6. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • U.S. Policy Toward Peking and Instructions for the February 20 Warsaw Meeting

The Secretary of State has sent you a recommended position and proposed instructions for the February 20 Warsaw meeting with the Chinese Communists.2 I have edited these instructions slightly to remove polemics and in one case to eliminate an implication that we might be prepared to remove our presence from Formosa. The instructions cover a number of continuing problems with Peking, such as the question of Americans held prisoner by the Communists and our desire for an understanding with Peking on assistance and return of astronauts. They also cover a broad range of contingencies that might arise during the Warsaw talks.

The principal issue facing us is the basic posture we should adopt at Warsaw. The attached memorandum (Tab A) discusses the four broad options open to us. As edited, the State Department instructions (Tab B) fall basically within the third option, namely to indicate our willingness to enter into serious negotiations with Peking, make proposals on scientific exchanges, and invite specific proposals from the Chinese.3

Right now, the third option has several advantages: (1) it would cause less concern to the Republic of China, presently very sensitive because Canada and Italy are moving to recognition of Peking; (2) it [Page 11] would reduce the risk that other countries might misinterpret any initiative on our part as marking a fundamental change in China policy in response to, or in connection with, Canadian recognition of Peking; and (3) it avoids prejudging U.S. China policy before the National Security Council undertakes its full dress review in late March.


That you approve the instructions at Tab B.




Tab A5

Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon


  • Warsaw Talks


On November 15, the U.S. proposed deferring the next Warsaw meeting until next February after being unable to obtain any answer from the Chinese Communists on their intentions with respect to the scheduled November 20 meeting. The Chinese responded on November 25, much more promptly than usual, with a letter and subsequent press release proposing the talks for February 20. In contrast to communications over recent years, the Chinese reply was less abusive and revived an old Chinese proposal for a joint declaration of adherence to the Bandung Conference five principles of “peaceful co-existence.” This proposal was loosely linked to the usual Chinese Communist demand for U.S. military withdrawal from Taiwan. There have been other [Page 12] indications of a Chinese interest in returning to a “softer foreign policy” emphasizing state relations rather than being revolution-oriented. While there is no evidence Peking is seeking a détente with us, it is clear that Peking wishes to resume some form of dialogue with us at Warsaw.

Speculation as to possible Chinese Communist motivations focusses on five possibilities:

Internal difficulties, which continue, may increase the desire for an easing of external relations;
The continuing Paris peace talks coupled with the declining military fortunes of the North Vietnamese;
As a reaction to increased Sino-Soviet tensions;
As an effort to explore the views of the new Administration of President Nixon;
As an effort to probe for softness in U.S. positions, particularly in our relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan.

An additional factor to take into account is that there may be divided counsel in Peking on relations with the United States—although there is no evidence of a fundamental shift of attitude towards the U.S. in the Warsaw talks proposals or in subsequent propaganda. At a minimum, we have a retreat from extremist positions taken during the height of the Great Cultural Revolution.

As a first step to test Chinese Communist intentions, we have proposed that the locus of the talks be shifted from a building provided by the Poles to either the U.S. or Chinese Embassy where Soviet/Polish eavesdropping will not be possible. Any serious talks with the Chinese are foreclosed by the present building. The Chinese have rejected this proposal but left the door open for discussion of it at the February 20 Warsaw meeting. In addition, we have been informed that the Chinese Communists will be represented by their Chargé in Poland, in the continued absence of Ambassador Wang. (Almost all Chinese Ambassadors were called back to Peking many months ago for “re-education” during the height of the cultural revolution. They have not been returned.)

U.S. China Policy

In the past, the debate on China policy has focussed on the questions of recognition and UN representation, and U.S. tactics were built around proposals to expand contacts with the mainland. The debate on recognition and UN representation is essentially, in my view, a fruitless exercise given the opposition of both Chinas to any two-China policy—although we will constantly be faced with the problems in preventing an erosion of the Republic of China position. Similarly, efforts to expand contacts with the mainland have brought no response although they have the value of signalling our interest in a broader relationship [Page 13] with Peking. We have one more major play to make in this string—the offer to resume non-strategic trade with the mainland.

The Warsaw talks offer an opportunity to shift the focus of our policy: to seeking a modus vivendi with the Communist Chinese which provides greater stability for East Asia, (a) without abandoning our commitment to Taiwan or undermining its position, or (b) damaging the interests of our Asian allies, principally Japan. More specifically, our policy would be directed towards seeking specific, self-enforceable arrangements with Peking which give some substance, and not lip service, to “peaceful co-existence.”

Alternative U.S. Positions at Warsaw

At Warsaw, four broad options are open to us.

Option 1

At the one extreme, we could indicate that we are prepared to negotiate a normalization of relations with Peking based on an agreement for peaceful relations between the U.S. and Communist China and noninterference in the affairs of other countries. The proposal might be sweetened by an offer to resume non-strategic trade. The Chinese Communists would, however, be informed that our proposal is without prejudice to our relations with and commitment to the Republic of China. This approach, explicitly emphasizing normalization, would represent a basic change in U.S. policy—although we have been implicitly moving in this direction.


A normalization of relations on this basis, accepted by Peking, would accomplish a shift in relations with the U.S. from an ideological confrontation to state relations and a shift in Peking’s policy away from political warfare directed against other Asian and less developed nations.
The proposal, even if not accepted, would encourage elements within the Peking leadership who may be arguing that the U.S. is not a hostile force and that serious efforts should therefore be made to reach an understanding with it.


