192. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs1

[The President met with André Malraux, translator Sophia K. Porson, and Henry Kissinger. A broad-ranging discussion of 39 minutes not related to China was not transcribed.]

Nixon: When he [Malraux] said, you know, he said: “You will meet a colossus, but he’s [Mao’s] a colossus facing death.” And then he said: “You know what will impress him most about you? That you are so young!” [laughter] Isn’t that something! God almighty, that’s a commentary on the leadership of the world these days. It’s all too damn old. But—

Kissinger: You will find, Mr. President, that these people are the—

Nixon: What would he think if he could see Kennedy?

Kissinger: He would have thought Kennedy was a lightweight.

Nixon: You think so?

Kissinger: Mao would have had total disdain for Kennedy. He would have felt about him the way De Gaulle did. De Gaulle had absolutely no use for Kennedy.

Nixon: Oh, I found him very interesting.

Kissinger: These historical figures can’t be bluffed, and they won’t fall for pretty phrases. And these Chinese, I mean the only security they have at this moment is our understanding of the international situation. The tactical details are relatively unimportant. And you will find that even Chou, of course, I’ve never met Mao, will always begin with a general discussion—

Nixon: You know, it’s a very strong speech—

Kissinger: And, but not—

Nixon: One thing to note that is very important, though I even felt that Malraux who is basically, you know, has raised hell about Vietnam and not to mention anything else, and I know all that. But is also, everybody is ready to say the United States should get the hell out here, and everybody says … But I think you’ve got to always try to [Page 662] stand very firmly on the point, do you want the United States as an island with no—

Kissinger: No foreigner wanted us to get out anywhere. It’s our domestic—

Nixon: He didn’t want us to get out of Japan. He didn’t want us to get out of Europe. He wants the United States to play a role, a role in the world. He only says let it be an intelligent role.

Kissinger: It’s our domestic critics who don’t understand anything, who want us to get out—

Nixon: I don’t believe it; it’s a matter of fact. I believe, I believe, well, the Chinese I noticed there throughout the thing, the United States should withdraw from all nations. They don’t really believe that. They can’t really believe that.

Kissinger: Well you, Chou said to me, we need a general principle, but the troops we are worried about are the million troops on our northern frontier. While we’re there, Mr. President, I should seek an occasion to give them some information about the disposition of Soviet forces on their frontier.

Nixon: They’re worried; I should say so.

Kissinger: You shouldn’t do it. But I’m going to get from Helms

Nixon: I think that what I would like to do though, the way I would do it, is to say—

Kissinger: You ordered it.

Nixon: I ordered this for our trip and I would like for Dr. Kissinger to give it to [unclear] or whoever you want.

Kissinger: Yes, but only at a private meeting.

Nixon: Oh yes, at a private, well, I’ll say it.

Kissinger: No, you should say it at a private meeting, not in a plenary session.

Nixon: Well, I hope it wasn’t too painful for you. It is hard when a man has a—I mean, you feel for the poor guy, he’s got such a [unclear] fighting it all the time.

Kissinger: I found it—

Nixon: I admire a guy who goes over physical disability. You know, it’s painful for him to talk?

Kissinger: I found it fascinating; I didn’t find it at all painful. First of all, I completely agree with him in his analysis of these people. Now, you have a tendency, if I may say so, Mr. President, to lump them and the Russians. They’re a different phenomenon—

Nixon: No, I know.

Kissinger: They’re just as dangerous. In fact, they’re more dangerous over an historical period. But the Russians don’t think they’re [Page 663] lovable, and the Russians don’t have inward security. The Russians are physical, and they want to dominate physically. What they can’t dominate, they don’t really know how to handle. The Chinese are much surer of themselves, because they’ve been a great power all their history. And, being Confucians, they really believe that virtue is power.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: Now, their present philosophy is different from Confucianism, but the basic principles, that if you have the correct principles, you can dominate the world. It’s still inbred in their civilization.

Nixon: I realize that. I think—

Kissinger: No, as far as he’s concerned, that’s correct, but I just, I’m just taking the liberty of saying this for the action when you deal with them. I think, in a historical period, they are more formidable than the Russians. And I think in 20 years your successor, if he’s as wise as you, will wind up leaning towards the Russians against the Chinese. For the next 15 years we have to lean towards the Chinese against the Russians. We have to play this balance of power game totally unemotionally. Right now, we need the Chinese to correct the Russians and to discipline the Russians.

