234. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- Atmospherics of My Visit to Peking
The mood of our Chinese hosts throughout the visit was extraordinarily warm and friendly—especially considering the circumstances. It was very apparent that the Chinese were determined not to let the Vietnam situation stand in the way of an improvement in US–PRC relations; it was obvious that the rapport established during the past year was intact and that they wanted to build it.
We could tell the attitude of the Chinese from the very beginning. As before, Assistant Foreign Minister Chang Wen-chin and others met us in Shanghai and flew in our plane. At Peking we were greeted by Foreign Minister Chi Peng-fei, Deputy Foreign Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua plus several other ranking Foreign Ministry officials, all wearing broad smiles of welcome. When I emerged they briefly formed a semicircle and started applauding. (This group was essentially the same one with which you dealt in February.) To underscore the Government’s support of our visit the names of those meeting us were meticulously listed in the People’s Daily the following day.
Following the drive to the guest house area and the first of many outstanding Chinese meals, the tone of the visit was firmly set when Prime Minister Chou En-lai called on us within an hour of my arrival. He chatted informally and very pleasantly with me and my staff for some forty-five minutes, recalling those who had been in Peking before and expressing pleasure at meeting new arrivals. He also asked us for suggestions on what we wanted to see. In the course of the conversation he extended Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s personal regards to you, suggesting that the Chairman remains on the political scene. Later that same evening Chou and I began the first of many hours of substantive discussions.2
In the ensuing days there was no variation from the courteous, and genuinely friendly treatment which we received. The Chinese went to some lengths to show us parts of the Forbidden City which we had not seen before and maintained their aplomb when some of us asked to revisit other parts which we had previously visited, causing them to change arrangements. Because one of my staff members had expressed [Page 999]an interest to Prime Minister Chou in seeing Chinese acrobats, our whole party was taken one morning to the Institute of Physical Culture outside Peking, where, accompanied by the Minister of Sports, the Director of the Institute and the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, we watched youthful acrobats, gymnasts, swimmers, and ping-pong players perform. The students applauded warmly upon our arrival, with no signs of reservation or animosity. Two of my staff members played ping-pong with the Chinese, and this gesture was very well received.
Chinese Attitude and Approach
In my judgment there were three particular highlights of the visit which were indicative not only of the friendly attitude of the Chinese but of their political intent:
- —At the banquet he gave on the evening of the day after our arrival. Chou in his toast expressed the belief that the goal of normalization of US–PRC relations would be attained, though gradually, on the basis of the Shanghai Joint Communiqué. This toast was significant in that it was made before senior officials of the PRC, and contained no reference to Vietnam. Thus he was telling them that the Vietnam war would not be allowed to detract from the goal of normalization, at least under present circumstances. (Incidentally, Marshal Yeh Chien-ying, who had met me at the airport on previous occasions, was present at this banquet; as you know, he is in effect Minister of Defense. The Chinese also printed a photo of us all, which was taken just prior to the banquet, on the front page of the People’s Daily.)
- —The Chinese put on a cultural presentation for us the next evening, a “revolutionary” Peking opera, which, as was the case in my October visit, turned out to be a command performance. The hall was filled with some 500 or so cadres, or people in leadership positions, drawn not only from the Government but from farms, enterprises, and factories around Peking. As my associates and I appeared, accompanied by the Foreign Minister and other senior PRC officials, the audience clapped loudly. We, of course, joined in. The same thing occurred after the performance. The applause lasted for a much longer period than on the first such occasion in October. This incident was indicative of a Chinese desire to get the message out to selected middle-echelon political leaders that US–PRC relations will grow warmer despite recent events in Vietnam.
- —Finally, on our last evening, Chou En-lai made what I consider an extraordinary gesture of friendship by inviting my whole party to a picnic at the Summer Palace. The evening began with our boarding boats for a ride on the lake before the startled eyes of several hundred Chinese bystanders who applauded vigorously and with every sign of enthusiasm when they saw the Prime Minister and me. Later we landed [Page 1000]and dined at a pavilion where the Empress Dowager had watched the Peking Opera. We then strolled to our cars for the return to Peking with Chinese and American officials intermixed, again in front of Chinese bystanders. Knowledge of these events must then have spread fairly widely via the Chinese who watched us, ordinary people to whom the Summer Palace is a popular place to visit, and who must have had some idea of the nature of Chou’s guests from the items carried in the People’s Daily. I doubt that the Chinese bystanders knew in advance that we were coming, or that their applause was rehearsed.
There were a number of other indications that an extraordinary relationship has built up between our two countries:
- —Chou En-lai spent a great deal of time asking my advice about various personalities around the world—especially West European leaders.
- —Chou ran over a list of American personalities to be invited to the PRC—again showing a degree of confidence rare in state-to-state relations.
- —They even asked my advice on Robert Williams, a radical black, on whom an official of a Republican Administration should not be considered a good witness.
- —Chou engaged in extraordinarily candid discussions about their views on Vietnam.
- —At the banquet, newly-promoted Assistant Foreign Minister Chang Wen-chin, who had helped draft the Shanghai Joint Communiqué, remarked that the Chinese people felt the Communiqué was largely drafted by the Americans. This, he said, was due to the use of expressions and formulations not typically Chinese. Two inferences may be drawn from Chang’s words: first, the Chinese went to great lengths to meet our needs, which they in fact did; and second, there is evidently some feeling among the leaders that we got the better of the deal, especially in the Taiwan section.
- —Our visit ended on the same note of cordiality on which it had begun. We were seen off by the same group which had met us, and there were many remarks—apparently genuine—that they hoped they would see us again soon.
