[Page 197]

76. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • United States Relations with the Republic of China


  • United States
  • The President
  • Ambassador Walter P. McConaughy
  • Donald M. Anderson, Department of State
  • Republic of China
  • Vice Premier Chiang Ching-Kuo
  • Shen Chien-hung, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Ambassador Chow Shu-kai

The President greeted the Vice Premier and noted that this was the first meeting that they had had since the Vice Premier was in Washington for the funeral of President Eisenhower. The Vice Premier expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to discuss mutual problems between the United States and the Republic of China. He presented a letter to the President from President Chiang Kai-shek and said that President Chiang had asked him to convey his thoughts on several matters of mutual interest.2 He then presented President Chiang’s views, using prepared notes. This presentation is summarized under the next five headings.

International Situation and the Nixon Doctrine

The Vice Premier stated that President Chiang feels the present international situation is in a state of change and that the way in which [Page 198]we handle the complicated situation at present will be very important in determining the shape of future developments. President Chiang, the Vice Premier said, is well aware of the President’s domestic difficulties and the problems he faces with U.S. public opinion, and he sympathizes with the President’s heavy burden. President Chiang fully supports the President’s new Asia policy and the Nixon Doctrine. The important question concerning the new Asia policy is one of implementation. This will be particularly important in shaping the Asian peoples’ reaction to it and will largely determine its success. The Republic of China is prepared to cooperate closely with the United States in the implementation of this policy, and as part of this cooperation, the Vice Premier assured the President that the Republic of China will not use armed force against the mainland, even on a small scale, but instead will use political means to attain its goals.

Security of Taiwan

The Vice Premier noted that, with the problems of Cambodia, Viet- Nam and Laos, there is relatively little attention currently being given to Taiwan. This, he said, is largely because the situation on Taiwan is stable. Nevertheless, Taiwan remains the center of the problems in Asia, and the security of Taiwan is closely connected with the security of the United States. The Vice Premier noted that, while in other countries, the Chinese Communists rely primarily on political infiltration, providing arms and assistance to dissident elements, in the case of Taiwan the Chinese Communists will use military force, most likely a surprise attack. The Republic of China recently acquired a publication limited to Chinese Communist cadres which spelled out Chinese Communist strategic thinking. It clearly indicated that they are planning an attack similar to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the main difference being that it will be followed up with a landing of troops. The Vice Premier stated that the United States and the Republic of China should make a joint effort to determine effective means of coping with this threat. A second very important factor, he said, was the impact of U.S. foreign policy on the situation and the effect that it would have on the morale of governments in the Far East.

Mainland Situation

Turning to the situation on the mainland, the Vice Premier noted that the Chinese Communists face difficult problems. They are confronted with the problem of Sino-Soviet relations, divisive forces internally and a crisis in their economy. Their main concern at present, then, is how to surmount these difficulties. A standard Communist tactic when they are cornered is to make use of others, so they have agreed to resume the talks with the United States in Warsaw. They have adopted this tactic for a number of reasons. It helps them in their conflict with Moscow; it is a psychological warfare device to alienate the United States and the Republic of China; and it is useful in lowering [Page 199]the prestige of the United States in Asia. The Vice Premier noted that if the Chinese Communists are given an inch they will ask for a foot. As an example, he noted that the Republic of China had recently acquired intelligence in Hong Kong indicating that the Chinese Communists may propose a change in venue for the Warsaw talks, perhaps even seeking to move them to Peking.3 Finally, the Vice Premier noted that President Chiang is concerned that the Warsaw talks might arouse the Soviet Union to take action against China.

Sino-Soviet Relations

The Vice Premier discussed Sino-Soviet relations, saying that President Chiang is convinced there can be no rapprochement between the two. He does not feel, however, that the Soviets are planning the use of regular military forces against the Chinese Communists. The Vice Premier noted that Kuznetsov’s protracted stay in Peking has two implications: 1) as a symbol of Soviet presence and a potential rallying point for pro-Soviet elements in the Chinese Communist hierarchy; and 2) as a means of collecting intelligence and information as part of Moscow’s efforts to bring about a pro-Soviet regime in China. President Chiang believes that Moscow is currently thinking of new means to control any future leadership of Communist China. The methods they used with Mao were a failure.