Nixon: You know, looking at the situation in Vietnam, I suppose if we had only known the way the war would’ve, was going to be conducted, that we would have to say that it was a mistake to get into it. The way—

Kissinger: Yeah. Oh, yeah—

Nixon: The way it was conducted, correct?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Because the way it’s been conducted has cost us too much, compared to what it would cost to let it go. However, having taken it where we found it, we had no other choice. You know, you wonder, after you read Malraux and, of course, you remember De Gaulle saying, and we were there at the palace—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: He said you should get out; you should wipe your hands of it and so forth.

Kissinger: I am sure that historians … you wouldn’t have had the China initiative without it. It’s the demonstration of strength. The Chinese are torn about us. The reason we had to be so tough in India–Pakistan, for example, is to prove to them that we could be relevant in Asia. On the one hand, they want us out of Asia as a threat. On the other, they need us close enough so that they know we can do something. They don’t want us back on the West Coast, because if we’re back on the West Coast we’re just a nice, fat, rich country of no concern to them. And I am convinced that the history books, if we don’t [Page 664] collapse now this year, if the whole thing doesn’t fall apart, is going to record the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam on the same caliber, at least, of De Gaulle’s behavior in Algeria. It took him 5 years to get out of there. And after all, I think that game isn’t, isn’t over. I think we’ve, they’ve come to us now, that’s a fact. That’s a significant fact—

Nixon: Damn right. Well, whatever it is you said this morning, you saw much more through it than I did, and Bob [Haldeman] saw it too, that regardless of how it comes out, it gives us a two-edged sword for our enemies at home. My God, the fact that they asked for this meeting—

Kissinger: And it won’t break up right away. They cannot possibly want me at a meeting, unless they have something to say. It’s not their style. So, what we’re gonna to get out of this is another series of meetings.

Nixon: Of course, you say another series of meetings. We have to remember that now time is running out. There isn’t a helluva lot we can do about it, is there?

Kissinger: Well, but they must know that, too. I mean, we’re coming now to the—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We’re going to get it to a point where you’ll have to say yes or no to some difficult [unclear]—

Nixon: Yeah, that’s right. We do want to remember that the meetings are enormously important to us in terms of the POWs. And they’ve got to know that.

Kissinger: Well, we, Mr. President, you always correctly express concern, are they stringing us along? If we have to draw up a balance sheet of the meeting, I think we gained a helluva lot more from the secret meetings than they did. In fact, I don’t see what they gained out of the secret meetings. They didn’t prevent Cambodia. They didn’t prevent Laos. They didn’t prevent anything we really wanted to do. They gave us a tremendous coup in public opinion, which is an important weapon in this war. And they settled six of eight points. I think we’re not too far. If they are willing to maintain a non-Communist structure in the south for a while, I think we can find a solution.

Nixon: He [Malraux] obviously feels that China is inevitably going to dominate Southeast Asia. Do you agree?

Kissinger: I think that’s true.

Nixon: You think so? Maybe they’re just going to gobble them up?

Kissinger: No, but I think 800 million people confronting 30 million people—

Nixon: No, but I meant how? By subversion?

Kissinger: By subversion, by cultural example.

[Page 665]

Nixon: So they’ll go Communist? You also ought to remember that there’s a strong pull the other way. One system works a little bit better than the other one [laughs].

Kissinger: Yeah, but it’s a—

Nixon: That, of course, is the big argument.

Kissinger: But we’ll be so weak—

Nixon: The reason Japan will not go the other way is the Japanese are going to like their living too damn well to turn toward the Communist system. Don’t you agree?

Kissinger: I think the Japanese could do surprising things. I don’t think they’ll do it. They’ll begin competing with the Chinese. But I think for our immediate problem is we can get out of it with an interim period where we are not the ones that have thrown our friends to the wolves.

Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: There is a possibility—I don’t think the Chinese are in a condition for 5 years to put real pressure on Southeast Asia, and even then—

Nixon: What do you think of his argument to the effect that the Chinese foreign policy is all posture?

Kissinger: There’s a lot to that, but—

Nixon: I brought up, you know, that deal of his, which I thought was a nice little point. Where he said they had 2,000 dancers and 300,000 people in the street for the King, for the President of Somalia.2

Kissinger: Our concern with China right now, in my view, Mr. President, is to use it as a counterweight to Russia, not for its local policy.

Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: As a counterweight, to keep it in play in the subcontinent for the time being. But above all as a counterweight to Russia. And, the fact that it doesn’t have a global policy is an asset to us, that it doesn’t have global strength yet. And to prevent Russia from gobbling it up. If Russian dominates China, that would be a fact of such tremendous significance.

