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210. Memorandum From President Nixon to his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

I have noted the comments in some columns to the effect that the Chinese statement of their position was much more aggressive and belligerent than our statement of our position. You handled the question extremely well in your backgrounder.2 It occurred to me, however, that in some further discussion you may be having with members of the press, or possibly when you do a television program, you might have in mind this historical footnote.

You could begin by pointing out that I made the decision with regard to the tone of the statement of our position for two basic reasons. First, the more aggressive we stated our position the more aggressive the Chinese would have to be in stating their position. As a result of our presenting our position in a very firm, but non-belligerent manner, their position, while it was also uncompromising on principle, was not nearly as rough in its rhetoric as has been the case in previous statements they have issued over the years.

The second reason was that I realized while the statement of the Chinese position has been known to millions of Americans for many years the statement of the American position has not been known to the Chinese at all except to some at the very highest levels. In this first opportunity to present our position to the Chinese cadres and, to a certain extent, also to the Chinese masses we had to recognize that it would have no credibility whatever if it were stated in too harsh terms. This [Page 845]does not mean that we had any illusions that by stating our position in less aggressive rhetoric we were going to win converts but it does mean that the fear that has been pounded into the Chinese for the past 20 years of American aggression against them should not be increased by the tone of the statement of our position in the communiqué.

Now to revert to the historical anecdote which shows that this approach on my part is not new. In July of 1959 when I visited Moscow we had an arrangement with the Soviets that I would have the opportunity to address the Soviet people by television and radio at the conclusion of my stay. We did not know until about two days before we were to leave the extent of the coverage or how long I would be allowed to talk. But then we learned that the coverage was probably going to be fairly extensive although not widely advertised and that I would be allowed to talk 30 minutes which meant, of course, approximately an hour when the translation was taken into account.

The preparation of this speech was a monumental task. State had done its best to prepare suggested remarks prior to the trip but Tommy Thompson agreed with me when we read State’s draft as the trip neared the conclusion, and after I had had the Kitchen Debate and had traveled to several places in the Soviet Union, that the draft was too bland and too full of the usual bureaucratic banalities. On a crash basis, working late into the night for two nights before I was to go on, I dictated an entirely new draft with Thompson’s very activist and helpful assistance. The fundamental decision we had to make was what tone the draft should take. I pointed out to Thompson that I would be speaking to two audiences—the American audience at home, which with an election coming up the next year was very important to me, and the Russian audience in the Soviet Union who for the first time would be hearing a senior American official address them on television. After thorough discussion of the matter I finally told Thompson that interested as I was in seeing that we said the right things as far as the American audience was concerned, I finally had to confront the hard fact that this was the first time an official of my rank would be allowed to speak directly to the Russian people and that I did not want it to be the last time. Under the circumstances, I decided that we should be firm on our principle but that the tone should not be aggressive and wherever possible conciliatory, provided there was no compromise of principle.

The result was a speech which most of the Kremlinologists thought was very effective from the stand-point of the Russian audience. What effect, if any, it had on the American audience is subject to question. I do recall that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a favorable editorial on it—perhaps the only time in my memory that that paper has editorialized favorably on anything I have done in the foreign policy area. As [Page 846]far as reaction of the general public is concerned, however, it certainly was not a positive and if anything might have been a slight negative.

Nevertheless, while because of the tremendous pressure we were under in attempting to get it prepared it was no gem of eloquence, I think even some of our more severe critics would have to agree that it was the statesman-like approach considering all the factors I have set forth.

I would suggest you read the speech. It appears in the Appendix of Six Crises.3

You can now easily see why this incident which occurred 13 years ago directly bears on the approach that we take in the communiqué. Having gone through that experience I was determined that in this document, which would be the first time Chinese leaders, and cadres, and to a certain extent even Chinese masses, would ever hear the American position expressed, I had to make the strongest possible effort to set it in a tone which would not make it totally incredible when they heard it. It would not have been credible, of course, had we set forth our position in more aggressive terms because 22 years of propaganda at the other extreme would have made it impossible for the reader of the communiqué, or those who heard it read on radio, to believe it at all if the tone was too harsh.

I am not suggesting that as a result of setting forth our position in a reasonable manner that any significant change was made in Chinese public opinion—if there is a Chinese public opinion (and I, of course, am the first to recognize that there is not), but more important on the Chinese leadership, particularly the younger leadership that is coming up. But I think by handling it the way we did in the communiqué we might have had just a chance to change their picture of the American President slightly but perhaps significantly also. Before I came, the United States President was a devil with horns. As a result of our trip and possibly because of the tone of the communiqué on our part they still see the United States President as a devil but the horns may not be nearly as prominent as they were previously. If this much was accomplished it was worthwhile, even at the cost of not writing a rip- snorting, political document as some of our advisers would have suggested which would have made our right-wingers at home stand up and cheer, but which would have served to defeat the purpose of our trip.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 341, President/Kissinger Memos, HAK/President Memos, 1971. Personal.
  2. Information concerning Kissinger’s background press briefing has not been found.
  3. Richard M. Nixon, Six Crises (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962).