172. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador James Shen, Republic of China
  • ROC Embassy
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • John H. Holdridge, Senior Staff Member NSC
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  • Mr. Kissinger’s Trip to Peking and USROC Relations

Mr. Kissinger said that he owed Ambassador Shen something. He had been telling Mr. Ziegler for two weeks to “get that thing done”: (get a statement into a press briefing to the effect that US support for the ROC and for the Mutual Defense Treaty has not been affected by the Chinese representation vote in the UN), and then the thought was to get it into the President’s press conference instead. However, the President forgot which reporter to ask, and asked the wrong fellow. The statement definitely would be made, though, either by Ziegler or by the President. We would see if it could be made next week. It was in our interest, and there was no question but that it would be done. We were not playing games.2

Continuing, Mr. Kissinger indicated that one of the problems in getting the statement made was finding an opportunity for a question which did not suggest that we had stimulated it. But the subject had not come up, and there was no good way to make the point. Mr. Kissinger noted that he would see if he could get Ziegler to do it in the next day or two. We didn’t want it done ostentatiously so it could be said that the White House had planted the question. We wanted it to come up in a normal way. Ambassador Shen observed that if the matter was, in fact, coming up this was satisfactory for him.

Ambassador Shen asked Mr. Kissinger for information concerning his, Mr. Kissinger’s trip to Peking. Mr. Kissinger began by referring, first, to the story in the New York Times of November 15 alleging that contact was being established between Washington and the PRC UN Delegation in New York.3 He firmly denied that any such contact was being established, or that we had any intention of doing so.

Ambassador Shen called the matter unimportant, adding, however, that at some point some contact was needed in order to take care of the many small details concerning the President’s trip. Mr. Kissinger denied that we would have any such need. We of course had means of contacting the PRC, but not at New York. Ambassador Shen wondered whether the US might wish to contact the PRC in New York on [Page 590] bilateral matters—was this likely? Mr. Kissinger stated firmly that this was unlikely. It was his personal view that they did not want to create the impression their delegation in New York would be a Chinese Embassy. Their objective was to break up US relations with the ROC, but something like this would not be in their book. It would suggest acceptance of “two Chinas.”

Ambassador Shen turned again to the subject of Mr. Kissinger’s visit to Peking, asking for information as to what had gone on. Mr. Kissinger declared that he was having a helluva time convincing Ambassador Shen and the Japanese that what had happened was less than meets the eye. He had had to spend much time on technical matters, for example communications and similar details, in preparation for when the President went to Peking. He had no information to offer with respect to the Lin Piao thing. They hadn’t mentioned it, and we didn’t raise it.

Ambassador Shen asked, had Mr. Kissinger possibly heard anything from third country diplomats? Mr. Kissinger replied that he hadn’t seen any third country diplomats, nor had he seen any journalists. He of course had had access to international reports, but all his conversations with Chinese officials had more or less gone over the same ground as last time. As expected, they had stated their views to him with respect to Taiwan.

Ambassador Shen asked, had there been any changes since last July in the PRC attitude with respect to Taiwan? Mr. Kissinger said he hadn’t noted any, and had received no impression that they were planning any military operation against Taiwan. Ambassador Shen requested Mr. Kissinger to reiterate this statement which Mr. Kissinger did. Ambassador Shen went on to say that he did not find this unduly surprising, with the Chinese Communists having the Russians on their back. Mr. Kissinger commented that he had been about to say the same thing. He didn’t know how much the PRC attitude was a matter of self-restraint or of necessity.

Ambassador Shen wanted to know whether Mr. Kissinger’s impression in Peking on the second time was like that of the first—that Chou En-lai was in control, and there was no threat to his position. (Note: In referring to Chou En-lai, Ambassador Shen called him “Chow,” rhyming with “now,” although in previous conversations he had spoken of him as “Chou,” rhyming with “go.”) Mr. Kissinger stated that this was his impression. Again he had to say that he could only judge from the way Chou acted, but he didn’t know if any other person could possibly have spoken with confidence equal to that of Chou’s. Ambassador Shen remarked at this point that Chou En-lai had at one time been an actor on the stage. He had been a female impersonator in Peking Opera. (Mr. Kissinger left the room to receive a [Page 591] telephone call, and Ambassador Shen explained to Mr. Holdridge that Chou En-lai had been an amateur performer, not a professional.)

Returning to the room, Mr. Kissinger noted that it was very tough for him to tell, but his guess was that Chou acted in a way to suggest that he was in complete charge. Mr. Holdridge referred to the fact that the PRC leaders had made a point of putting Mr. Kissinger and the other Americans on public display in Peking, which suggested confidence in their ability to implement a controversial policy. Ambassador Shen recalled that there had indeed been many pictures of Mr. Kissinger and Chinese leaders visiting public places.