Nixon: Well, quite frankly, Henry, if Russia or China dominated Japan that would have to be a factor and have enormous significance to us.

[Page 666]

Kissinger: That’s right. I think, Mr. President—

Nixon: It would be in our interests; it is important to us to maintain the Japanese alliance.

Kissinger: The decision you made that Sunday morning, when we asked you what you would do in case China came in, and you in effect said we’d back it.3 That is the decision some future president may have to make, or it may be you in your second term. And I think it’s gonna be tough one, but we may be able to bring it off without the decision having to be made.

Nixon: Yeah. Malraux, of course, has seen every top leader in the world. I suppose going over back to 1918. He’s 70 years old. He started to write, when he was 20, in 19[unclear]. You know he spent 3 years in prison in Cambodia for stealing sacred art, trying to take a sacred art object out of the country when he was 22 years old. But you know it’s really a nice thing, in a way, for this old man. Any, I say “old man,” but this man who has seen so much, who is out, you know on the shelf, to be invited over here, to—

Kissinger: I thought your questions were very intelligent.

Nixon: I was trying to keep him going, because—

Kissinger: Well, you did it very beautifully.

Nixon: I know he was having a hard time talking.

Kissinger: That, incidentally, is a good method to use with Chou too, because that’s not too strong, understated.

Nixon: We’ll try to be a little more subtle about it.

Kissinger: No, no, well, maybe a little more—

Nixon: Except that we cannot, we cannot be too apologetic about America’s world role. We cannot, either in the past, or in the present, or in the future. We cannot be too forthcoming in terms of what America will do. Well, in other words, beat our breasts, wear a hair shirt, and well, we’ll withdraw, and we’ll do this, and that, and the other thing. Because I think we have to say that, well, “Who does America threaten? Who would you rather have playing this role?” I mean there’s a lot of people that could look at their hole cards here. There’s a lot of things they’ve got to consider about the American role that they—

Kissinger: Yeah, except they will do it, they will separate what they want you to do immediately from the principles.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And that’s perfectly…I mean, we shouldn’t, you should say we’ll withdraw from all these places, except on Formosa [Page 667] you have to repeat those five things I told them, because that they pretty well expected. And the degree to which you say it will make them easier on the communiqué. It’s easy for Connally and Rogers to talk big. They haven’t dealt with these people. And—

Nixon: I haven’t talked to Connally, but you went and you saw him. You said that it was not satisfactory.

Kissinger: Well, he said, Alex [Butterfield], did you find that book for the President, the briefing materials?

Butterfield: [unclear]

Nixon: Well, what I was getting at [unclear]. We have to, we have to, of course, have in mind, not only in the communiqué but the possibility that the secret record or anything could come out.4

Kissinger: They won’t make it come out. Well—the secret record— all we said was that we wouldn’t encourage the two Chinas.

Nixon: All we say, we certainly can say we won’t encourage two Chinas. We can say that our withdrawal, we can withdraw all our troops from Formosa when the, two-thirds of them, when the war in Vietnam is over, and a third we will in effect [unclear]—

Kissinger: We won’t let Chiang, we will not—

Nixon: We will not encourage an attack on the mainland—

Kissinger: And we will oppose Japanese troops from going—

Nixon: We will oppose Japanese troops—certainly, my God, we’ve got to say that.

Kissinger: We won’t encourage the Formosan independence movement. I think that all the five things we promised them is very easy

Nixon: Yeah. The communiqué language, I know this is a tough one, because there we’ve got to get as much as we can. We’ve got the connection, because we don’t want to give the Buckleys and frankly some others, I don’t mean to jump on him, Bill Buckley and others, a chance to go out and say “ah, we’ve went over and sold Formosa down the river.” We haven’t sold Formosa down the river. We haven’t at all. The one thing that did concern me about that, which I don’t know whether we should change the others in order to make it conform, as you realize, with regard to Korea and with regard to Japan, we indicate that we will stand by our treaty commitments. We do not say that in regards to Formosa. The point being that, I only note it, I don’t object to it.

Kissinger: No, no. Have you, we say, we maintain our advisory commitments.

[Page 668]

Nixon: Friendship.

Kissinger: No, well, but there’s a separate section on Formosa.

