework of arrangements for your visit and exploring in depth the various substantive topics we had covered in July. With this backdrop I tabled a draft communiqué— which you had seen—the evening of October 22 (Tab G). It was highly conventional, stressing fuzzy areas of agreement and using vague generalizations. Its basic thrust was to glide over differences and emphasize common ground. I purposely held back our formulations on specific areas like Indochina, Korea, South Asia, or the military forces on Taiwan. On the evening of October 23, Chou gave me his initial reaction. It was that it could serve as a basis for discussion, that naturally they would want to add their views in some places to show differences, and that he would send his Acting Foreign Minister to undertake the redrafting process the next morning.

[Page 561]

Sharp Chinese Response

On the morning of October 24, Chou showed up personally instead and delivered a scorching one-hour presentation—as he indicated—at the explicit instructions of Mao. His basic theme was that the Chinese believed in revolutionary progress rather than a Metternichtype peace that stressed stability at the expense of justice and was bound to be short-lived because of its essential oppressiveness. Progress required struggle not peace, or peace only after struggle. The world is in turmoil and the small would inevitably overturn the big. We could not continue to hang onto our old friends if we were entering a new era.

Chou clearly had been ordered by Mao to emphasize the Chinese revolutionary dogma and reject our effort to submerge differences and accent cooperation. He said that our basic approach was unacceptable. Our fundamental differences had to be set forth in a communiqué; otherwise the wording would have an “untruthful appearance.” Our present draft was the sort of banality the Soviets would sign but neither mean nor observe. The Chinese kept their promises; they were not afraid to state disagreements.

I replied very harshly, saying that Chou’s position hadn’t surprised me, but that such language of infallibility and preaching was intolerable for a communiqué. I pointed out that the Chinese wouldn’t respect us if we started our new relationship by betraying our old friends, and that problems had to be solved by history, not force. I said that we could accept the basic approach of each side’s stating its view so long as we also staked out common ground so as to indicate progress. I emphasized that we would reject language that tended to put us on trial or to humiliate an American President. After explaining the difficulties with drafting a communiqué from scratch during your visit, I concluded by saying that the choice was up to Chou, reminding him that he had said to an American group that it didn’t matter if your trip failed. Chou affirmed their wish for a successful visit and asked for a break. He then agreed to launch into a drafting process.

This exchange foreshadowed our basic positions in the negotiating process we then embarked upon. Chou’s emphasis was on sharp delineation of our respective positions while my objectives were to dilute the rhetoric and shorten the length of opposing views, and expand areas of agreement.

Chinese Counter-draft Stressing Differences

The Chinese worked on a draft all day and, after stuffing us with roast duck at a banquet, tabled their first draft that evening (Tab F). It contained very strong rhetoric on their general approach to international affairs and sharp formulations of Chinese views on specific issues. Despite my needling, Chou was at first reluctant to hand his [Page 562] draft over. I responded that I agreeed with the basic concept of both sides plainly stating their views and then common positions, but that the Chinese views were phrased in the most intransigent fashion and you would not travel all the way to China to hear propaganda that one could read in the newspapers.

I then voiced our principal objections. In the general section, we could not have an American President sign a document which said that revolution has become the irresistible trend of history or that “the people’s revolutionary struggles are just.” Nor would we brook reference to racial discrimination—while we were equally opposed to it, mention of it in this communiqué would be certainly interpreted as a critique of American domestic problems. There was almost no mention of agreed principles in international or bilateral relations.

On specific issues, the Chinese draft had us both stating that Vietnam was the most urgent question for the relaxation of tension in the Far East. It cited China as “the reliable rear area” and Chinese backing for the Indochinese peoples’ “fighting to the end for the attainment of their goal”—clearly unacceptable phrasing while Americans were dying or held prisoner in Indochina. The Chinese called for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea and Japan and the unconditional return of Okinawa. The draft had both sides agreeing that Taiwan is the “crucial issue” obstructing normalization of bilateral relations. And the Chinese had linked periodic visits of U.S. envoys to progress on Taiwan; this I rejected too.

I stated that the total impact of their draft would be disastrous and inconsistent with our self-respect—the rhetoric must be toned down and some progress shown. I delayed our scheduled departure from the next morning to the next afternoon. Our side then went back to our Guest House to redraft the better part of the night.

