220. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Huang Hua, PRC Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Shih Yen-hua, Interpreter
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff

Dr. Kissinger: I must tell you Mr. Ambassador, that you have seduced another journalist.

Ambassador Huang: Which one?

Dr. Kissinger: Joseph Kraft. He was convinced when he went to China that we were all taken in by you. He wasn’t going to let this happen to him, and he even wrote some articles from China about excessive sentimentality toward China. But I saw him 48 hours after he returned, and he is already planning a return visit to China. He wants to take his wife to China, and he is talking about nothing else. This is not a recommendation on my part. It is information.

Ambassador Huang: Which paper is he accredited to?

Dr. Kissinger: He writes in the Washington Post, and he’s syndicated all over the country. He is an unreliable friend and a dangerous enemy.

Mr. Ambassador, I wanted to see you in the spirit in which we have communicated with each other to tell you our thinking about Vietnam.

We recognize that you are men of prinicple, and we are not asking for your support or mediation. But we believe that what has started between our two countries is of such historical importance that whenever there is a possibility of misunderstanding it is important that we know what the other side is thinking. We know that you will make certain public statements, and this is not an attempt to debate your public statements.

I also have other relatively minor things, but let me talk about Vietnam first.

[Page 876]

Ambassador Huang: It so happens that I got instructions from my government to make an appointment with you. That is about a reply from the Chinese side to the April 3 message of the U.S. side.2

Dr. Kissinger: I thought this might be the case. Would you like to give me your reply first?

Ambassador Huang: I am prepared to listen to the Doctor first.

Dr. Kissinger: See… how do you like your new quarters, incidentally?3

Ambassador Huang: They are quieter than the Hotel Roosevelt, and there are more conveniences than at the hotel.

Dr. Kissinger: It is comforable?

Ambassador Huang: Yes, very comfortable.

Dr. Kissinger: I owe an apology to your lawyer. He is much more efficient than my reports indicated.

Ambassador Huang: We are also very pleased that we could move so quickly.

Dr. Kissinger: We are delighted.

Ambassador Huang: Anyway, we must thank you for your concern.

Dr. Kissinger: We didn’t do much.

What I wanted to do then is to summarize what our concern is, what our attitude is. We are not seeking military bases. We are not seeking a military victory. We have taken very seriously the advice of the Prime Minister when I visited Peking in July about not leaving a “tail” of advisers behind. We will withdraw all our forces, including advisers. We are not concerned with the preservation of any one person. (Ambassador Huang checks the translation.) In short we do not believe that we are the imperialism that need concern the People’s Republic in Southeast Asia.

What we cannot do is to accept a military solution which is imposed on us. We do not believe that this is in anybody’s interest. We believe that the same principles are involved in Southeast Asia, and the same motives, that were involved in South Asia three months ago. (Ambassador Huang checks the translation.) We believe that without Soviet offensive weapons and without Soviet encouragement this recent series of events would never have happened. And we believe that the motive in the short term affects us, but in the long term it is not directed against us. (Ambassador Huang checks the translation.)

I told the Prime Minister in July, I told him in October, and the President told him that we would not accept a military defeat. I told [Page 877] the Ambassador on March 13 (sic) that we would not expand military operations in Indochina unless they were expanded by our opponents against us.4 After the Chinese message to us I kept an especially close watch on military operations, and I don’t think that one can find any military actions against the Democratic Republic between March 15 and April 2, after the offensive started. Indeed I can tell you in all frankness I received four different recommendations from our military commanders during that period who saw the military buildup of North Vietnam and asked permission to take preventive measures. In each case the President and I refused permission.

So I must tell you, Mr. Ambassador, that we did not want a military solution and even today we do not want a military solution. And I would like to summarize for you all the messages which have passed between us and the North Vietnamese. I’m not asking you to give me your judgment, but in considering the situation in Peking we want the Prime Minister, for whom we have such an enormous regard, to at least know our side.

On February 14 the North Vietnamese proposed a private talk with us for March 15 in Paris. On February 17 we accepted that without condition, and suggested March 20 as a date.

Ambassador Huang: The 17th?

Dr. Kissinger: No, the 20th. We suggested March 20th because for me it must always be worked so that my absence is not noticed so much, so that they think in Washington that I am visiting a girl.

On February 29 the North Vietnamese accepted the date of March 20. We then made all the preparations, which are quite complex for us, of getting airplanes, landing rights and so forth.

On March 7 the North Vietnamese informed us that this date was… that they wanted to postpone the meeting until April 15, claiming we had engaged in air attacks between March 2 and March 6. For the information of the Prime Minister, there were no air attacks between March 2 and 6. (Ambassador Huang checks the translation.) And when we do something we tell you privately. We admit transgressions on Chinese soil when they occur.