Nixon: No, I know, I know. But we say, we do not say a treaty commitment, we use the word “treaty” on the other two. I just, you know what I mean. I just know that they’re trying to nitpick it from the standpoint of—but I am totally aware that Rogers, and certainly Rogers and John Connally, can’t expect you to uh…You know you have to realize that, first, that as far as Bill is concerned, if he’d done it himself it would be an entirely different game. And wouldn’t be nary as good as this. Now let’s face it, we know that. The second point, with regard to, and frankly let me [unclear]. The second point, with regard to Connally, I think Connally, in dealing with the Europeans, I don’t think he could possibly deal with the Chinese because—I don’t think so.

Kissinger: No. I don’t think he can even deal well with the Europeans. I think he’s the best man in your Cabinet, and I like him personally, but foreign relations is not, quite honestly, in my judgment—

Nixon: He picks it up as he goes along.

Kissinger: He’s very pugnacious. It, uh, the phrase we have in there is that the United States retains its abiding interest in a peaceful settlement.

Nixon: Yes, that’s fine.

Kissinger: Uh—

Nixon: Then, tell me—could I ask you one other thing? What have you done with regards to Rogers in terms of the communiqué?

Kissinger: I’ve just shown him the Formosa section.

Nixon: What’s he say he wants to do with it? Is he trying to re write it?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Has he offered you anything?

Kissinger: Yeah, but it’s totally, I mean, it’s ridiculous. They’ll never accept it. We can take part of it.

Nixon: What, I’m sorry you offered it to him. I was going to, I should have gotten it sooner. I would not have shown him the sections that you have. You’ve shown him the ones that Haig has worked on?

Kissinger: No, no, that I haven’t shown him. I’ve shown him the first draft of theirs [the PRC’s]. So, if they accept the Haig, the one we’ve sent through Haig [in his early January trip to the PRC] that will be a big improvement over what he’s seen. And he [Rogers] hasn’t seen that.

Nixon: Well, what’s he want to put in, has he said?

Kissinger: Well, what he wants to put in is to get a Chinese commitment that they will not use force in the settlement of the dispute, and that’s almost inconceivable. I mean it’s not that they—

[Page 669]

Nixon: On the other hand, after it’s over, and after we get out of there, we could certainly agree to the effect that, well, if they do use force, then we have a treaty with Formosa.

Kissinger: Oh yes.

Nixon: I mean, we’re not giving up on our treaty.

Kissinger: Oh no, we have in the general language, we have a statement that we maintain our treaty commitment.

Nixon: We in the—

Kissinger: At the beginning.

Nixon: Oh, that’s something to point out. Oh, I see. I know how hard this thing is, but I, I’m not going to—what you’ve only shown him part? You haven’t shown him the other parts of the communiqué? Of course, there’s a perfectly good reason not to, because I told him back in October that Mao Tse-tung would make the deal.

Kissinger: And I’ve told him it doesn’t exist.

Nixon: That’s right. We don’t want him to find one of these books lying around.

Kissinger: I’ve just told him the—

Nixon: And how do we go about, for example, writing the communiqué on culture and so forth [unclear] the stock parts of [unclear]?

Kissinger: Well, I’ve gotten them to give us some language on that.

Nixon: State?

Kissinger: Yeah. We can stick that in.

Nixon: Yeah, he’s going to give you language on that. Did you ask him for language on Korea or anything?

Kissinger: I don’t want it, because that we’ve already got set.

Nixon: I know we’ve got it all set, what I’m getting at is, when they play their little games.

Kissinger: I mean, but the Korean language is so perfect from our point of view.

Nixon: It’s brilliant. I mean, my point is, you might ask for something to look for. I don’t know, maybe not. I’m just to try to find ways to keep them out of the communiqué writing. I just wonder how physically you were going to do the communiqué, do you feel that—

Kissinger: Well, physically, I think the way to do it is—

Nixon: I’ll be meeting with Chou En-lai, and I’ll be meeting with Mao Tse-tung, and after that—

Kissinger: Well, what I should do, what I thought, Mr. President, is, if you agree, is that I send Chou a message that I’d like to see him before your first plenary session, so that we can work out the strategy. I could see Chou during some morning while they are free and technically work on the communiqué. Then, in your meeting with Chou, [Page 670] you’d ratify it. I don’t think you want to get into a drafting session with Chou.

Nixon: Exactly.

Kissinger: You should put yourself on the level of Mao.

Nixon: How do you then explain to Rogers?

Kissinger: That we used some of these private sessions to work on a communiqué.

Nixon: Yeah, uh, but then—

Kissinger: Then he’ll start nitpicking it.

