180. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Chou Shu-kai, Foreign Minister, Republic of China
  • Director Cheng, Republic of China
  • His Excellency, James Shen, Republic of China Ambassador to the United States
  • Coleman S. Hicks, notetaker

The conversation began with light banter among the participants.

[Page 630]

Chou: It is very nice of you to take the time to see us here in Key Biscayne. I have just come from Japan and you, of course, will be meeting the Japanese in San Clemente. I have three questions that I would like to ask you. First, how secure is Taiwan from Communist attack?

Second, will you press us to negotiate with Peking?

And number three, I would like to raise matters regarding confiscation of property. The Japanese are very excited about these concerns.

Kissinger: Well, I won’t tell you anything until the Ambassador promises to invite me to another Chinese dinner. (Laughter)

Chou: What we are seeking is reassurance from you about these matters. We are concerned that the Communists can gain control of the air.

Kissinger: Let’s settle the defense question first. At my press conference in November I commented that our defense commitment was unimpaired.2 I have also said that to Chou En-lai, and our defense commitment has not been affected by our dealings with Peking. If you are attacked, we will come to your defense. Personally, I don’t think China can maintain control of the air.

Chou: But we are in a situation where the quantity and quality of the Communist military capacity is going up and our impression is that the military assistance program is standing sill. This results in a change of the military balance.

Kissinger: There has been no stoppage of our military assistance program to the Republic of China.

Chou: This is encouraging but there is concern about it.3

Kissinger: Can you give me particular items? I will check into it.

Chou: We are interested in excess equipment, F–104s, tanks and so forth. We do not seek offensive weapons.

Kissinger: I can reassure you that no steps have been taken to limit the military assistance program to the Republic of China.

Chou: There are rumbles in the lower levels at the State Department about tie-ups in the program.

Kissinger: Look, the lower levels of the State Department are prone, as you have probably seen, to take credit whenever it is due [Page 631] someone else but at the same time to undermine support for Presidential policies. The President has a warm personal feeling for the Republic of China. The steps we have taken with the Communists have been necessary. They are cold-blooded, calculated diplomatic moves. They have nothing to do with sympathy.

Chou: Well, I hope you can stir things up on this military assist- ance program.

Kissinger: I thought everything was in normal channels. What did Rogers say when you talked to him this morning?

Chou: (unintelligible)

Kissinger: I, of course, don’t know the exact details about the military balance between you and the Communists, but personally I don’t believe that the Communists have the capacity to use their military force outside their borders. But if so …4

Chou: Another issue relates to the submarines.

Kissinger: I approved that two months ago.

Rogers appears to be apprehensive about this.

Kissinger: We have approved this. Why would it be in our interest not to go ahead and do it? Of course we will do it.5

Chou: All the key matters relate to training. Secretary Rogers appears to be apprehensive about this.

Kissinger: We will raise it with the Japanese.

Chou: The next issue I would like to raise with you is the handling of the Senkaku Islands. When you talk to the Japanese in San Clemente, may I encourage you to consider our position? The Japanese watch very carefully the U.S. role in the Pacific and seek consultation with you. We have a difficult domestic political situation regarding the Is-lands. Peking wants to develop an anti-American campaign on Taiwan. We need help from our friends. The Islands don’t make any difference to Japan but they do to the people of Taiwan. Perhaps you could dis- cuss these withered pieces of rock—there is no oil there—with the Japanese.

Kissinger: You don’t want the Islands back; you just want to avoid a big fuss about them, is that right?

Chou: Yes, that’s right. It is like Outer Mongolia. The Japanese have an interest in Outer Mongolia. If we were on the Mainland, we might [Page 632] be over-sensitive about Outer Mongolia and Tibet. The important thing is that they remain politically autonomous.

Kissinger: You are interested in Tibet. (Laughter)

Chou: In our bilateral relations we will continue to play it cool. We have told the Japanese that, for instance, we will trade with everyone. We will even trade with the socialist countries like East Germany. We would rather trade, of course, with our friends, but…

Kissinger: Will you negotiate with the Mainland?

Chou: No.

Kissinger: People have asked me often about my comments on this in my press conference at the end of October. To be honest, I thought that my comments would be helpful to you. I was trying to remove that item from the agenda in Peking during the President’s visit. What I indicated was a policy of allowing the Mainland and Taiwan to settle the problem politically themselves, without the use of force. You will get no pressure from us to settle this matter as long as President Nixon remains in office. I think this is the best possible formula from your perspective. If we were to say that we would not accept a political solution, the result would be a big international incident—problems at the United Nations; in short, a big issue. As long as no pressure is put on you for a political settlement, why isn’t this formula the best possible policy?

