226. Letter From President Nixon to the Premier of the People’s Republic of China Chou En-lai1

Dear Mr. Premier:

I want to inform you personally of a major decision I have made concerning Southeast Asia which I am announcing tonight.2

In recent weeks we have intensified our efforts to find a just peace in Indochina. We have resumed negotiations with the North Vietnamese in public and private forums and have offered to discuss either mutual de-escalation or a settlement of military issues alone or a comprehensive settlement. At the same time we have used all available means to point out the consequences of Hanoi’s trying to impose a military solution.

The response to our efforts has been North Vietnam’s massive escalation of the war and complete intransigence in public and private negotiations. In these circumstances, I have ordered certain military actions in order to bring this conflict to a close. Effective immediately, all entrances to North Vietnamese ports are being mined and United States forces have been directed to take appropriate measures to prevent ships from delivering supplies to North Vietnam. Rail and other communications within North Vietnam will be interrupted to the maximum extent possible.

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These actions are not directed at any other nation. Special care has been taken that all foreign vessels currently in North Vietnamese ports will be able to depart safely within three daylight periods. After that time any ships attempting to leave or enter these ports will do so at their own risk. It is my hope that there will be no incidents involving third countries.

These operations are designed to bring the conflict to a rapid end on a basis just to both sides. They will stop when American prisoners of war are returned and there is an internationally supervised cease-fire throughout Indochina. When these conditions are met, we will stop all of our military acts of force throughout Indochina and proceed with a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam within four months.

We understand that the People’s Republic of China must take certain formal positions in response to these developments. At the same time, in the spirit of frankness that has characterized our conversations thus far, we would hope that you would understand the imperatives that have forced this decision upon us.

It is easy to employ phrases like “imperialism.” Such slogans will not stand the test of the reasonable proposal I am setting forth this evening to end the war. Our terms provide for the United States to withdraw with honor. They would end the suffering and bring prisoners home. They would not require surrender and humiliation on the part of either side. They would allow negotiation on a political settlement that reflects the popular will. They would permit all the nations which have suffered in this long war to turn at last to the urgent works of healing and peace. They deserve immediate acceptance by North Vietnam.

You know our position from our exchanges ever since last July. We have assured you—as we have assured the North Vietnamese—that we do not seek a victory in any sense. We do not seek territory or bases or a permanent force or an American-sponsored government in South Vietnam. As part of either a military settlement or a comprehensive settlement we remain prepared to withdraw all American forces, without leaving any residual force behind. We have only one objective—to let the South Vietnamese determine their political future free from outside interference.

On the other hand, we have also told you of the serious consequences that could ensue if North Vietnam were to launch the massive assault which is now taking place and is designed to embarrass the United States.

It should be clear that it is not the United States which represents a long-term threat to the People’s Republic of China. It is not the United States which seeks a long term presence in Indochina.

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During the past three years the People’s Republic of China and the United States have been patiently opening a new relationship based on the profound interests of both countries. We now face an important decision. We must consider whether the short term perspectives of a smaller nation—all of whose own reasonable objectives could so clearly be achieved—can be allowed to threaten all the progress that we have made. I would hope that after the immediate passions have cooled, we will concentrate on longer term interests.

I have no higher goal in my foreign policy than to build upon the positive beginning that together we made in February. It would be a deep disappointment to me if North Vietnamese actions were to jeopardize this beginning. There is no need for this to happen.

This is an opportunity for statesmanship. It is an opportunity for a decisive turn toward peace. We are willing to cooperate with any country to bring about an immediate settlement without the sacrificing of principles. There can be an early peace in Indochina that will meet the concerns of all parties, including both North Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China. And such a solution will allow our two countries to make further progress in our bilateral relations, for the sake of our two peoples and the peoples of the world.3

Yours sincerely,

Richard Nixon
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 114, Geopolitical Files, China, Nixon, Richard M., Letters to Mao and Chou. No classification marking.
  2. Nixon announced his decision to mine North Vietnamese harbors at 9 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 583–587.
  3. The letter was delivered by Rodman to Huang Hua in New York on the morning of May 8. A memorandum of conversation between Rodman and Huang Hua, May 8, is in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 849, President’s File—China Trip, China Exchanges. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 128.