165. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- 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.
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 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.
- 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.↩
- 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.↩
- The first six drafts, Tabs B–G, are attached but not printed. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 57.↩
- 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.↩
- Printed in the text below in italics.↩
- 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”↩