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


  • Message from President Yahya on China

Ambassador Hilaly came to me yesterday with the contents of a letter he had received from President Yahya containing his assessment of the current state of Communist China’s thinking about U.S.-Chinese relations.2 The Ambassador said President Yahya’s letter contained no explanation of what further contacts with the Chinese, if any, this assessment might be based on.

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If this is a message from the Chinese—and I assume it is—its significance seems to be:

that they are telling us they no longer see the Vietnam war as a problem between us and
that they are no longer concerned about the U.S. and USSR seeking a condominium in Asia.

Specifically, President Yahya’s statement as read by Ambassador Hilaly ran as follows:

“The initiatives taken by the U.S. have encouraged the Chinese. It also seems to be their assessment now that there is no U.S.-Soviet collusion on matters of concern to China. They would, however, be very sensitive if the U.S. were to show its belief that their willingness to conduct a meaningful dialogue with the U.S. is a sign of Chinese weakness or of fear of U.S.-Soviet collaboration against China. For the U.S. to proceed from such a basis might jeopardize future negotiations.3

“In any case, the Chinese response to U.S. initiatives is likely to be in very measured and cautious steps. But China does seem inclined toward a meaningful dialogue concerning all issues which divide the two countries.

“It should be anticipated that negotiations will be hard and difficult. A lot will be said for the purpose of the record but given trust, the problems between the two could be solved by peaceful negotiations.

“The possibility of expansion of the Vietnam war is seen as having lessened. A war between China and the U.S. is seen now as a very remote possibility.”

I told Ambassador Hilaly that we would appreciate it if President Yahya would explain two things to the Chinese:

We do not control the press. Any attempt by us to control press speculation on this subject would create even more speculation. The White House will scrupulously avoid any reflections along the lines of those described in President Yahya’s communication.
When matters are in formal diplomatic channels, it is not so easy for us to maintain total discretion because too many people see what is happening. We would therefore be prepared to open a direct White House channel to Peking which would not be known outside the White House and on which we could guarantee total security.4

At the conclusion of our conversation I told Ambassador Hilaly that the communication from President Yahya was consistent with what had happened in the Warsaw Talks so far. I also asked him to tell President Yahya that you very much appreciate his role in this matter.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 520, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. IV. Secret; Nodis. The handwritten date on this copy, February 27, 1970, is apparently incorrect, as Kissinger noted in his memoirs that he met with Hilaly on February 22 (see footnote 2 below). Another copy of this memorandum, without Nixon’s handwritten comments but dated February 23, is in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1032, Files for the President—China Material, Cookies II, [Chronology of Exchanges with the PRC, February 1969–April 1971]. “Cookies II” was a collection of materials documenting contact with the PRC up to the time of Kissinger’s trip in July 1971. This copy also bears the notation “Handcarried to Gen. Haig. No cover memo.”
  2. No record of this meeting was found. Kissinger wrote in his memoirs: “On February 22, we received a communication from Pakistani Ambassador Hilaly that his President, Yahya Khan, believed our initiatives had encouraged the Chinese.” (White House Years, p. 689)
  3. Nixon wrote in the margin next to this paragraph: “Very important to have in mind.”
  4. Nixon bracketed these numbered paragraphs and wrote in the margin: “good.”