Muting the Rhetoric and Expanding the Positive

Our counter-draft (Tab E), which we presented the morning of October 25, took out their most offensive language, put in our own positions and beefed up areas of agreement. On specific regional issues we kept the structure of each side’s expressing its views and then a common position, albeit rather vapidly. I defined our objective as being to state differences without being offensive and showing a positive direction without raising false hopes. I again put off our departure, to the next morning. The Chinese took our draft away, and we once again endured a lengthy wait until dinner time that night when we got the second Chinese draft (Tab D).

Because of time pressure we had but two hours to deal with what remained a tough version. There was still much objectionable Chinese rhetoric and not enough positive material. The Chinese had also changed the structure, lumping regional issues with general [Page 563] views under each side’s position and not attempting to state explicit agreed positions on these specific questions. Chou explained his reasons:

We should not state common positions for appearance sake, but only when they in fact exist—this wasn’t really the case for the regional issues.
The agreements were so vague as to lead each side to explain its position in contradictory manner giving rise to post-summit controversy.
It gave impressions of Sino–U.S. condominium which was in neither party’s interest.

I pointed out with melancholy that the Chinese draft still accentuated our differences in provocative fashion. We had to decide whether we were starting a new period in our relationship or employing new tactics in a continuing struggle. We would be condemned for signing such a document which still had a largely negative cast to it, appealed to revolution, and spoke of supporting the Vietnamese people to the end. I then gave them our third draft (Tab C) proposing once again reduction of their offensive phrasing, e.g. on revolution and backing the Indochinese peoples’ struggles, and restoring some positive language of agreement. I also was somewhat more forthcoming on Taiwan which now was clearly emerging as the most difficult issue. Making clear that I was stretching my instructions, I used language that said the U.S. would not challenge (rather than merely noting) the views of all Chinese that there is but one China and indicated progressive reduction of U.S. forces on Taiwan.

During two hours of sparring Chou elaborated some of the philosophic underpinning of their approach to the communiqué. He drew a clear distinction between principle and policy execution, in effect paralleling our approach that we could set a course on certain issues but time was needed to resolve them. In this session particularly, but also in others, he emphasized that while they had to have principles like troop withdrawals or sovereignty over Taiwan, they clearly could do without time deadlines. They were in no hurry but the direction must be clear. Chou was startlingly frank and concrete with respect to our military withdrawal from Taiwan—not only would they not press for a timetable, they actually preferred that some U.S. forces remain so as to keep the Japanese forces out!

After very candid exchanges, the Chinese took away our draft for revision at 11:35 p.m.

Agreement on a Tentative Draft

At 4:45 a.m., October 26, we were given a third Chinese draft (Tab B) which was a considerable improvement. It muted some of their rhetoric in the direction of our changes and kept most of our additions [Page 564] of positive language. On Taiwan, they clearly made an effort but their formulation was still beyond what I could accept.

We met at 5:30 a.m. with four or five fundamental issues remaining. I pointed to a few phrases which remained annoying and to the deletion of our reference to our honoring our commitments to Korea.

Chou said that it was a difficult situation because they had accepted without change our statements of principle, such as individual freedom and peaceful competition (this was true) while we were trying to dilute their formulations. There was no question that the two sides have deep differences and they should be stated. He suggested that it was extremely difficult to reach agreed language before I left, that this text was tentative, and that some work could be left until your visit. I rejoined that the more we could settle now the better. Chou agreed but stressed the need for confidentiality. He then again displayed reasonableness as he made a further effort to curb some of their language and agreed to restoration of our Korean language.

We also had another long exchange on Taiwan during which he made clear he could budge no further. He pointed out that they had used great restraint on this question, had thought hard about reformulations which could meet our concern, and were not stipulating any timetables. However, there had to be some concreteness or the Chinese people would not understand. He agreed with me that their objective was to be explicit on this question while ours was to be ambiguous. In turn I said I was already operating on the margin of my authority with the formulation I had proposed and was extremely doubtful that you would consider their language. We left it that I would discuss this with you and might propose a new formulation, in which case they might be able to change a couple of words.