The Chinese attitude can perhaps best be summed up in comments to me by Vice Chairman Yeh Chien-ying along the following lines at the conclusion of our special session:
- —This meeting is of great help to us and very important. Even more important it demonstrates the friendship of our two peoples. The friendship of our two peoples is more weighty than all this material. This also indicates further progress toward the normalization of our state relations.
- —If we say the world faces dangers, it is not due to our two countries (US and PRC). You (US) on the east side of the Pacific, we (PRC) on the west side of the Pacific, separated by 10,000 miles, can live in peace together. We can become a strong stable force for world peace.
- —In making such great efforts in Europe and Asia, Dr. Kissinger is making great efforts to normalize state relations, and not just for our countries alone.
- —On behalf of the Chinese armed forces I would like to thank Dr. Kissinger again for this discussion. As I understand that President Nixon asked Dr. Kissinger to discuss this with us. I would like also to thank President Nixon.
- —When you go back please express our thanks to President Nixon and wish him good health and long life. Also congratulate him in advance on his victory in the election because that also involves the world. The re-election of President Nixon is of major importance not only for relations between our two countries but for the world as a whole.
- —I would like to say further that not only is there no conflict of interests between us but rather a history of long-standing friendship between our two peoples. Peace on the two coasts of the Pacific will guarantee world peace.
The Political Atmosphere
The following is relevant to the condition of Mao Tse-tung, and the general mood in Peking:
- —After Chou’s reference to Mao’s greetings to you on the first night, Mao’s name did not enter the conversation as frequently as had been the case on my earlier trips. There have, of course, been rumors about Mao being in ill health or even dying, and the decrease in references to him could have been a case in point. However, during the Summer Palace picnic Chou restored the balance somewhat by giving an eloquent and moving account of how Mao had come to write a certain poem, and referred to Mao very much in the present tense. He also invoked Mao frequently in the course of our last private meeting, insisting that the final announcement had to be cleared by him.
- —Chou asked that our meetings be conducted with significantly fewer participants than before, perhaps on the grounds of political sensitivities. This could reflect some high-level political tension. On the Chinese side, Chou was generally accompanied only by Vice Foreign Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua and an interpreter, and I, at his insistent request, limited my party to one or two staff members. I found this situation puzzling, and can account for it only on the grounds that Chou was unusually reluctant to have too many people on his side fully aware of the nature of our talks, especially on the Soviet Union and Indochina. Perhaps policy differences still exist at top PRC echelons, especially on the topic of Vietnam. But, as noted below, there are no visible signs of tension in Peking, nor are there any obvious grounds for assuming our relationship will not progress.
- —Life in Peking seems more relaxed now than it seemed in February or on my previous visits. The army was largely off the streets, and the numerous traffic policemen were now wearing a distinctive white jacket and peaked hat which was quite different from an army [Page 1002]uniform. The people in general, especially the young, were much more colorfully dressed. They did not appear to be under as many constraints as before, and a common sight in the evenings was family groups sitting on the curb of the main street to watch the passing show. From what we saw from our motorcades, they were under no injunctions to keep from looking our way when we passed, or to avoid showing curiosity. We received many stares, none unfriendly. (Being the only show in town at the time, we were probably known for what we were when we traveled.)
In conclusion, this latest visit to Peking has reinforced the conviction I reached following your visit to the PRC four months ago: we have established a unique bond between ourselves and the Chinese which both sides highly regard and want to strengthen further. For our part we have been able to do this because we have cut out many of the diplomatic niceties and subtleties and have spoken our minds to the Chinese as equals. We have made it plain that we are willing to listen to their points of view in the same spirit, and that to the extent the differences between us will permit, will do everything we can to find common ground. For the Chinese, who are a proud people with a rich culture and enormous historical continuity, any other approach would have been unacceptable.
No other country today has either the strength or the will to treat the Chinese as equals. Our having done so has wiped out much of the Chinese ill-feeling toward us of the past two decades. It has made it possible for both parties to focus upon the common ground between us and, as in the case of Vietnam, to play down our contradictions. I see no reason why this situation cannot continue, provided we avoid the kinds of minor but insensitive acts which inevitably generate Chinese resentment and continue our basic approach.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 97, Country Files–Far East, China, Dr. Kissinger’s June 1972 Visit. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. The President wrote on the first page: “K—an excellent account. In the long run this is more important than day to day substance.” Kissinger also forwarded to Nixon a June 27 16-page memorandum that reviewed the substance of the trip. (Ibid.) Nixon wrote on that memorandum, “Superb job—covers all the bases with expert tactics.” He also underlined much of the text. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 147. Summary memoranda by Holdridge and others who accompanied Kissinger on the June trip are in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 97, Country Files–Far East, China, Dr. Kissinger’s June 1972 Visit.↩
- The President and Kissinger met on June 23 and discussed the trip to the PRC, and Kissinger reiterated many of the remarks he would include in his June 27 memoranda. Kissinger described how Chou En-lai “met with my whole team for about half an hour, just greeting them, saying a friendly word, you know how he is.” Nixon responded: “He’s a helluva guy.” In discussing Vietnam, Kissinger observed, “He [Chou] said, these are his direct words, the People’s Republic of China, if we asked, would approve the course of action of the President’s May 8 speech. The Chinese understand and approve this policy, but Vietnam is reluctant to rely upon it. Now, it’s enough for people to say that that’s further than the Russians went.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of conversation Between Nixon and Kissinger, June 23, 1972, 6:48–8:40 p.m., Camp David, Conversation No. 194–1)↩