On March 13 we accepted the new proposal and proposed April 24 as the date. The reason we proposed April 24 was because I had already agreed to go to Japan the weekend of April 15.

We then did not hear from North Vietnam at all for over ten days even though we were accepting their own proposal. So we suspended—since they had not agreed to private talks, we suspended the public talks.

[Page 878]

On March 27 the North Vietnamese accepted the date of April 24. On April 1 (sic) we therefore informed the North Vietnamese that the plenary sessions would resume on April 13, in other words that we were prepared to return to the peace talks.

On April 2 they attacked across the DMZ. We then told them on April 6… they knowing already that we had agreed to go to the plenary sessions, they held a press conference and publicly demanded that we go April 13 to a meeting. We then informed them on April 6 that in these conditions we could not come on April 13 and that whether we would come on April 20 depended on the military operations. Their reply to this was to start military attacks near Saigon.

Now I would like to tell you our attitude. The Prime Minister told me once that it was very difficult for you to enter the war in 1950, but you felt that you had to do it because your word counts.

Ambassador Huang: Would you please repeat that sentence?

Dr. Kissinger: The Prime Minister once, in a historical discussion, told me that it was a very hard decision to send peoples’ volunteers into North Korea, but you had to do it because you said you would do it and your word counts.

Well, we are in a similar position. We have told the Democratic Republic and told you that if we are put under military pressure we would respond and, painful as it is for us, our word counts also.

Now we have told the Democratic Republic that I, nevertheless, even though they’ve attacked across the DMZ and even though they’ve launched regular army attacks, I am prepared to come to the meeting on April 24 with Special Adviser Le Duc Tho, and I would come there with the attitude of bringing a rapid conclusion to the war. If this private meeting makes any progress at all, we will resume the public sessions very shortly thereafter.

If the Democratic Republic returns to the agreements it has made with us in 1968, we will stop the military operations in North Vietnam.

And I repeat that we accept a neutral Vietnam. We want no bases. We will discuss a fair political process. But painful as this is and whatever the price to whatever relationship, we will not swerve from the present course if the Democratic Republic continues to pursue the actions on which it is now engaged. We believe it would be tragic if this would jeopardize the relationship which is so important for our foreign policy and on which we have worked with so much seriousness. We are convinced that if Hanoi meets us with anything like the largeness of spirit of the Chinese leaders, we would find a solution as satisfactory with them as we have found in our relations with the People’s Republic.

I have a few others things which do not concern Vietnam, but perhaps the Ambassador would want to give me his comments on Vietnam which I suspect are not in complete agreement with ours.

[Page 879]

Ambassador Huang: I am going to convey a message to you.

Dr. Kissinger: Could you give us the paper informally? Then Mr. Lord would not have to write it all down.

Ambassador Huang: I can read it slowly.

(Dr. Kissinger says to Lord: “It must be pretty tough.”)

Ambassador Huang: There are two points in the message.

(The Ambassador then reads the following from a typed message in Chinese and Miss Shih translates it slowly.)

  • “1. The Chinese side has noted the promise conveyed in the April 3, 1972 message from the U.S. side that U.S. ships and aircraft would no longer come within 12 nautical miles of China’s Hsi Hsa Islands. At the same time, the Chinese side reiterates that the Hsi Hsa Islands are indisputably Chinese territory, that the width of the Chinese territorial sea stipulated by her is 12 nautical miles, and that it requires all quarters to show full respect for this.
  • “2. Regarding the second point of the April 3, 1972 message, the Chinese side has the following comments.

“The spirit with which the Chinese and U.S. sides have conducted relations consists of frankness in the exchange of views without concealing the great differences existing between them and an effort to seek common ground. The Chinese side has always acted in this spirit. The U.S. message reproaching against the Chinese side is unacceptable.

“The U.S. side can be under no misapprehension concerning China’s principled stand on the question of Indochina. The U.S. side knows full well that the Chinese side firmly supports the peoples of the three Indochina countries in their war against U.S. aggression and for national salvation. The Chinese side is convinced that the Vietnamese 7 point proposal and the 2 points of elaboration have provided a reasonable basis for a peaceful settlement, that any attempt by the U.S. side to intensify the war and exert pressures can only give rise to even stronger resistance by the Indochinese peoples, that the Chinese people sharing weal and woe with the Indochinese peoples will certainly give them strong support, and that the Chinese believe that such actions on the part of the U.S. side can only exacerbate tension and provide opportunities for others to take advantage of it.

