219. Message From the Government of the United States to the Government of the People’s Republic of China 1


The U.S. side has made a full investigation of the incidents that the Chinese side brought to its attention on March 24, 1972.2

The U.S. side has verified that the ship and aircraft in question on the dates cited went within twelve nautical miles of the Paracel Islands but at no time moved closer to the Islands than three nautical miles. The ship and aircraft were conducting surveillance on an infiltration trawler engaged in carrying contraband in the vicinity of Lincoln (Tung) Island in the Paracels.

In the interest of U.S.–Chinese relations the U.S. side has issued instructions that henceforth a distance of at least twelve nautical miles should be maintained from the Paracel Islands. This is without prejudice to the U.S. positions either on the territorial sea question or the various claims to the Paracel Islands.

The Chinese message read to the U.S. side on March 14, 1972, together with recent public statements by the Chinese side on the Indochina conflict, require comment.3

The U.S. recognizes that the People’s Republic of China is obliged to take positions that support its friends. However, the Chinese side must understand that certain of its recent comments can only be considered inconsistent with the spirit with which the two sides have conducted relations. This spirit has consisted of an attempt to look with understanding at the other side’s viewpoint across an ideological gulf.

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The United States has gone to great lengths to take account of deeply held Chinese views. With regard to the Indochina issue it has done nothing to embarrass the Chinese side or complicate its position and it has consistently acknowledged that a peaceful settlement must be made with North Vietnam directly.

The Chinese side can be under no misapprehension concerning the profound importance of this issue for the United States. Nor would it be in the long term interest of the People’s Republic of China for the U.S. to be exposed to embarrassment. The Chinese side knows full well the attitude behind the proposals the U.S. side has put forward for a negotiated settlement; that the U.S. side recognizes that a settlement must meet Hanoi’s concerns since North Vietnam is a permanent factor in the area; that the U.S. has no intention of maintaining bases or a military presence in Indochina after a settlement is reached; and that it cannot be U.S. ambitions in the areas that should concern the People’s Republic of China.

In light of these considerations it is difficult to understand some recent Chinese statements. For instance, it is unacceptable to be accused of sabotaging the talks in Paris when the Chinese side knows full well that it is the North Vietnamese which effectively cancelled a private meeting set for last November and postponed a private meeting set for this March. On both occasions the lack of advance notice caused technical and scheduling difficulties. Furthermore, the U.S. side fails to understand the continued Chinese reiteration that the U.S. accept the PRG’s seven point plan when it has been repeatedly explained that the North Vietnamese maintain in private talks the priority of their own nine point plan; that the U.S. has responded to both plans; that the North Vietnamese themselves acknowledge that only two points of their plan really remain at issue; and that the North Vietnamese have refused to date to consider seriously any American proposal. In this connection, the U.S. side wishes to call attention to the passage in the Shanghai Communiqué in which the U.S. side stated that “no country should claim infallibility and each country should be prepared to reexamine its own attitudes for the common good.”

The U.S. side believes that major countries have a responsibility to use a moderating influence on this issue and not to exacerbate the situation. The U.S. side repeats its constant position. On the one hand, any attempt to impose a military solution upon the U.S. can only lead to unfortunate consequences. On the other hand, the U.S. will continue to do everything reasonable to bring the Indochina war to a rapid conclusion on a basis just to both sides.

The U.S. also wants to reiterate the extreme importance that it attaches to the improvement of its relations with the People’s Republic of China.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 849, President’s File—China Trip, China Exchanges. No classification marking. According to an attached April 3 memorandum from Lord to Kissinger, Lord delivered the message to PRC representatives in New York on the evening of April 3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 119.
  2. At a March 24 meeting between Haig and Huang Hua in New York, the PRC Ambassador read a note protesting incursions by U.S. naval vessels and aircraft. A memorandum of conversation, March 24, is in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 849, President’s File—China Trip, China Exchanges. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 118.
  3. See Document 213. In his April 3 report to Kissinger (see footnote 1 above), Lord wrote: “Then (as you instructed) I made an informal comment on a personal basis along the following lines. I had been with Dr. Kissinger on all his trips and sat in on all his meetings, and I knew personally that there was no policy he believed in more than improving relations with the People’s Republic of China. This was the spirit in which we approached our relationship and one which we were prepared to apply also to North Vietnam. And this was the framework of the message I have just given her. It was also in this light that we had issued instructions concerning the Paracel Islands contained in the message. Frankly speaking, I added, this had been a very difficult issue within our Government.”