205. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Mr. James C. H. Shen, Republic of China Ambassador to the United States
  • Mr. Henry Chen, Political Counselor, Embassy of the Republic of China
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. John A. Froebe, Jr., NSC Staff Member

ROC Doubts on U.S. Defense Commitment

Mr. Kissinger said that we have a very important problem. The President during his China visit last week did not give up any commitments. Rather, our defense treaty with the ROC was reaffirmed by Mr. Kissinger in his Shanghai press conference, by the President in his Andrews Air Force Base speech on his return, and it has been reaffirmed to Congressional leaders and in a press briefing this morning.2 The worst thing now would be to begin casting doubts as to the U.S. defense commitment to the Republic of China. Peking knows our commitment is in force. Mr. Kissinger said he understands that the trip was a very painful experience for the Republic of China. He said he hoped, however, that the ROC’s criticism would be directed at other part of the communiqué.3 If [Page 826] the United States does not say that our commitment is in doubt, the Republic of China should have no reason to. The President made no commitment in his talks with PRC leaders as to the withdrawal or reduction of U.S. forces on our military installations on Taiwan; Mr. Kissinger quoted the pertinent two sentences from the communiqué. He said that this has always been the U.S. position as regards U.S. forces on Taiwan. At present the U.S. Government has only a contingency figure of 3,000 by which it might reduce its forces by late FY 73; this was the figure that Ambassador McConaughy had conveyed to the ROC before the President’s PRC trip. Mr. Kissinger said we have no present plans for reductions beyond this figure.

Ambassador Shen said that his government objected particularly to the communiqué’s omission of any reference to the U.S. defense commitment. Mr. Kissinger replied that it would have been impossible to ask a country in which such talks were being held to include the mention of this commitment in a communiqué, and pointed out that the PRC refrained from attacking the U.S. defense commitment in the communiqué. Ambassador Shen asked how significant this PRC omission was. Mr. Kissinger said that the PRC knew in advance that he would reaffirm our defense commitment to the Republic of China at his press conference in Shanghai. The PRC had said that it would not sign a communiqué which contained a reaffirmation of our defense commitment.4

U.S. Policy on Status of Taiwan

Ambassador Shen asked why the U.S. in the communiqué said that it did not challenge Peking’s claim to be the government of all China. Mr. Kissinger said this was not our position. The Republic of China’s position is that it represents all China and that there is only one China. Thus, our understanding is that both Peking and Taipei agree that there was only one China. The U.S. position as stated in the communiqué is simply that we do not challenge the Chinese claims that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. Ambassador Shen said that in Taipei this U.S. statement was interpreted to mean that [Page 827] the U.S. now recognizes the People’s Republic of China’s claim to Taiwan. Mr. Kissinger said that this was foolish—that the U.S. position as stated in the communiqué definitely does not do anything of the sort. He added that this statement of U.S. position is wholly consistent with the position that we took in the Chinese representation question in the U.N. General Assembly last fall—one China, two governments. Ambassador Shen asked if the communiqué’s use only of the term “Taiwan” was significant. Mr. Kissinger said it was not. Ambassador Shen said that the U.S. could have used the name Republic of China in the communiqué. Mr. Kissinger admitted that this was a valid criticism. Ambassador Shen noted that when the President first used the name People’s Republic of China, his use of this term was deliberate. Mr. Kissinger said that perhaps we should have added another sentence in which we used the name Republic of China. However, he pointed out, the use of the term “Taiwan” was used only in reference to U.S. military forces and installations in the geographical entity and did not refer to Taiwan as a political entity. Ambassador Shen said that people now have the impression the Republic of China is a non-nation and asked if this was the U.S. intent. Mr. Kissinger replied that the Ambassador had his word that it was not. Ambassador Shen said that nevertheless people cannot be blamed for reading this meaning into the communiqué. Mr. Kissinger said he did not blame anyone. The problem now is what we should do from here on out—now that the ROC has called our attention to these omissions.