“In the light of these conditions one cannot but be surprised that the U.S. side should express difficulty in understanding recent Chinese statements on the Indochina issue. China realizes that the United States of America is in a difficult position on the Indochina issue. However, the U.S. side must understand that this situation was brought about entirely by the U.S. itself. The concentration of U.S. naval and air forces for the wanton bombing of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the clamors about expanding the war, the indefinite suspension of the [Page 880] Paris talks, etc. decidedly will not help the U.S. gain its objective but can only make the U.S. even more bogged down in an embarrassing position.

“The Chinese side wishes to call attention to the following passage in the Shanghai Communiqué:

‘… the two sides agreed that countries, regardless of their social systems, should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.’

“On the question of Indochina, it is the U.S. that has violated these principles and harmed Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and not Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos that have harmed the U.S. If the U.S. takes its above statement seriously and truly has a desire to effect a reasonable settlement of the question of Indochina, then it should examine its own attitude.

“The Chinese side reiterates that it attaches importance to the normalization of Sino–U.S. relations and that it is firm in upholding its principles.”

That is the full text of the message. (Attached at Tab A)5

(Dr. Kissinger says to Mr. Lord: “Did you get it?” Mr. Lord: “Yes.”)

Ambassador Huang: I will report to Peking what the Doctor has said just now.

Dr. Kissinger: May I make two informal comments about your message.

We too value the normalization of relations between the People’s Republic and the United States very highly. And we will examine this message with great care and great seriousness.

But I would like to point out first, that we did not…regardless of the public positions you have to take, the record I have given you leaves no doubt that we didn’t suspend the talks indefinitely. (Ambassador Huang checks the translation.)

Secondly, with respect to the bombing, we are asking Hanoi to live up to its own agreement. We did not start the bombing.

But thirdly, and most important, and this is not put forward in the spirit of debate because these discussions remain secret, this Administration, which overcame twenty years of hostility toward Peking, has no dogmatic views about Hanoi. If we could normalize our relations [Page 881] with Peking, we can certainly normalize our relations with Hanoi. But if Peking had treated us the way Hanoi does, we would still be in a posture of hostility.

And the problem is, as I pointed out to the Prime Minister and Vice Chairman Yeh Chien-ying, whether one small country should be able to threaten all international relations because its view is so totally focussed on a very special perspective of a very special problem. There is no reasonable objective for us to achieve in securing military bases in Southeast Asia. We want the independence and neutrality of Southeast Asia.

But I have pointed out the other considerations to you already, and I’m just conveying this to the Prime Minister for his understanding of our approach.

I have a few other… unless you want to pursue this topic.

Ambassador Huang: I’m not ready to talk on this subject. Please go ahead.

Dr. Kissinger: I wanted to inform you of a number of things.

One is of some importance, which I tell you in the spirit of our relationship. We wanted the Prime Minister to know that the President has ordered that the number of nuclear weapons on Taiwan be reduced by 50 per cent before the end of this year. This will be done without announcement, and this information should, of course, be treated confidentially by Peking. This is simply for your information and this is a process which will continue.

We thought you should be aware of the fact that the campaign of allegations that I showed your people photographs of Soviet military installations is continuing. We have information that in March a high-ranking East European diplomat told a high-ranking Indian diplomat in Europe that this had occurred.6

With respect to the visit of Senators Mansfield and Scott, they are looking forward very much to their visit to your country. The President and I spoke to them yesterday, and I think they will provide very useful bipartisan support for the policy of normalization of relations. We have urged them, and they agree, that they will discuss with your officials any public statements they will make after returning to the U.S. in order to avoid any embarrassment or misunderstanding.

To mention Vietnam in connection with the two Senators, the Ambassador is, of course, aware that this is a very complex domestic issue in this country.

[Page 882]

Ambassador Huang: Well, I don’t quite follow you.

Dr. Kissinger: I have another sentence. And therefore it would on the whole be preferred by us to receive any communication of Chinese views on this subject through this channel rather than through the two Senators, though, of course, we recognize you will state your basic position.

Ambassador Huang: Could you repeat this sentence?

Dr. Kissinger: We understand you will state your basic position. But, of course, you are the best judge of this.

With respect to your table tennis team, we are doing everything behind-the-scenes to guarantee their security and to provide them as warm a reception as our table tennis team received in the People’s Republic.

I can tell you that when they visit Washington, the President plans to receive them, but as a personal visit, and, of course, there will be no political statements of any kind. He will simply express the friendship of the American people for the Chinese people. And if any of them play table tennis with me and I win, then I know your courtesy has reached excessive limits.

I want to review very quickly the status of our negotiations with the Soviet Union.

There is no basic change in the discussions on Strategic Arms Limitation. If the discussions go on much longer there will only be five people in the world who understand them, none of them the head of a government.

Miss Shih: None of them…

Dr. Kissinger: Head of Government. Because they are getting technically complex. But the basic issue right now is whether submarines should be included in the limitations. However, we expect to solve this issue before our visit to Moscow.