Nixon: That’s what I’m trying to get at. I’m trying to avoid that. How did we do that on the other summit communiqués?

Kissinger: We didn’t—no, we did it in Bermuda.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Burke Trend and I did it.5

Nixon: You did?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And then submitted it to Rogers?

Kissinger: Yeah, and he accepted it. And in France, we did it also in the meeting.

Nixon: And that’s the way we’ve established [unclear]?

Kissinger: For the Germans, I forget how it was done.

Nixon: Well, you weren’t there.

Kissinger: I wasn’t there.

Nixon: Then it’s established that we do them that way, isn’t it?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I’m just not going to have any goddamn unpleasantness over there. The way it’s going to be is such a hard—

Kissinger: It only, Mr. President—

Nixon: We’re all going to sit down and get it. The trip must succeed. We’re not going to have any bullshit or unpleasantness, and—

Kissinger: This communiqué is so much more, I mean, if you read the news magazines, the news magazines expect a renunciation of forces, establishment of the common principles on the conduct of foreign policy, both countries say they do not want hegemony in the Pacific and will oppose hegemony. It’s—the danger is that some people can interpret it as a tacit Sino-U.S. alliance. And there’s a statement that both countries are opposed to hegemony in the Pacific and will oppose it.

[Page 671]

Nixon: That’s directed against Russia, isn’t it? Or is it? And Japan.

Kissinger: Well, yes, and Japan and, and, but—so no one is going to say that we didn’t have any understanding.

Nixon: Have you shown that to Rogers?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: That’s good.

Kissinger: I figured, Mr. President, it’s much better for you. Now—

[Approximately 1 minute 15 seconds omitted as White House steward Manolo Sanchez enters the Oval Office and President Nixon steps out.]

Kissinger: Well, I enjoyed it. I have a volume here, which has all the changes that are in the communiqué.6

Nixon: Well, I want to, I’ll take a quick look at it. [Unclear] communiqué [unclear] I’ll have a chance to read on [unclear]

Kissinger: Well, we have to change the Indian part a little bit.

Nixon: That’s obvious. I know that.

Kissinger: And, but if you, for example, we have got them to drop from the draft the word “revolution.” They said, revolution is the law of history and stuff like this.

Nixon: Go ahead.

Kissinger: And, I think the only contentious part of the communiqué is Taiwan. We’ve told them we couldn’t accept their version, and—

Nixon: They know that?

Kissinger: Yeah, now what I think should happen, Mr. President, is that I have one session with Chou on the communiqué before you meet Mao. Then you should just put it to Mao, you can say, we can do a lot, but if you force us into a tremendous domestic debate on it, with so many people in our bureaucracy—

Nixon: Put it on Rogers.

Kissinger: I would just put it to Mao. Mao is a big man. And Chou. Time and again I’ve said, “I promise this to you, I keep all my promises, I’m a man of principle.” Just treat him—“we’ve kept every promise we’ve made to you, we’ve”… but we need some softer language.

[Page 672]

[Nixon and Kissinger continue to discuss China, the communiqué, Vietnam and the possible timing of a Communist offensive in 1972, Kissinger’s trip to Paris, Mitchell’s resignation, and the impact of dispatching aircraft carriers to the Bay of Bengal.]7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 671–1. Secret. This transcript was prepared by the editor specifically for this volume. Nixon and Kissinger spoke shortly after a meeting with author André Malraux, a conversation that takes up the first half of this tape recording. A memorandum of the conversation with Malraux is ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memoranda for the President. Alexander Butterfield was also present for part of the discussion between Nixon and Kissinger.
  2. According to the memorandum of conversation, Nixon and Malraux discussed a passage in the latter’s book that concerned a visit by the Prime Minister of Somalia to the People’s Republic of China. Malraux observed that this was “nothing but speeches and receptions for small chiefs of state. What, in fact, Malraux asked the President, had the Chinese done in Africa?” (Ibid.)
  3. See Documents 176 and 177
  4. Apparent reference to the memoranda of conversation.
  5. Reference is to Sir Burke Trend, Secretary of the British Cabinet who participated in a private meeting with Nixon, Kissinger, and British Prime Minister Heath in December 1971.
  6. Nixon’s briefing books for the February 1972 trip include a section with these drafts. See Document 193 and footnote 1 thereto.
  7. Kissinger and Nixon discussed these topics further in a February 16 meeting. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, February 16, 1972, 4:15-5:38 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 673–3)