U.S. Force Withdrawals from Taiwan

Ambassador Shen said that in his meeting with Mr. Kissinger on February 16 just before the trip, Mr. Kissinger asked that the ROC withhold comment on the trip.5 He regretted that his government had not been able to do so, but pointed out that its comment had been quite restrained. Mr. Kissinger said the United States Government had no complaint on this score. Ambassador Shen, noting the communiqué’s reference to withdrawal of all U.S. military installations from Taiwan, asked what installations the U.S. could withdraw. [Shen was probably referring to the fact that the great majority of our forces on Taiwan are bases jointly used by the U.S. and GRC. There are, however, a very limited number of small installations solely used by the U.S. such as the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command Compound, Taipei Air Station, and the Shu Linkou Air Station.]6 Mr. Kissinger said that the communiqué is [Page 828] not a treaty, and that it is better therefore to keep its language vague. For FY 72 and FY 73 the only plans of which Mr. Kissinger said he was aware was the contingency plan for the withdrawal of two squadrons of C–130 aircraft for FY 73. This withdrawal has been planned for some time. If the Vietnam War ends, the U.S. might then consider further Vietnam-related reductions. A total withdrawal of U.S. forces and military installations would not, however, be undertaken until peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question is achieved.

Peking–Taipei Negotiations

Ambassador Shen asked what kind of peaceful settlement Chou En-lai seemed to have in mind. Mr. Kissinger said that Chou wants to negotiate with Chiang Kai-shek. The United States would not, however, offer its good offices nor would it either encourage or discourage such negotiations. Chou said that “as bad as” Chiang Kai-shek is, he has the quality of a great Chinese nationalist. Mr. Kissinger stressed that the U.S. will exert no pressure on the Republic of China, and that it has deliberately avoided playing any intermediary role.

Future U.S.–GRC Relationships

Ambassador Shen asked where we both go from here. Mr. Kissinger replied that the U.S. has no intention of going anywhere. The U.S. wants to maintain its diplomatic relations with the ROC. It contemplates no drawdown of its forces beyond the possibility of the two C–130 squadrons. The U.S. has made clear it will not alter its diplomatic relations with Taipei. Our two countries should define some topics of practical cooperation. The U.S. purpose is not to liquidate Taiwan, and not to scuttle our Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of China. The U.S. objective is to move in a new direction with Peking.

Ambassador Shen asked if Chou En-lai has not been greatly encouraged by the results of the President’s visit. The U.S. has recognized the People’s Republic of China as the only government of China. The communiqué records Peking’s opposition to five different formulations on the relationship of Taiwan to the mainland. Mr. Kissinger replied that the U.S. had taken the position that it would not challenge the Chinese claims that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. Ambassador Shen said that in context in the communiqué this could only mean that the People’s Republic of China exercises sovereignty over Taiwan. Mr. Kissinger rejected this interpretation, and said this was certainly not the U.S. intention. In the communiqué whenever reference to the government in Peking was intended, the name People’s Republic of China was used. The PRC for example had wanted to use the term “leaders of China” but the U.S. refused, insisting on the term “leaders of the People’s Republic of China.”

[Page 829]

Negotiation of U.S.–PRC Differences on Taiwan Question in Communiqué

Ambassador Shen asked the reason for burning the oil all through the night of February 25–26 to put the communiqué in final form. Mr. Kissinger said that this had not been the case. The President had gone to bed that night although he was awakened several times to approve points that officials of the two sides were working on. Ambassador Shen asked what the sticking points were. Mr. Kissinger said that they included, first, the rate and character of the withdrawal of U.S. forces and installations—which we insisted on linking to the prospects for a peaceful settlement and reduction of tensions—and, second, U.S. hopes for a settlement of the Taiwan question that would be consistent with our position on force withdrawals. On this last night it was the PRC that made all of the concessions.

Possible U.S. Clarification on Taiwan Question

Ambassador Shen asked if the President was planning on making any report to the American people. Mr. Kissinger responded that he is inclined not to, but asked if Ambassador Shen thought he should. Ambassador Shen said that it would be logical for the President to do so since he had reported publicly on the acceptance of Peking’s invitation. Mr. Kissinger noted that the President had already made one report—that at Andrews Air Force Base on returning.7 Ambassador Shen argued that if the President made a report, he could correct the misinterpretations of the communiqué now current. Mr. Kissinger agreed that if the President decided on a public statement, it would be an appropriate vehicle for making such clarifications. The President might make the report a written one and could possibly do so next week.