Ambassador Shen asked, when was the President going to Peking? Mr. Kissinger said that the date had not been announced yet, but would be no later than two months before the President’s Moscow visit, or the end of March. He would let Ambassador Shen know before the public announcement.

Reverting to the subject of Taiwan, Ambassador Shen wondered whether Mr. Kissinger had been discouraged over Chou En-lai’s talk about Taiwan. Mr. Kissinger replied that, no, he hadn’t been, nor were we going to give up our defense commitment to Taiwan. Chou En-lai knew this. Ambassador Shen asked if this wasn’t an inconsistency, to which Mr. Kissinger remarked that this was Chou’s problem. Mr. Kissinger went on to say that he was assuming Chou was moving toward the US for his own necessities and not for sentimental reasons, and so long as these necessities existed, Chou would find a way to overcome or ignore the inconsistencies.

Ambassador Shen asked, what did the US want them, the ROC, to do? Mr. Kissinger responded emphatically that we wanted them to stay alive, and to maintain their integrity and their identity. We would do what we could to support them, and to keep them in as many international organizations as possible. He didn’t know what specific things Ambassador Shen had in mind, but we were not going to change our bilateral relations with the ROC.

Did Mr. Kissinger visualize a second Marshall Mission, Ambassador Shen inquired? Mr. Kissinger replied, “absolutely not.” Any such initiative would not come from us, but we were pretty well protected because Peking wouldn’t accept a new Marshall Mission anyway.

Ambassador Shen wondered what Mr. Kissinger thought of rumors in Hong Kong to the effect that the ROC had opened contact with the PRC. To this, Mr. Kissinger observed that if the ROC asked us about contacts, we might say to make them but would not take the initiative. Speaking personally, Mr. Kissinger said he thought that the ROC would be very ill-advised to do this—they would be under no pressure or even advice from this Administration to make contacts with the PRC. If they did this, it was their problem.

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Ambassador Shen asked Mr. Kissinger how far ahead was he looking—was it five, or maybe ten years? Mr. Kissinger said that he felt ten years was a long time, and a period of five years was more likely. However, this was only because so many things could happen, for example, after the death of Mao China could split into five to ten competing power centers. Ambassador Shen agreed.

In elaboration of what he had just said, Mr. Kissinger observed that no one could predict what could happen after Mao’s death. If Lin Piao had indeed been ousted, how would the succession to Mao be managed? Who would take what positions? We simply didn’t know the answers to these questions. Ambassador Shen speculated that Mao might be succeeded by collective leadership involving a part of the army, to which Mr. Kissinger declared that collective leadership hadn’t worked in the USSR and might not work out any better in the PRC. Since a civil war had barely been avoided with Mao’s authority, how could it be avoided without Mao?

Ambassador Shen expressed the opinion that the President’s visit would work more to Chou En-lai’s advantage than to the President’s. Chou needed help in the struggle for power, and while Yeh Chien-ying had been brought into the picture to fill the image vacuum created by Lin Piao’s fall, Yeh was not capable of commanding the allegiance of much of the Red Army. Mr. Kissinger commented that Yeh had not struck him as being an energetic man. Ambassador Shen pointed out that Yeh was 72 or 73. Previously he had had much to do with Southeast Asia and the Vietnam war. Yeh was a Hakka, from the eastern Kwangtung Coast, and had been given authority over Kwangsi, Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Yeh’s prestige could be particularly useful now. As people on Taiwan looked at what was happening on the mainland, it appeared to be an attempt by Mao with Chou’s assistance to put down the army, which had become too powerful, and too demanding. There was a chance that the army might “run away” (get out of control). Chou had succeeded in dislodging Liu Shao-ch’i because Liu didn’t have any army support, but in trying to dislodge the army now he could run into serious repercussions because Lin Piao had the support of half of the PLA. Did this mean the PLA air force, Mr. Kissinger asked? Ambassador Shen replied that he didn’t know, but the air force was squarely in the middle of things in countries such as the PRC. Mr. Kissinger observed that such was not the case in the US—we kept it from being so.

Referring to what Mr. Kissinger had said about seeing five years ahead, Ambassador Shen asked, then what? What would be the set-up on mainland China, and would there be a separate status for Taiwan? Was the status of Taiwan going to change? According to Mr. Kissinger, one of two possible situations could occur: the first was that there could [Page 593] be negotiations between Peking and Taiwan, and the other was that Taiwan would develop more and more in the direction of a separate status. (Ambassador Shen said he felt that this could happen.) Continuing, Mr. Kissinger spoke of a third possible situation—that of civil war breaking out on the mainland, with Taiwan aligning with one of the factions later on.

