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38. Memorandum From John H. Holdridge of National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Time for US Initiative Toward Peking?

An accumulation of indicators, especially the latest Chinese statement on the border negotiations with Moscow, suggests that the present may be an opportune moment for a move toward Peking. The Chinese statement contains an extremely interesting formulation worth quoting in full:

“The Chinese government has never covered up the fact that there exist irreconcilable differences of principle between China and the Soviet Union and that the struggle of principle between them will continue for a long period of time. But this should not prevent China and the Soviet Union from maintaining normal state relations on the basis of the five principles of peaceful coexistence.”2

Obviously this thesis of normal relations could apply to the US as well as to the USSR. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the Chinese statement last November agreeing to resume the Warsaw talks.3 In this respect it could be a signal of some importance.

It comes against a background of other indications that the so- called “pragmatists” in Peking seem to have increasingly reasserted their influence over the conduct of Chinese diplomacy. If this is so, then some probing by the United States would seem justified.

Moreover, the apprehensive tone of the statement on the border dispute, plus other signs that the Chinese have been impressed by the Soviet threats of recent weeks, suggest that concern over the Soviet problem may make them more receptive to US overtures than at any time in the past several years.

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Finally, there is some concrete evidence worth considering. The Norwegian Ambassador has reported on the rather even-handed Chinese discussion of relations with the US which he had with a Chinese foreign ministry official recently.4 And the new French Ambassador in talking with Chou En-lai gained the impression that Chou was generally more dispassionate in discussing the US.5 For example, he did not reject the idea of resuming talks, but commented that the “situation was complicated”, apparently referring to the situation in Peking. On the Sino-Soviet border he charged that our attitude was “ambiguous,” but went on to say that America thought nothing good would come from war between China and the USSR.

All of the above seems to suggest an exploratory American overture. Such an overture could be designed to accomplish two purposes:

To establish our interest in resuming a dialogue, in Warsaw or elsewhere.
to lay out for the Chinese our position on Asian policy as expressed by the President during his trip, with special emphasis on Vietnam.

There are several points which could be made to the Chinese:

  • —we could officially call their attention to the changes in our import control and passport regulations;6
  • —we could call to their attention the reduction or removal of the destroyer patrol in the Taiwan Straits;7
  • —we could call to their attention the statement by Elliot Richardson on the Sino-Soviet problem, and expand somewhat on the theme of our position of non-collaboration with the Soviets;8
  • —we could note the formulation quoted above, on “normal relations” despite differences of principle, and inquire whether this could apply in our relationship;
  • —finally we could expand on the strategic implications for Peking of the President’s Vietnam policy:9
    we are not threatening China; indeed we are trying to end the war and are withdrawing troops from both Vietnam and Thailand;
    we have not sought to take advantage of Chinese problems on the Soviet border;
    that peace in Southeast Asia would open up new possibilities in our relations with Peking, along the lines of the President’s backgrounder in Guam, etc.10

We should not expect much of a response on the official level but the situation inside China has probably evolved to the extent that the message will be read and understood. It might lead to nothing at first. But it is the one avenue of diplomacy connected to Vietnam which has been blocked. It is certainly worth probing to see if that avenue is now opening up.


That you discuss this with Richardson at your next meeting and suggest State work up a proposal for your early consideration.



See Me

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 518, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. I. Secret. Sent for action. Concurred in by Hyland. A notation on the memorandum indicates Kissinger saw it on October 10.
  2. The Five Principles were “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.” (Beijing Review, October 16, 1970, p. 13) These ideas were first articulated by Foreign Minister Chou En-lai at the 1955 Bandung Conference.
  3. See Document 6.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 123.
  5. Telegram 14940 from Paris, September 30, reported on meetings between French Ambassador to the PRC Chou En-lai that took place on September 25. French Ambassador Charles Ernest Lucet met with Irwin to give further details on the talks, which were reported in telegram 169976 to Paris, October 7. (Both telegrams are in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 519, Country Files, China, Vol. III)
  6. See Documents 14 and 35.
  7. See Document 34.
  8. In a September 5 speech before the American Political Science Association (APSA) in New York, Richardson remarked: “In the case of Communist China, long run improvement in our relations is in our own national interest. We do not seek to exploit for our own advantage the hostility between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic. Ideological differences between the two Communist giants are not our affair. We could not fail to be deeply concerned, however, with an escalation of this quarrel into a massive breach of international peace and security.” He also emphasized that the United States would seek agreements with the Soviets and attempt “to bring Communist China out of its angry, alienated shell.” The full text is in Department of State Bulletin, September 22, 1969, pp. 257–260.
  9. The President read his September 24 daily briefing memorandum, which contained a report on Lodge’s conversation with Frenchman Jean Sainteny, who had recently returned from Hanoi. Sainteny believed that the PRC was key to the Vietnam conflict, because it was using its economic aid to pressure Hanoi to continue fighting. Nixon added a handwritten note: “K—important? Peking may still be holding the Soviet’s feet to the fire.” (Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, September 24; National Archives. Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 11, President’s Daily Briefs)
  10. Reference is to the President’s July 25 remarks at Guam, during which he outlined what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 544–556. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. I, Document 29.
  11. There is no indication of approval or disapproval of the recommendations, but Kissinger did meet with Richardson on October 11 to discuss easing passport restrictions to China, North Korea, and North Vietnam. In briefing Kissinger for that discussion. Haig also noted, “The President has authorized you to ask State to prepare instructions to the field setting forth guidance for deploring reports on a Soviet plan to make a preemptive military strike against Communist China.” (Memorandum from Haig to Kissinger, October 11; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Subject Files, Box 337, HAK/Richardson Meetings, May 1969–December 1969)