Our Secretary of Agriculture is returning from Moscow today, and he was received by Mr. Brezhnev. We are discussing with them the sale of grain to the Soviet Union. The issue is for how long we can give credits.

We begin talks on the settlement of lend-lease debts this week. A Soviet delegation is in Washington.

We will open negotiations on April 17 on the opening of ports in the Soviet Union and the United States to each other’s shipping.

On April 27, the Soviet Minister of Economics, Patolichev, will come to the United States for economic discussions, on economic relations.

We want to repeat our basic principle. We are prepared to make any agreement with the People’s Republic that we have made with the Soviet Union.

Ambassador Huang: Will you repeat that sentence?

[Page 883]

Dr. Kissinger: Any agreement we have made with the Soviet Union we are also prepared to make with the People’s Republic. Any commercial arrangement we make with the Soviet Union, such as extension of credits, we are also prepared to make with the People’s Republic.

But most importantly—because I know that economic issues are not your principal concern—we understand the strategy that is being pursued in Moscow. We will not participate, directly or indirectly, in enabling any other country to increase or coordinate pressures on the People’s Republic. And we will leave no doubt about this on our visit. And, of course, I plan, at the invitation of the Prime Minister, to visit the People’s Republic at the end of June, on which occasion I will give him a full account. In the meantime, any comment from Peking will be taken extremely seriously in Washington.

The Prime Minister—this is a minor point—the Prime Minister mentioned to General Haig when he visited Peking7 a Japanese account about my alleged views and I have here a letter of apology from the Japanese about the falsification, if you are interested. If you would like to see it, this is a translation.

You are very safe—you can show me Chinese documents and I wouldn’t know what I am reading. (Ambassador Huang laughs.)

(Dr. Kissinger hands over the material and the Ambassador reads it carefully while Miss Shih copies down highlights.)

Dr. Kissinger: I can let you see the original the next time I come.

I don’t know what’s in there (gesturing at the file the Ambassador is reading.)

Mr. Lord: I never know what he is going to hand over on me.

Dr. Kissinger: I am teaching Winston Lord an absolutely new method of diplomacy.

(At this point Dr. Kissinger excuses himself to make a phone call and for several minutes the Chinese continue to read the material. Mr. Lord makes some explanations of what occurred concerning the magazine article.)

Dr. Kissinger: (pointing toward the document) Did you read this? They wrote the article before the meeting with me.

Ambassador Huang: It is most interesting.

The Chinese table tennis team arrived in Detroit at about 11:30 a.m. The correspondents attached to the delegation informed us about the situation there.

Dr. Kissinger: Were they well received?

[Page 884]

Ambassador Huang: I believe that the United States knows their itinerary thereafter.

Dr. Kissinger: Oh, yes. (Aside to Lord: “Make sure that I receive them.”)

Ambassador Huang: We appreciate very much the concern shown by the U.S. side over the security and other matters with regard to the visit of our table tennis team. We hope, as our two sides have expressed, that this visit will help enhance understanding and friendship between our two peoples.

If the Doctor has nothing more to say, I will take leave.

Dr. Kissinger: I would never admit that I have nothing more to say. A professor must never admit that.

Ambassador Huang: I hear you are leaving for Ottawa tomorrow afternoon, so probably you have a lot of things to do before that. You are very busy.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but it is not so complex a visit as one to Peking. But I will be back on Saturday.

How far are you permitted to travel outside the city, Mr. Ambassador?

Ambassador Huang: The U.S. Permanent Mission to the United Nations has given us a note on this question. It consists of some regulations.

Dr. Kissinger: Anything that causes you personal inconvenience, if you would point it out, we can adjust it.

Ambassador Huang: The regulation set down by the United States Government applies to China, the Soviet Union and other countries. And here we are preoccupied with the United Nations’ affairs, so we do not need very much to travel to other cities.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand you have a swimming pool in your hotel.

Ambassador Huang: It is like a big bathtub.

Dr. Kissinger: Are you using it?

Ambassador Huang: We are not using it now because it is in the open.

(There was a further exchange of pleasantries and the Chinese then left to get in their car to drive back to their Mission.)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 849, President’s File–China Trip, China Exchanges. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. According to the attached April 16 covering memorandum from Lord, Kissinger approved this memorandum but did not forward it to Nixon. Apparently no summary memorandum was prepared.
  2. Document 219.
  3. All ellipses are in the source text.
  4. Reference is to a March 14 meeting in New York. See Document 213.
  5. Attached but not printed was a typed version of the message. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 120.
  6. Kissinger had been informed of this through an April 7 “blind” memorandum, which was included with the briefing materials prepared by Lord for this meeting. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 849, President’s File—China Trip, China Exchanges)
  7. See Document 183.