Learn about the beta

20. Editorial Note

In 1969 President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger informed many world leaders of their interest in improving ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). During his first overseas visit in February and March, Nixon told French President Charles de Gaulle that there existed “considerable sentiment” in the Department of State “not only in favor of a Soviet-U.S. détente, but also for a lineup of the Soviets, Europe and the U.S. against the Chinese.” Nixon noted that this might be a good short-range policy, but that in the longer term it was in the U.S. interests to recognize China and the Soviet Union as “great powers” and build “parallel relationships with them.” He conceded that this was “largely theoretical as it was difficult to have relations with the Chinese.” (Memorandum of conversation between President Nixon and General De Gaulle, March 1, 1969; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 447, President’s Trip Files, Memcons—Europe) Scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XLI.

[Page 52]

During his around-the-world trip, July 24–August 3, Nixon discussed China with leaders of Pakistan and Romania. On August 2 Nixon told Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu that the United States opposed the PRC entering the United Nations because of the PRC’s attitude toward its neighbors, not “China’s internal policy.” He added that “our policy is to have good relations with the Soviet Union and eventually, when China changes its approach to other nations, we want to open communications channels with them to establish relations.” The President emphasized that the United States did not intend to become involved in the Sino-Soviet conflict and would not “join in a bloc to fence off China.” Finally Nixon told Ceausescu that “if it serves your interest and the interest of your government, we would welcome your playing a mediating role between us and China.” (Memorandum of conversation between President Nixon and President Ceausescu, August 2; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1023, Presidential/HAK Memcons, Memcon President Nixon and President Ceausescu August 2–August 3, 1969) Scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIX.

The most serious discussion occurred in Pakistan. A report on the meeting between Nixon and President Yahya Khan states that the two men discussed Sino-Soviet, Sino-Pakistani, and Sino-American relations. Nixon agreed with Yahya that China should be engaged in the international community but added that the American public was not ready to accept rapprochement. Nixon commented that he could not accept the PRC’s admission into the UN “over-night” but promised to work toward that end. (Report attached to memorandum from Harold Saunders to Kissinger, September 2; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 641, Country Files, Middle East, South Asia, Vol. I) On August 2 Assistant to the President H.R. Haldeman recorded in his diary that Nixon felt Yahya “made a strong impression as a real leader, very intelligent, and with great insight into Russia-China relations.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House, The Complete Multimedia Edition, Sony Electronic Publishing, 1994) See Documents 26, 39, 54, and 55 for further information on the eventual Sino- American contact through Pakistan. In 1971 Winston Lord wrote a 7-page memorandum to Kissinger, listing the major contacts between the United States and the PRC through Pakistan, Romania, and other sources. (Memorandum from Lord to Kissinger, April 17, 1971; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1033, Files for the President—China Material, Miscellaneous Memoranda Relating to HAK’s Trip to PRC, July 1971)