If not preceded by a probing of the mainland position, the Chinese Communists might interpret the proposal as “softness” on our part.
The proposal, even if not accepted, could cause a crisis of confidence in Taiwan and seriously upset the Japanese Government which is trying to hold the line against both conservative and left-wing pressures for a more conciliatory policy towards Peking.
The proposal is likely to lead Japan and other countries to try to get out in front of the U.S., with some countries quickly recognizing Communist China and others moving to change their position on UN representation.

To sum up: Given the low probability of an affirmative Peking response, this alternative involves considerable risks without prospect of immediate gains.

Option 2

The U.S. could indicate that we are prepared to enter into serious discussions or negotiations with respect to our policies with the exception of our commitment to Taiwan. This proposal might be combined with a specific offer or hint of our willingness to review our military presence in the Taiwan area if the Chinese renounce the use of force to settle this dispute.


This proposal would represent a move to greater flexibility on our part and a positive invitation to the Chinese Communists. It would also demonstrate that President Nixon’s Administration is prepared to take a more conciliatory approach to Peking in response to the shift in Peking’s line on the Warsaw talks as set forth in its November 25 note.
It would likewise encourage whatever more conciliatory elements may exist within the Peking leadership.
If this approach were not combined with an offer of strong military presence in Taiwan, it would provide time to consider U.S. China policy within the U.S. Government and to consult with other countries on specific steps to implement it.


This approach is likely to leave Japan and other interested Asian countries jittery about a possible change in U.S. policy without eliciting an immediate positive response from Peking.
It may not go far enough to force any serious reconsideration of policy in Peking.
The specific offer on Taiwan would bring a quick and negative response from the Republic of China, already agitated by Canadian and Italian initiatives to recognize Peking. In addition it raises the issue of whether we are prepared to withdraw from our bases in Taiwan given the possibility of negotiations with respect to our Okinawan bases.

Option 3

We could pick up the Chinese reference to peaceful coexistence and ask whether they have any specific proposals to make. We would [Page 15] not, however, take any specific or generalized initiatives beyond indicating our willingness to hear out the Chinese.


This approach would emphasize our interest in developing a stable, peaceful environment in East Asia without committing us to any new actions at this time.
It would cause the least concern with our allies of Asia and in fact would probably be welcome.
It would permit a probe of Peking intentions and emphasize that the monkey is on its back for specific initiatives.


This approach is less likely to elicit a positive response from Peking, either immediately or in the longer term.
It is likely to be construed by Peking and others as a holding action rather than a new initiative on our part.

Option 4

We could take the initiative and clobber the Chinese for past transgressions. This approach would signal a very tough stance and would probably close the door to any meaningful exchanges for some time— assuming that there is any possibility under the present circumstances.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 700, Country Files, Europe, Poland, Vol. I Warsaw Talks up to 1/31/70. Top Secret; Exdis. This memorandum and the options described in Tab A were taken from a February 11 memorandum from Sneider to Kissinger. (Ibid.) In September and November of 1968, the United States proposed renewing ambassadorial talks between the United States and the PRC that had commenced in Geneva in 1955 and moved to Warsaw in 1957. Talks had been suspended since the 134th meeting on January 8, 1968, and U.S. attempts to restart talks during the spring of 1968 had failed. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXX, Documents 311, 331, and 332.
  2. Rogers forwarded the draft instructions for the February 20 meeting under cover of an undated memorandum and a cable written by Kreisberg and Platt (EA/ACA) on February 3. The instructions had been cleared by Bundy, Brown, and Barnett (EA). Rogers’ covering memorandum and its attachments are also attached but not printed. The Department of State copies of these documents are in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 1967–69, POL CHICOMUS.
  3. See footnote 2 above.
  4. President Nixon initialed this option. On February 13 Richard Moose sent a memorandum to the Department of State Executive Secretariat detailing several slight changes to the draft cable. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL CHICOMUS) The instructions were sent on February 15 to Warsaw as telegram 24916. (Ibid.)
  5. Secret.
  6. The PRC cancelled the meeting on February 18, ostensibly due to the defection of Chinese Chargé d’Affaires Liao Ho-shu (Liao Heshu) in the Netherlands on January 24. See “Spokesman of Chinese Foreign Ministry Information Department Issues Statement,” Beijing Review, February 21, 1969, p. 4. The Department of State documentation on Liao’s defection is in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 30 CHICOM. Stoessel reported these developments in telegram 427 from Warsaw, February 18. (Ibid.) Stoessel’s report was forwarded to Nixon in the President’s February 18 daily briefing memorandum. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 2, President’s Daily Briefs) INR attributed the cancellation to PRC internal politics rather than the diplomat’s defection: “We regard Peking’s abrupt decision to postpone the 135th meeting as the latest and most striking evidence of disagreement and indecision at the highest levels of the Chinese leadership.” (INR Intelligence Note 102, February 18; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL CHICOMUS) The CIA had reported that “it is unlikely that there will be any change in Chinese Communist position or softening of attitude toward the United States in the upcoming 20 February Warsaw meeting.” (Intelligence Information Cable TDCS–K–314/01387–69, February 10; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 518, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. I) The United States responded to the cancellation on March 12 with a letter to the PRC Embassy in Warsaw, rejecting claims that the United States “engineered” the defection of Liao, and adding that “I am instructed to inform your Government that the United States Government remains ready at an early date to continue the series of Ambassadorial-level meetings between our two governments, either here in Warsaw or elsewhere at a mutually agreeable location.” (Telegram 37867 to Warsaw, March 12; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL CHICOMUS)