By 8:10 a.m., we had reached agreement on the tentative draft at Tab A except for Taiwan (underlined portion)5 as well as cleaning up remaining technical issues such as public announcements and statements. I reaffirmed to Chou that knowledge of this communiqué would be confined to the White House. They clearly want secrecy about this document for the same reasons we do, as well as not to derogate fro. Mao’s authority before he has had a chance to talk to you.

The Result

The draft communiqué should serve us better than the conventional type which contains contrived and ambiguous language. It is an honorable document in which both sides vigorously and inoffensively set forth their differing views on the world scene and specific issues. This reflects the basic reality, which you have been stressing, that there [Page 565] are fundamental differences between us and the Chinese. The communiqué then states how despite these differences, we have common interests in our conduct of international relations and bilateral dealings and how we propose to further them. There is thus both realism and forward movement.

This paper should prove more reassuring to our friends than a blander document where they would search for hidden meanings or understandings. U.S.–PRC joint positions on such questions as Indochina, Japan and Korea would be all but meaningless given our differences and could only be expressed in language that each side could interpret as it wished. Such agreements would either be an artful exercise in semantics or suggest we and the PRC were negotiating on behalf of third countries (which, moreover, the communiqué states that we won’t do).

Instead, while the PRC supports its allies, we go clearly on record as honoring our commitments to Korea and placing the highest value on our relationship with Japan and honoring our mutual defense treaty obligations. On the Asian subcontinent our neutrally-phrased position compares with Peking’s pro-Pakistan stance—this should help us marginally with India while not really hurting us with Pakistan, for whom we remain the only real Western friend. On Indochina, we restate our standard position, and this issue may well have been transformed by the time of your visit.

Some of the Chinese rhetoric in the document is unpleasant and this, combined with what inevitably will be a painful section on Taiwan, will cause us some problems. But Chou took out the most offensive language such as supporting revolutions and opposing racial discrimination and generally rounded off the Chinese statements so that they are very mild in comparison to standard Maoist expressions.

The Chinese hardly need the communiqué as a propaganda vehicle. They have many other instruments for that purpose (including now the United Nations). Indeed the language on Chinese positions, while naturally still grating on American ears, can only look restrained to any audience familiar with the usual public lines. In fact, it is difficult to see how Chou could have gone much further on the language and still preserved his international and domestic positions. He recognized the points I made about our own domestic problems and took them into account in his redrafting. Furthermore while he let us edit his formulations, he did not attempt to change ours—he even reinserted some language of ours that we had dropped because we had deleted some of their phrases.

Another positive element was Chou’s restraint in terms of making any demands on us. While there is some vigorous rhetoric on general principles, the Chinese do not, for example, specifically call for the withdrawal of our forces from Korea or Japan. Indeed Chou time and [Page 566] again emphasized that, while in principle foreign forces should be withdrawn, the PRC was not specifying any time limits.

Thus the Chinese are willing to pursue their objectives by banking on the thrust of history. They will continue to be tough, but they essentially accept our arguments that we can often do more than we say, that the process must be gradual, and that some issues must be left to evolutionary pressures. This involves great risks for them, at home and abroad, given their past public demands and dissidents in their own camp.

Furthermore, they are clearly gambling on your reelection. Chou specifically pointed out toward the end that they could be in real trouble if your Administration was not in power to implement our understandings. He shares what he described as your wish that you preside over the 200th anniversary of America’s birth.

All of this does not mean that Chou was easy to deal with—he emphatically was not. But nevertheless he was able to empathize with our difficulties and he made an effort to produce language to meet our concerns. Nor is the communiqué without domestic and international problems. But it is fair to say that the problems for Chou and the PRC are at least as great.

In short, if we can navigate the Taiwan issue successfully, we should have a communiqué that is realistic, clear, dignified, reassuring to our friends and positive for the further development of U.S.–Chinese relations.

Tab A6

JOINT COMMUNIQUÉ (Tentative Draft)

President Richard Nixon of the United States of America visited the People’s Republic of China at the invitation of Premier Chou En-lai of the People’s Republic of China from———to———, 1972. Accompanying the President on his visit were (Mrs. Nixon), U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers and Assistant to the President Dr. Henry A. Kissinger.