Shen: When you say that it is an internal Chinese affair that gives the impression though that you are washing your hands of it.

Kissinger: I didn’t say that we were washing our hands of it. I said merely that we would put no pressure on you to make a political settlement and that we would tolerate no force on the part of either side in resolution of the dispute. It seems to me to be a very practical solution. Regardless, I don’t think that Chou En-lai will renounce force. He isn’t about ready to ask us to act as an intermediary in this matter.

Shen: The last thing anybody would be interested in would be having you act as an intermediary.

Kissinger: It is important to do a little Chinese thinking here, to look at the matter in a complicated light. This issue will come up at the UN year after year. We will continually say that our policy is to tolerate no use of force in settling the political matter. What can go wrong?

Shen: But we need desperately to maintain our defense capacities. If they lag, it might lead the Communists to a miscalculation.

Kissinger: We have already talked about the defense matters. Personally, I don’t see a military capacity by the Mainland Chinese which would be effective against you. They are not about ready to use their [Page 633] air force against you. They are too scared of the Russians; why would they bother to take you on? You know, a hundred miles of water to cross is quite difficult.

Chou: But they might use tricks. They might link this issue to the prisoners of war or the Vietnam problem. Of course, we know that you are smart enough not to be taken in.

Shen: People on Taiwan are concerned. What we are confronting here is largely a psychological question.

Kissinger: Whatever materials are in the military pipeline on our systems program, we will deliver on. To be frank, I don’t know the details of exactly what is, but, Mr. Foreign Minister, when you were Ambassador in Washington, we did what you wanted, didn’t we? What you needed, we gave you. You appear to think that the Communists are quite flexible. I don’t. I believe that their domestic problems are very serious, that they will not renounce the use of force in the Taiwan issue, and also that they will not use Vietnam to pressure us on a political settlement.

Chou: There are many rumors about…

Kissinger: Yes, of course, I hear all these rumors. There is one that I made a deal with Chou in China that we would withdraw troops from Taiwan before his visits. Have we? Let me ask you this: Have we withdrawn any troops? I certainly don’t think so, to the best of my knowledge. There may have been some rotations, but no withdrawals.

6 which were not intelligible.)

Kissinger: You get all the stories that aren’t true.

Chou: (The Foreign Minister discussed some aspect of dealing with the Japanese—more was not understandable.)

Kissinger: We will talk to Sato and Fukuda in San Clemente and attempt to restrain their activities in the Islands. You stick to your guns and be sure to keep us informed on all your dealings with the Communists.

Shen: We have certainly learned our lesson. We have talked to the President three times, to the Vice President once.

Kissinger: You have showed great dignity and character. Of all the sons-of-bitches in the world, you are the last of all who deserve what has happened this year.

[Page 634]

Chou: Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with us today.

Kissinger: You must understand that what we do, we do with a heavy heart. We don’t do it to betray our friends. We take actions vis-à-vis the Communists only because those actions are required. I assure you again that you will get no pressure from us on any political deal with the Mainland.

[At this point the party retired from Dr. Kissinger’s villa and began to walk back to the hotel, where the Chinese boarded their vehicle. During the walk, Dr. Kissinger spoke with the Foreign Minister about several problems. Dr. Kissinger emphasized again his impression that the formula of no-military action, but an openness to political accommodations, was the best possible formula for the Chinese Nationalists. On the UN issue, he acknowledged that the United States had engaged in what turned out to be a bad strategy vis-à-vis the timing of the second return from China. He indicated that he thought a two-week delay would have been possible had the matter been handled more properly. General comments were made about the Japanese vis-à-vis the United States; their touchiness on the China trip, their trading role with Taiwan, etc.]7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. X. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting was held at Kissinger’s villa at the Key Biscayne Hotel. A short attached note reads: “Coleman: This is ready to go to file. JHH doesn’t think it’s necessary to have HAK read it through. Eileen.”
  2. Kissinger held a short press conference on November 29 to announce the date for the President’s trip to the PRC, where he was asked about the U.S. defense commitment to the ROC. (Department of State Bulletin, December 20, 1971, p. 709)
  3. In a January 14 memorandum, Holdridge informed Kissinger that “Chou’s comment probably represents a form of mild pressure on us to avoid delays or disapprovals rather than discontent over an actuality; [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reporting has indicated considerable anxiety in the ROC Defense Ministry that we might tighten or reduce the flow of military assistance.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. X)
  4. All ellipses are in the source text.
  5. Holdridge informed Kissinger that the Department of Defense had passed to the ROC the White House’s request that no crew members arrive in the United States prior to March 11, 1972. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. X)
  6. Apparent reference to Major General John Winthrop Barnes, who became Chief, MAAG, in the ROC in 1972.
  7. Brackets in the source text.