Ambassador Shen remarked at this point that by moving into relations with Peking the US was precluding such things from happening. Mr. Kissinger asserted that the ROC would see that the relationship that we developed with the PRC would not be a love-feast. We would be courteous with one another, but many points of difference would remain.

Ambassador Shen asked for Mr. Kissinger’s thoughts on what the ROC should do now—sit tight and work harder? Mr. Kissinger’s reply was, “what are your choices?” For now the ROC should work hard, sit tight, and see what happened. In Mr. Kissinger’s opinion, the ROC should not do anything precipitate. He assured Ambassador Shen that if they waited until we were in Peking, they would see that we would not sell them out. Whatever happened would happen very slowly. They would be very foolish to commit suicide in order to avoid death. Ambassador Shen asked if Mr. Kissinger saw death coming, and Mr. Kissinger answered “no.” His judgment was that if the ROC could maintain itself, the situation could change in a dramatic way. We had no intention of withdrawing recognition from it.

Ambassador Shen mentioned that if the USROC defense pact was reduced to a shadow, the ROC would have difficulty buying military spares from the U.S. In fact, he had already been informed that the Department of State was holding up approval on the sale of some military spares. Mr. Kissinger expressed considerable surprise at this, and strongly declared that such was not our policy. He told Ambassador Shen to give him concrete examples, and reiterated that it was absolutely not our policy to cut the ROC off from equipment or spare parts. Mr. Holdridge confirmed that there was no such policy. Mr. Kissinger once again requested Ambassador Shen to give Mr. Holdridge any facts about the ROC being unable to get equipment or spare parts. We were not going to do things like this; if we were going to do them, it would be much more honest to tell the ROC. But we were not about to throttle their defenses. There might be some doubt about new weapons, but that was the case even before the Peking trip. This was definitely not our policy on parts. As an indication of our attitude, Mr. Kissinger mentioned that we had approved the training of ROC sub crews.

Ambassador Shen noted that in talking about equipment he meant M–48 tanks, and the parts he had in mind referred to those for use in [Page 594] smaller tanks which were already on Taiwan. Mr. Kissinger reiterated that this was not our policy, and that Ambassador Shen should give Mr. Holdridge the facts. With these in hand he could call the State Department and be able to respond if they said there was nothing to it. Unless there was some technical reason, for example, the parts in question were not made anymore, the ROC would get them within one month.

Ambassador Shen recalled that in a previous conversation he had asked if Mr. Kissinger saw normalization with the PRC as coming during the President’s first term, or later, and that Mr. Kissinger had said later. Did the UN thing have any effect on this time-table? Mr. Kissinger replied in the negative. Nothing which had occurred in the UN had any effect on the timing. To a surmise by Ambassador Shen that if anything would happen, it would take place in 1973, Mr. Kissinger said that he didn’t think anything would happen in 1973 either. Again, nothing had been affected by the UN vote. Ambassador Shen remarked that he expected to see the President here in the White House in 1973. Mr. Kissinger agreed.

As a final point, Ambassador Shen mentioned that the ROC was seriously interested in staying on in the world bank group.4 Mr. Kissinger stated that he had spoken the day before to Secretary Connally on this, who had said he would do everything to keep the ROC on in the IMF, World Bank, etc. Secretary Connally had talked to the ROC Ambassador in Saigon, had been much impressed with him, and had said following this conversation that he would move heaven and earth on the ROC’s behalf. Mr. Kissinger again said that his advice to the ROC was to sit tight. He did not see any blow to them next year or in the next year and a half, and could say with certainty or almost certainty there was nothing on the horizon right now. Ambassador Shen asked if he might come in from time to time, and Mr. Kissinger strongly assented.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 522, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. IX. Top Secret; Sensitive. Kissinger and Shen met in Kissinger’s office. The time of the meeting is taken from Kissinger’s Record of Schedule. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) On a November 17 covering memorandum prepared by Holdridge, Kissinger indicated that he did not want further distribution of this document. Henry Chen, Political Counselor at the ROC Embassy, relayed a summary of this meeting to Charles T. Sylvester (EA/ROC) on December 1, to which was attached an unsigned December 10 note, which reads in part: “This one is marked for a very restrictive distribution because we know from earlier conversations with them that the Chinese were told by Kissinger to hold the information very closely and the implication was clear that State should not be informed.” (Memorandum of conversation and covering note; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL CHINATUS)
  2. See Document 169. At his November 30 press conference, Kissinger declared: “Our defense commitment remains unaffected. The question which I was asked was ‘Will we settle the future of Taiwan in Peking?’ My answer to that was: ‘It is our judgment that the future relationship between the People’s Republic and Taiwan should be worked out between Taiwan and the People’s Republic. So this is our policy, but it is without prejudice, as I have pointed out, to existing commitments.” (Department of State Bulletin, December 20, 1971, p. 709)
  3. See Documents 237 and 245.