The United States should be thinking about the adverse implications of a Soviet controlled mainland. President Chiang believes that the Mao regime will eventually collapse either as a result of an internal split or due to pressure from the Soviet Union. This will create a new situation, and if the Soviets regain their dominant position, this will be a major problem for the United States in the 1970’s. If the seven hundred million Chinese people are friendly toward the United States there will be peace in Asia. If they are Soviet dominated there will be problems. It is uncertain under what circumstances or how soon the Republic of China will be able to return to the mainland. However, President Chiang, as a friend and ally of the United States, feels that it is of utmost importance that there be a candid exchange of views on what can be done to improve the chances of success. The seven hundred million Chinese people will be friends of the United States only when they have a peace-loving government.

[Page 200]

Collective Security in Asia

The Vice Premier raised the subject of collective security in Asia, noting that the Republic of China, South Viet-Nam, South Korea and Thailand are like-minded countries and all face a Communist threat. He said that he felt it was important that these governments should coordinate their efforts and that the United States had a major role to play. President Chiang, however, feels that the time is not right for a formal arrangement between these states and that it would be preferable to take other practical measures currently to improve the security of the area.

U.S. Policy and the Warsaw Talks

The President responded that he was glad to have the views of President Chiang and the Vice Premier. Concerning the Nixon Doctrine, the President said that its purpose is not the withdrawal of the United States from Asia. The U.S. will continue to play a role there. A second aspect of the Nixon Doctrine, and one which is sometimes too little emphasized, is that the United States wants to help others help themselves. He recognized that the application of the Doctrine might call for more, not less, military assistance to our allies, although the attitude of the Congress might make it difficult to do all that we would like to do. The Republic of China is an outstanding example of success in Asia, the President said, with a self-sustaining economy and a strong military. The other aspect of U.S. policy is that we will stand firmly by our allies, particularly the Republic of China. Under no circumstances will we abandon this commitment. The President described the Warsaw talks as only exploratory in nature and said they in no way compromise our loyalty to the Republic of China. The Warsaw talks, he said, do not encompass our relations with the Republic of China. What will come out of these talks, if anything, we do not know, but the President assured the Vice Premier that it is not U.S. policy to let down its friends. He said that we will continue to oppose admission of Communist China to the United Nations.4

The President expressed his appreciation for President Chiang’s understanding of the domestic problems involved in such questions as military assistance. We have difficulties in getting sufficient funds from Congress for some purposes, he said, but we will continue to the extent we can to meet those requests which are in our mutual interest.

[Page 201]

Turning to the question of the Chinese Communist threat to Taiwan, the President noted that we have faced this problem before, as in 1958 especially, and that our position has not changed. We will continue to stand by our commitments. The President expressed his appreciation for President Chiang’s assurances of support for United States policies and for his far-sighted views on the vital importance of the seven hundred million Chinese people to the future of Asia. He agreed that for the Chinese people to be dominated by the Soviet Union would be undesirable and that our forthcoming policies will have a profound effect in the area over the next twenty-five years and longer. What we want to do, the President said, is use our influence to shape those developments.

The President concluded by noting that the Vice Premier would be discussing many of these problems in detail with Secretaries Rogers and Laird, and that the most important thing required from him as President was a reaffirmation of our friendship and support. He noted that he has been a friend of the Republic of China for the past twenty- three years, ever since he first entered Congress, and that he had visited the Republic of China on six occasions. The strength and vitality on Taiwan is a credit to the Chinese people. Finally, the President noted that although this is a difficult period in Southeast Asia, we are keenly aware of the importance of a strong, free Republic of China.

