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251. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • James C. H. Shen, Republic of China Ambassador to the United States
  • Hengli Chen, Counselor, Republic of China Embassy
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • John H. Holdridge, NSC Senior Staff Member


  • Mr. Kissinger’s Conversation with Ambassador Shen Concerning President
  • Nixon’s Meeting with Prime Minister Tanaka in Hawaii2

Mr. Kissinger explained that he was pressed for time and couldn’t tell Ambassador Shen a great deal. As the Ambassador could see from the newspaper accounts of the Hawaii meeting, we had made a very strong case about our relations with Taiwan. As Mr. Tanaka had said publicly afterwards, we considered our defense treaty with the ROC as important as NATO. Mr. Kissinger commented at this point on the dubious nature of the Japanese motives, observing that the Japanese were polite but went their own way.

Ambassador Shen asked, were the Japanese polite enough to listen to what the U.S. side had to stay? Mr. Kissinger replied affirmatively. What the Japanese wanted was for the U.S. to defend Taiwan, which we were happy enough to do, so that they themselves would be left alone with Peking. In that way they got the best of everything, and their investments on Taiwan would be protected. We had urged them to keep economic and cultural ties with Taiwan even if diplomatic relations were severed.

Mr. Kissinger again questioned Japanese motives in seeking to normalize relations with Peking. What they were doing was immoral. The Chinese would use them, but at the same time despise them. Also, the more they kept their connection with Taiwan, the more their reputation for unreliability would be encouraged. Mr. Kissinger indicated that he didn’t know what the ROC itself wanted out of this. As for us, we had made a strong case with the Japanese on their retaining ties with Taiwan.

[Page 1061]

Ambassador Shen commented that the U.S. had evidently not tried to tell the Japanese not to go ahead with normalization, and had not said enough to discourage them on this score. Mr. Kissinger declared that we had, in fact, said that they were going too fast. We had tried very hard to slow them down—Secretary Rogers and the President had both brought this aspect up—but they (the Japanese) were going all out.

Ambassador Shen raised the question of whether or not the Taiwan clause had been discussed. Mr. Kissinger said that the Japanese hadn’t raised it, and we ourselves had thought that we shouldn’t raise it either. There had been no discussion of this subject. We felt that the Taiwan clause remained in force, and did not believe that it was a good idea to raise a question about something which was not challenged.

Ambassador Shen asked, could U.S. bases in Japan be used to defend Taiwan in an emergency? Mr. Kissinger replied that he didn’t want to lie to the Ambassador and did not know the answer to this question. However, we could defend Taiwan without Japan from our aircraft carriers and from our bases on Taiwan. It was not impossible, either, that we would be able to defend Taiwan from Japan. Legally, we certainly could, and as a practical matter probably could also.

Mr. Kissinger stated that he didn’t believe there would be an attack on Taiwan within the next three to five years. He did not wish to set any particular time frame; it was just that if one looked beyond five years it was impossible to predict anything. Mao would certainly die within that time span, and Chou, was who 74, would be likely to die too. Mao’s death would create the most tremendous confusion, which the ROC knew very well. Chou might now be running the government, but he did not have Mao’s prestige.

Ambassador Shen wondered just what kind of game it was that the Japanese were playing with Peking. Would the two work together in the nuclear field? Or by going to Peking, was Tanaka trying to improve his bargaining position with the Soviets on negotiating a peace treaty? Mr. Kissinger replied affirmatively on the latter question, but added that Tanaka was asking for something which the Soviets would not give him. Ambassador Shen asked, and Mr. Kissinger confirmed, that by this he meant the four islands to the north of Japan which the Soviets had taken after World War II.

Ambassador Shen questioned Mr. Kissinger as to whether any other countries would recognize Peking when the Japanese did so. Mr. Kissinger noted that we had even told them the concerns of leaders such as Thanom and Marcos, and had even read to the Japanese their letters expressing this concern.

Ambassador Shen wondered, had Tanaka given the impression that by having relations with Peking, Japan was absolved from its Treaty obligations with respect to the U.S.? Mr. Kissinger said no, [Page 1062] Tanaka had conveyed just the opposite impression. Tanaka had stressed that he would maintain Japan’s treaty relationship with the U.S. But we ourselves had to be realistic, for if Japan could treat one ally in this way (the ROC), it could treat another ally similarly.

However, Mr. Kissinger continued, the Japanese had assured us that their treaty obligations would be maintained. There was no reason to doubt their words. Mr. Kissinger added that in his experience the Japanese never had anything long-range in mind—they would tell you what they wanted to do now, but didn’t know what they would want to do next year.

Ambassador Shen asked, would Tanaka accept Chou En-lai’s terms for normalizing relations with Japan? Mr. Kissinger expressed the opinion that Tanaka would not accept Chou’s terms the first time. He would keep his cool. When Ambassador Shen surmised that the Chinese in Peking might frighten Tanaka away, Mr. Kissinger declared that it would take a lot to frighten Tanaka. He, Mr. Kissinger, wanted to assure Ambassador Shen that whatever the Japanese did, though, we would stand by the ROC.

Ambassador Shen asked, why was Tanaka plunging ahead? Mr. Kissinger speculated in reply that it was partly due to the Japanese feeling that China was their territory and partly a matter of domestic politics. The Japanese were also trying to take advantage of a commercial possibility. He felt, though, that in a few years the Japanese would surely become disenchanted with Peking.

Ambassador Shen remarked that by this time the harm would already have been done. Moreover, Tanaka was telling the Japanese people that he was going ahead without any weakening in the ties with the U.S.—that is, with the understanding if not the exact endorsement of the United States. This was his way of pacifying the disobedient elements in his own Party.

Mr. Kissinger stressed that we were not happy with the way the Japanese were treating this matter, as we had made very clear to them. They carried accounts in their press of events which never happened. Some distortions were to be expected, nothing like those which came from the Japanese. For example, in his press conference after the Hawaii meeting, Ohira had said that we had maintained Taiwan could not be defended without our bases in Japan, but nothing like this had actually happened.

The conversation closed when Mr. Kissinger was obliged to leave for another appointment.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. XI. Secret; Sensitive. Kissinger and Shen met from 3:30 to 3:44 p.m. in Kissinger’s office. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule)
  2. The President met with the Japanese Prime Minister on August 31. Documentation on the meetings in Hawaii is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIX.