167. Editorial Note

In October 1971 the People’s Republic of China (PRC) replaced the Republic of China (ROC) in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. As documented in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume V, most of the maneuvering in the United Nations concerned the Important Question and Albanian Resolutions. Items placed before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that were Important Questions (IQs) required a two-thirds majority to pass. In December 1961 the General Assembly approved a resolution sponsored by the United States, Australia, Colombia, Italy, and Japan, making the issue of Chinese representation an Important Question, thus reducing the likelihood of the Republic of China’s expulsion. (UNGA 1961, United Nations doc. A/L 372, Resolution 1668 (XVI), adopted on December 15, 1961) The Albanian Resolution, so named for one of its primary sponsors, called for expelling the ROC and seating the PRC in the General Assembly and Security Council. Until the 1963 General Assembly session the Soviet Union had been a sponsor of the Albanian Resolution. After 1963 the Soviets voted for, but did not sponsor, the resolution.

On September 17, 1969, the General Assembly agreed to consider the Albanian Resolution, sponsored by 13 other nations as well as Albania, entitled “Restoration of the lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China.” On October 17 the United States, joined by 17 other nations, introduced a resolution reaffirming the 1961 General Assembly decision that China’s representation was an Important Question. For the first time, the Soviet Union did not speak publicly in support of PRC admittance into the United Nations. The U.S.-sponsored Important Question Resolution passed on November 11 by a vote of 71 to 48, with 4 abstentions. However, the Albanian Resolution also garnered a slim majority. An attempt in the Assembly’s Credentials Committee to declare invalid the credentials of the ROC was defeated by a vote of 5 to 3, with 1 abstention. See Department of State, Bureau of International Organization Affairs, U.S. Participation in the U.N.: Report by the President to the Congress for the Year 1969, Department of State Publication 8540, October 1970, pages 59–62.

In 1970 the United States and its supporters continued to support the Important Question Resolution. On November 20 the resolution passed 66 to 52, with 7 abstentions. The Albanian Resolution also passed 51 to 49, with 25 abstentions. The Soviet Union requested a vote in the Credentials Committee on ROC representation. The measure to accept the ROC credentials passed on October 26, by a vote of 5 to 2, with 1 abstention. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1970, volume 24 (New York: United Nations Office of Public Information, 1972), pages 194–200.

Department of State officials struggled in July and August to obtain ROC acceptance of a plan to allow the People’s Republic of China [Page 573] to enter the United Nations (and almost certainly obtain a seat on the Security Council) while the Republic of China would remain in the General Assembly. Secretary of State William Rogers met with ROC diplomats in late July, stating that the “only chance of preserving membership of ROC in UN is for US to support a resolution which would provide representation for your government and government of Peking and at least to acquiesce in majority view that government in Peking should hold seat on SC.” (Reported in telegram 139288 to Taipei, July 31; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, UN 6 CHICOM)

President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger wanted the Department of State to take the lead on the UN fight, telling Ambassador to the UN George H.W. Bush to “fight hard” to keep the ROC in the General Assembly. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, 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 President asked Rogers to handle the UN issue: “I think getting me involved puts in too direct a deal, particularly when we’re working out the Peking, too direct a case and I’m just, you know, they’ll try to play it as if we’re playing it against Peking, which is really not the case.” (Ibid., Recording of conversation between Nixon and Rogers, October 17, 1971, 6:13–6:26 p.m., White House Telephone, Conversation No. 11–105) On another occasion. Nixon told Rogers that he wanted to avoid personal involvement in the UN issue, and he wished to enable Rogers to gain support from conservatives for his role in attempting to keep the Republic of China in the United Nations. (Ibid., October 14, 1971, 3:05–5:40 p.m., Old Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 289–18)

The timing of the UN vote on Chinese representation and Kissinger’s October trip to the People’s Republic of China became a source of concern as it became apparent that the vote would be held earlier than U.S. officials had anticipated—in late October rather than in November. In numerous conversations, Nixon and Kissinger wondered whether the trip would reduce the chances for the ROC to remain in the United Nations. On September 30 Kissinger concluded that “I think basically the votes are set now. I do not think that objectively it affects the votes of anybody.” Nixon responded: “I know that, I know that. People will use things for excuses.” They also debated attempting to change the date of Kissinger’s trip to China but felt that going to the People’s Republic of China immediately after defeat in the United Nations would be even more difficult. Ultimately Kissinger felt that there was little chance of winning the UN vote: “I mean I thought as long as we were going to lose we were better off losing on the old stand. But I think we’re farther behind than they [the Department of State officials] think. You have to consider that these diplomats, when they talk to us, they’ll try to make it sound as good as possible. Why annoy us for weeks before the vote?” (Ibid., [Page 574] Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, September 30, 1971, 2:25–2:50 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 582–3)

On October 12 NSC Staff Secretary Jeanne Davis sent a memorandum to Department of State Executive Secretary Theodore Eliot for distribution to all diplomatic posts: “You may be asked by host governments about ChiRep implications of Kissinger trip to Peking at end of this month. If so, you should stress that sole purpose of trip is to make arrangements for Presidential visit and that there is no connection between Kissinger trip and ChiRep issue. The U.S. is firmly supporting the continued membership of the ROC in the UN.” (Ibid., NSC Files. Kissinger Office Files, Box 87, Country Files, China Trip, October 1971)

Nixon was not optimistic concerning the future of the Republic of China in the United Nations, stating on one occasion that “my view is that the time for Taiwan to go out is next year, it shouldn’t go this year, it’s not good for the Chinese.” (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) On October 25 the General Assembly approved the motion for priority (61 in favor, 53 opposed, 17 abstentions), then defeated the Important Question Resolution (55, 59, 15). Bush’s motion for a separate vote on expulsion of the Republic of China lost (51, 61, 16), and the Albanian Resolution was adopted (76, 35, 17). Information on the debate and final vote is in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1971, volume 25 (New York: Office of Public Information, United Nations, 1974), pages 126–137.