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75. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Sino-Soviet Relations

You have expressed concern over a news report of April 42 to the effect that the Chinese Communists and the Soviet Union may have [Page 195]accomplished a mutual pull-back of their troops from each side of the disputed border, and you have asked me to comment on the implications of this report with respect to Sino-Soviet relations, the effects on Hanoi and the possible effects on our current strategy with respect to Communist China.

Sino-Soviet Relations

Several sources have confirmed that there has been an agreement to pull back some forces from disputed border areas. The withdrawals have been only a few kilometers and not all along the border. It is also confirmed that the Soviets will send a new Ambassador to Peking, and the Chinese will name their Ambassador later.

Both sides seem to have made some concessions. The Soviets originally proposed last year to exchange Ambassadors as part of a general improvement in relations, which they linked to a general settlement of the border. The Chinese initially refused to accept this approach and insisted as a precondition that the Soviets withdraw from disputed areas.

It may be that each saw some advantage in demonstrating that the talks in Peking were not hopelessly bogged down or about to break off.

The appearance of a slight improvement in relations with Peking would be tactically helpful to the Soviets as they continue their negotiations with Brandt, at a time when the SALT talks resume, and as negotiations continue over the Middle East and they are involving themselves more in the defense of the UAR. Some easing of their Eastern border problems would be designed to confound many in the West who have counted heavily on this problem as either a limiting factor on Soviet freedom of action or as inducing the Soviets to make concessions for the sake of détente with the West.

The Chinese themselves would probably welcome a respite to enable them to devote more of their attention to recovering from the Cultural Revolution. But neither side will be prepared to give up any fundamental positions, and the mutual antipathies will continue. We know from sensitive intelligence sources that the Soviets are extremely suspicious of the Chinese policies and intentions, and the Chinese have made it very evident that they have no use for the “new Tsars”, as they now call the Soviets. The Chinese, too, will realize that a pull back of Soviet troops from the border areas still leaves very substantial Soviet forces near enough to China to strike on short notice. The Chinese remain on guard, and in point of fact are still continuing their anti- Soviet propaganda.

Effects on Hanoi

Hanoi, which we know from intelligence reports was greatly worried by the Sino-Soviet confrontation, will be relieved by these latest [Page 196]developments.3 Their fears that the Sino-Soviet conflict would lead to a loss of Soviet overland supplies may be eased somewhat. And Hanoi may be less concerned over possible opportunities to exploit the Sino- Soviet competition. Hanoi might therefore judge that its strategy of “protracted struggle” can be continued without undue interruption, and the pressures on it to negotiate may diminish as a result.

This does not mean, though, that Hanoi will be operating without constraints. For example, one of the major limiting factors on its ability to sustain the war is military manpower, and neither the Soviets nor the Chinese are in a position to fill Hanoi’s needs. (The Chinese could, of course, return their logistic support units to North Vietnam, but this would help only peripherally. And, too, Hanoi presumably will need to pay for at least some of the aid which it is receiving from the USSR and China. Basically Hanoi’s decision on whether or not to follow a “protracted struggle” strategy will depend more on the situation in the South, as well as on Hanoi’s manpower losses, than on a guarantee of Soviet aid through China.

Effects on US Strategy Toward China

I doubt that these latest developments portend any fundamental relief in the Sino-Soviet conflict. Thus no significant change in our strategy toward Communist China is likely to be required. The Chinese will probably still wish to continue to develop the contact with us as a counterweight to the Soviets. There also seems to be some interest on their part in opening up trade with us. They may, however, believe that there is less urgency in moving ahead with higher level talks in Peking,4 and we may find that the fairly rapid pace which developed in our contacts with the Chinese at Warsaw since December 1969 will slow down. In this respect, we are still awaiting a reply from Peking on the date of the next Warsaw meeting. They responded to our bid for talks on April 1–3 by proposing April 15, and we have counter-proposed April 30 or any date thereafter.5

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Memoranda of Conversations, Feb. 1969–Sept. 1971, Box CL 278. Secret. Sent for information.
  2. Not found.
  3. Nixon underlined this sentence and wrote in the margin: “the most significant by product.”
  4. Nixon circled the words “with higher level talks in Peking” and wrote: “Let us see that State does not drag its feet on this.”
  5. See Document 80.