Ambassador Shen said the President’s report should use the name Republic of China and should reaffirm the U.S. defense commitment to the Republic of China. He said that these omissions are the reasons for the Administration’s domestic troubles in the wake of the trip. Mr. Kissinger demurred, saying that no such major domestic problems existed. Noting Ambassador Shen’s reference to Mr. Humphrey, Mr. Kissinger said the opposition of left-wing Democrats such as Hubert Humphrey cannot be taken seriously—to which Ambassador Shen replied that he was only using Mr. Humphrey as an example. Mr. Kissinger said that if on the other hand Senators Goldwater, Buckley, or Governor Reagan were speaking out in criticism of the trip’s impact on the ROC, their criticism would reflect a moral right on their part.

Mr. Kissinger said that when Mao and Chou—or at least Mao— die in the next five years this will cause a tremendous upheaval in [Page 830] China. Ambassador Shen interjected that this is what the GRC has been predicting all along. Mr. Kissinger continued that a Sino–Soviet conflict might result. Thus it is most important that the U.S. and the ROC keep their relationship alive until then. Mr. Kissinger said he did not believe, however, that the PRC would attempt any attack on Taiwan in the next three to four years, noting that they do not possess the required military capability. Ambassador Shen agreed that Peking would not be able to pull off such a military campaign particularly in light of Soviet pressure from the north.

Ambassador Shen returned to the question of a written report by the President in which he might correct the mistaken impressions that he had mentioned earlier in conversation. Mr. Kissinger said that the President had not yet decided whether one would be issued.

Ambassador Shen said that during the President and Mr. Kissinger’s absence he had made a request through Mr. MacGregor for a call on the President. Mr. Kissinger said that the President would not be back from Key Biscayne until Monday, noting that Ambassador Shen was planning to leave for Taipei on Saturday. If Ambassador Shen could stay until Monday, Mr. Kissinger said he was willing to recommend to the President that he receive the Ambassador. Ambassador Shen said that he was willing to stay over until next week, and would wait for Mr. Kissinger’s response.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. X. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House. According to a March 20 covering memorandum by Froebe, Kissinger approved this memorandum of conversation “with no further distribution to be made.” Memoranda of conversation between Kissinger and the ROC Ambassador to the United States are also in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Memoranda of Conversation. On February 24 Shen met briefly with Clark MacGregor at the White House to “elicit some background information from me on ‘how things were going in Peking.’” Shen requested a meeting with Kissinger on February 29 or March 1 and a meeting with Nixon on March 2, 3, or 4. (Memorandum from MacGregor through Kissinger to Nixon, February 25; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. X) See Document 207 for a record of Shen’s March 6 meeting with Nixon and Kissinger.
  2. The remarks in Shanghai and at Andrews Air Force Base are in the Department of State Bulletin, March 20, 1972, pp. 426–435, and Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 381–384.
  3. The President’s daily briefing memoranda from Kissinger, February 28 and February 29, summarized the initial reaction of the ROC to the Shanghai Communiqué. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 39, President’s Daily Briefs) The initial press reaction on Taiwan is in telegram 992 from Taipei, February 28. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 US/NIXON) The official reaction from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was reported in telegram 994 from Taipei, February 28. (Ibid., POL 17 CHINATUS)
  4. Rogers met with Shen on March 2 and discussed many of the same issues. Rogers stated that “the progressive reduction of US forces ‘as tension in the area diminishes’ was specifically intended to refer to the Vietnam draw-down.” The PRC was aware of this interpretation since earlier drafts had been explicit on this point. When asked by Shen why the ROC was not referred to by name in the Shanghai Communiqué, Rogers answered, “any attempt by US to refer to the ROC as such would only have unnecessarily complicated the problem of arriving at an agreed text.” Rogers added that the U.S. side did not want to refer to treaties with Japan and South Korea without mentioning the Republic of China. Therefore, they “deliberately left out any reference to such treaties.” (Telegram 37582 to Taipei; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, China, Vol. X)
  5. Kissinger met with Shen from 12:22 to 12:45 p.m. on February 16. No other record of this conversation has been found. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule)
  6. Brackets in the source text.
  7. See footnote 2 above.