Military Assistance

The Vice Premier replied that the Chinese people look on the President as a staunch friend and that other free Asian peoples feel the same. He noted that on his departure from Taiwan he had been asked if he would seek more modern weapons. He did not intend to ask for more weapons, he said, but he did want to stress the importance of mutual security and the necessity for joint efforts in this regard. The Vice Premier noted that he did have one new thought on this subject that he would like to mention. It is time, he said, for a serious study of the efficacy of the present defense system on Taiwan. He said he hoped that a joint high level study of this problem could be arranged at an early date. After mentioning the recent force reductions in the army on Taiwan, both the President and the Vice Premier agreed that it is quality and not the size of the army that is important.

Concluding Remarks

In response to the President’s question concerning the possibility of a Sino-Soviet détente, the Vice Premier reiterated his belief that it is impossible. Neither side is willing to make concessions, he said. The Soviet leadership could not survive an abandonment of their position, and for Mao to yield to the Soviets would be disastrous for him. There are anti-Mao elements in China, but all find it necessary to oppose the [Page 202]Soviet Union to some degree. Finally, the Vice Premier noted that Mao is finding it difficult to maintain his control, particularly of the military. He referred to a current slogan on the mainland opposing “mountain-topism” which, he said clearly refers to the old problem of warlordism. The problem of control will become more serious when Mao dies, he said, because Communism is alien to the people of China.

The President and the Vice Premier were joined at about 7:35 by Dr. Kissinger, and at about 7:50 by the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense. The President’s assurances to the Vice Premier as to the steadfastness of U.S. policy toward the Republic of China were reiterated after the arrival of these officials.

At 8:00 the meeting was adjourned to go down to dinner.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 520, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. IV. Secret; Nodis. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held from 7:05 to 8:05 p.m. prior to a White House State Dinner. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The memorandum of conversation was drafted by Anderson, who also served as an interpreter for the Warsaw talks. Kissinger approved it on May 14. The Vice Premier was in the United States April 18–28, and in Washington April 20–24. Chiang Ching-Kuo’s schedule is ibid., NSC Files, Box 913, VIP Visits, Vol. II Visit of Vice Premier Chiang Ching-Kuo of China, April 21–23, 1970. He met with Rogers, Green, McConaughy, and other Department of State officials on April 21. Records of these meetings are ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL CHINATUS. According to an April 16 memorandum from Rogers to the President, Chiang was scheduled to meet on April 22 with Laird, McCracken, and Schlesinger, Acting Director of BOB. A memorandum of conversation of Chiang’s meeting with McCracken and Schlesinger is ibid., POL 7 CHINAT. For his meeting with Laird, see Document 78.
  2. The 1-page April 17 letter from Chiang Kai-shek to Nixon is in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 751, Presidential Correspondence File, President Chiang Kai-shek.
  3. In a May 1 memorandum to Kissinger, Holdridge suggested that Chiang “is trying to tip us off that the GRC has intelligence contacts with the Chinese Communists. This is probably intended to remind us that we should not take the GRC for granted. From the Communists’ standpoint, this intelligence by-play is a useful reminder that the Communists’ immediate tactical objective in the present talks is probably to see if they can slip a blade in between us and the GRC. (The broader purpose of course is probably related to the Sino-Soviet relationship.)” (Ibid., Box 913, VIP Visits, Vol. II Visit of Vice Premier Chiang Ching-Kuo of China, April 21–23, 1970)
  4. In his May 1 memorandum to Kissinger, Holdridge wrote: “This is a natural formula to use in a meeting such as this, but it is somewhat different from the usual position that we will continue to oppose the eviction of the GRC.” (Ibid.) A Chinese record of this conversation, as well as of Chiang’s meeting with Kissinger on April 22, is in James C. H. Shen, The U.S. and Free China: How the U.S. Sold Out Its Ally (Washington D.C.: Acropolis Books Ltd., 1983), pp. 47–52. Shen served as a translator on Chiang’s visit and became Ambassador to the United States in May 1971.