President Nixon met with Chairman Mao Tse-tung of the Communist Party of China on———and———. The two leaders held conversation for hours and had an exchange of views on Sino-U.S. relations and world affairs.

[Page 567]

During the visit, further talks were held between President Nixon and Premier Chou En-lai. The two sides held extensive, earnest and frank discussions on the normalization of relations between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, as well as on other matters of interest to both sides.

Also taking part in the talks on the Chinese side were:

Also taking part in the talks on the U.S. side were:

President Nixon and his party visited Peking and viewed cultural, industrial and agricultural sites, and they also toured———and———where, continuing discussions with Chinese leaders, they viewed similar places of interest.

During their meetings and talks, the leaders of China and the United States reviewed the international situation in which important changes are taking place and great upheavals exist and expounded their respective positions and views.

The Chinese side stated that wherever there is oppression, there is resistance. Countries want independence, nations want liberation and the people want progress—this has become the irresistible trend of history. All nations, big or small, should be equal; big nations should not bully the small and strong nations should not bully the weak. China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind. The Chinese side stated that it firmly supports the struggles of all the oppressed people and nations for freedom and liberation and that the people of all countries have the right to choose their social systems according to their own wishes and the right to safeguard the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of their own countries and oppose foreign aggression, interference, control and subversion. All foreign troops should be withdrawn to their own countries. The Chinese side expressed its firm support to the peoples of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia in their efforts for the attainment of their goal and its firm support to the seven-point proposal put forward by the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Viet Nam and the Joint Declaration of the Summit Conference of the Indochinese Peoples; it firmly supports the eight-point programme for the peaceful unification of Korea put forward by the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on April 12, 1971 and the stand for the abolition of the “U.N. Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea;” it firmly opposes the revival and outward expansion of Japanese militarism and firmly supports the Japanese people’s desire to build an independent, democratic, peaceful and neutral Japan; it firmly opposes anyone exploiting the situation in East Pakistan to interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs, provoke armed conflicts and undermine peace in the Asian sub-continent.

The U.S. side stated that peace in Asia and peace in the world required efforts both to reduce immediate tensions and to eliminate the [Page 568] basic causes of conflict. The U.S. side believes that the effort to reduce tension is served by improving communication between countries that have different world outlooks so as to lessen the risks of confrontation through accident, miscalculation or misunderstanding. Countries should treat each other with mutual respect and with a willingness to compete peacefully, letting performance be the ultimate judge. No country should claim infallibility and each country should be prepared to re-examine its own attitudes for the common good. The U.S. side desires to work with others to build a just and secure peace: just because it fulfills the aspirations of peoples and nations for freedom and progress, secure because it removes the danger of foreign aggression. The United States supports individual freedom and social progress for all the peoples of the world, free of outside pressure or intervention. The U.S. side stated that the peoples of Indochina should be allowed to determine their destiny without outside intervention; that its constant primary objective has been a negotiated solution, and that in the absence of a negotiated settlement it envisaged the ultimate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the region consistent with the aim of true self-determination for each country of Indochina. The existing commitments between the U.S. and Republic of Korea would be honored; the United States would support all efforts of the Republic of Korea to seek a relaxation of the tension and increased communication in the Korean peninsula. The United States placed the highest value on its friendly relations with Japan and it would continue to honor its mutual defense treaty obligations. The United States urged India and Pakistan to resolve their differences through peaceful negotiations; all attempts to use armed force to settle international problems are contrary to the interests of the people of this region.

There are essential differences between China and the United States in their social systems and foreign policies. However, the two sides agreed that countries, regardless of their social systems, should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. International disputes should be settled on this basis, without resorting to the use or threat of force. The United States and the People’s Republic of China are prepared to apply these principles to their mutual relations.

It would be against the interests of the peoples of the world for any major country to collude with another against other countries, or to behave in such a way as to suggest that it had an exclusive sphere of interest.

With these principles of international relations in mind the two sides stated that:

  • —progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interests of all countries;
  • —both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict;
  • —neither seeks hegemony in the Asia–Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony; and
  • —neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings directed at other states.

The two sides reviewed the long-standing serious disputes between China and the United States. The Chinese side reaffirmed its position: The Taiwan question is the crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations between China and the United States; the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal Government of China; Taiwan is a part of Chinese territory which has long been returned to the motherland; the liberation of Taiwan is China’s internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere; and the U.S. troops must withdraw from Taiwan. The Chinese Government firmly opposes any activities which aim at the creation of “one China, one Taiwan,” “one China, two governments,” “two Chinas,” an “independent Taiwan” or advocate that “the status of Taiwan remains to be determined.”

The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Straits maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a province of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position; it hopes that the settlement of the Taiwan question consistent with this position will be achieved through peaceful negotiations and states that it will progressively reduce and finally withdraw all the U.S. troops and military installations from Taiwan.

The two sides agreed that pending the normalization of relations between the two countries, the Governments of the two countries would respectively take measures to facilitate the exchange of visits between the two peoples and their contacts in the scientific, technical, journalistic and cultural fields.

The two sides agreed that the U.S. Government will send a senior representative to Peking at irregular intervals for concrete consultations to further the normalization of relations and carry forward negotiations on issues of common interest.

The two sides were gratified to have this opportunity, after so many years without contact between the leaders of their two countries, to present frankly to one another their respective views on a variety of issues. The two sides expressed the hope that the gains achieved during this visit would open up new prospects for the relations between the two countries. They believe that the normalization of relations between the two countries is not only in the interest of the Chinese and American peoples but also contributes to the relaxation of tension in Asia and the world.

[Page 570]

President Nixon and his party expressed their appreciation for the gracious hospitality shown them by the Government and people of the People’s Republic of China.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1035, Files for the President—China Material, China, HAK’s October 1971 Visit. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. On October 14 Nixon and Kissinger discussed the communiqué and upcoming talks with the People’s Republic of China. Nixon told Kissinger that “we’re in a stronger position, particularly in Cambodia, than they are, and a lot stronger than we were in October. I’d be tougher on Cambodia and I’d be tougher on Laos.” He continued: “But with Japan, I believe that we have got to frankly scare the bejeezus out of them more on Japan. It’s just my sense as I read through this [an early U.S. draft of the communiqué]. I can see what they’re doing. He’s [Chou En-lai] talking with strong language. But on the other hand, here’s the key thing, they have got to become convinced that a Japan and going further, a non-Communist Asia, without the United States is potentially more dangerous than an Asia with the United States. Now, you made that point, but I’d hit it right on the nose, say we’re going to stick around.” Later Nixon stated: “For example, we’ll take the Taiwan thing, we know what has to happen. Korea, we will work that out in an oral way. Except, I’d work that out orally. But also—But I would state very, very firmly, ‘Now look, the United States is a Pacific power and an Asian power, and we are going to maintain a presence there.’” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, October 14, 1971, 3:05–5:40 p.m., Old Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 289–18) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specificially for this volume.
  3. The first six drafts, Tabs B–G, are attached but not printed. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 57.
  4. Nixon and Kissinger also discussed Taiwan on October 14. Nixon supported the idea of stating that the PRC and ROC should agree that only one China existed, and that the United States and PRC “agree there should be a peaceful solution.” Kissinger pointed out that the PRC would not accept any commitment to a peaceful solution. He added that ending the U.S. treaty commitment to Taiwan “can’t even be considered now” and “the thing we have to hope for is that there will be an evolution that leads to a negotiation.” Kissinger feared that “one of two things are going to happen. After the election either Peking is going to get impatient and then there’s going to be a blow up in their relations with you because their demands [unintelligible]. Or Chiang will die and they’ll be negotiations. Or Mao and Chou will die and there’s such a goddamn turmoil in Peking that no one will know any more what the hell is going on any more.” Nixon replied: “So the only thing I think is that we have to remember that everything always comes out. I don’t think we can have a secret deal, if we sold out Taiwan, you understand? I know what we’re doing, but I want to be very careful.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon an. Kissinger, October 14, 1971, 3:05–5:40 p.m., Old Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 289–18) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specificially for this volume.
  5. Printed in the text below in italics.
  6. A typewritten note at the top of the page reads: “Final Draft, 10/26–8:00 A.M.” The “Joint Statement Following Discussions with Leaders of the People’s Republic of China”