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77. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Kissinger
  • John H. Holdridge, NSC Senior Staff Member
  • William Codus, Office of Protocol, Department of State
  • Chiang Ching-Kuo, Vice Premier, Republic of China
  • James Shen, Vice Foreign Minister, Republic of China
  • Ambassador Chow Shu-kai

SUBJECT

  • GRC Vice Premier’s Conversation with Dr. Kissinger

The Vice Premier said he was glad to be received by Dr. Kissinger at a time when he, Dr. Kissinger, was so busy. Dr. Kissinger said he had been looking forward to seeing the Vice Premier. An NSC meeting on Cambodia was being held, so he had been obliged to cancel all of his afternoon appointments. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see the Vice Premier briefly. Dr. Kissinger mentioned that he knew Ambassador Chow very well, and regarded him as a very effective representative.

[Page 203]

The Vice Premier declared that he wanted to express his sincere appreciation for what Dr. Kissinger was doing in providing an important link between our two countries. He had been very pleased to be able to meet with US leaders from the President on down, and found his discussions with them most rewarding. Dr. Kissinger commented that the President had been most impressed by his meeting with the Vice Premier and had said that there was no substitute for face-to-face contacts of this nature. The Vice Premier agreed that there was no better way to get ideas across than to have views exchanged. He liked to think that the relations between our two countries were not of an ordinary sort, since they had been in existence for a long time. It was in this light that he approached the opportunity to have a few days here and engage in face-to-face discussions.

Dr. Kissinger declared that we believe very strongly in standing by our friends. Sometimes we engaged in tactical moves which looked confusing, but we knew how to separate strategy and tactics. A newsman had said to him the other day that he had finally worked out the President’s approach—the President was always four moves ahead of the game. His reply had been that the newsman was half right, and that the first thing to figure out was what game the President was playing.

The Vice Premier said that his President had known the President for more than twenty years, and liked to think that he understood him and knew what he thought. Dr. Kissinger remarked that he had worked with the President since he had assumed office, had seen him make big decisions, and had always seen him make the big choice. He had always supported his friends, and had never yielded to the Communists on any issue. Speaking frankly, we would go through lots of maneuvering before we acted because there was no sense in tipping our hand. In this respect, the North Vietnamese offensive on Laos hadn’t stopped because we were using kind words. Dr. Kissinger added that the President is not good for the nerves of some of his subordinates in the bureaucracy, who are of a more cautious frame of mind.

The Vice Premier said he would like to know the consensus in the Administration on Cambodia—is this part of the whole Communist strategy (which would include Laos), or an issue by itself? Dr. Kissinger said, first, that our Administration policy with respect to the bureaucracy was to “let 100 flowers bloom” but that our friends should watch what we do and not what they in the bureaucracy say. Continuing, he explained that we looked at Cambodia as part of the entire Indo-China problem and of the total Communist movement there. He added that if they thought they could move in Cambodia for nothing, they would know better soon.

The Vice Premier said that the Chinese hoped that the new government in Phnom Penh could hold out, but were apprehensive that [Page 204]the North Vietnamese would not stop where they were and would try to put Sihanouk back in power. Dr. Kissinger agreed that they would try, and remarked that we couldn’t be too optimistic. The Cambodian army did not have2 the same quality as the Laotian army, and had not yet distinguished itself in combat. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had once said that the only people who could fight in Asia were the Chinese or the people under Chinese cultural influence. The Cambodians were definitely not the latter. We couldn’t guarantee the outcome but would do what we could. The Communists would not have a free ride. They had had more problems with us than with our predecessors. We didn’t talk so much and would not ignore events in Cambodia, which we did not consider a separate war. He hoped that the Cambodians could hold out for a few more weeks. He asked what the Vice Premier thought.

The Vice Premier agreed that Cambodia was not an isolated case but part of the whole Indo-China question. The Chinese felt the same with respect to Laos. Their intelligence indicated that the Chinese Communists were intensifying a training program for Cambodian and Lao cadres in Kunming, which is right on the border. Dr. Kissinger noted that the Chinese Communists had also given strong support to Sihanouk. The Vice Premier went on to say that he doubted they would use their own forces in the situation.

Dr. Kissinger asked the Vice Premier for his estimate of the quality of the Chinese Communist army. In response, the Vice Premier said that there had not been much change in the combat quality of the ground forces, but there had been noteworthy improvements in the capability of the air force and the navy. Army morale accounted for 50% of the Communist capability under fire in the past, but he knew for a fact that this morale was now not what it had been. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the fact that they were stronger in the air and on the sea. He surmised that the emphasis in the training being given Cambodians and Lao in Kunming was on guerrilla warfare.

The Vice President then asked Dr. Kissinger for his estimate of the significance of Chou En-lai’s visit to Pyongyang. Dr. Kissinger replied that he didn’t have a clear opinion on this. The Chinese Communists were trying to mend relations with many neighbors, and to prevent excessive Soviet influence, but he felt that the Vice Premier’s views would be more interesting than his own.

The Vice Premier said that there was one theory to the effect that North Korea had come to resent the tight control which the Soviets had exercised in restraining North Korean adventures against South Korea [Page 205]which might involve the Soviets themselves. This resentment had reached such proportions as to make it desirable for North Korea to break away a bit and to establish closer relations with Peking instead. Dr. Kissinger observed that the North Koreans would be in tough shape if they attacked—they could not count on making a move against the US again and getting away with it.

The Vice Premier wondered if the Chinese Communists’ purpose was to keep the US busy on more than one front at a time by keeping up the pressures on Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam. Dr. Kissinger thought that this might be true. There was something odd, he said, about a situation where the greatest country in the world had to worry about what a whole lot of fifth rate countries were doing to us. It would be unwise, though, for the Communists to hit us again. This President had a great advantage over his predecessors in that there were 13 million votes on the right which he had not yet tapped, and it would be dangerous to push us too hard. We engaged in a lot of tactics because we didn’t believe in taking part in needless domestic battles which might involve our political capital, but we would spend this capital when necessary. This President didn’t get where he is today by yielding. There were many members of the bureaucracy who didn’t realize this point.

The Vice Premier said that he appreciated the fact that Dr. Kissinger was very busy, and would not take up any more of his time. He simply wanted to make one last remark—people often tended to apply normal standards in assessing Mao Tse-tung and Mao’s thoughts and actions. This was a mistake. Mao was not a normal man, and his reflexes didn’t operate in ways in which they might be expected to operate. Dr. Kissinger agreed that it would be a mistake to analyze other countries on the basis of our standards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 913, VIP Visits, Vol. I Visit of Vice Premier Chiang Ching-Kuo of China, April 21–23, 1970. Secret; Sensitive. According to a covering memorandum drafted by Holdridge, Kissinger approved this memorandum of conversation on June 2. It was to have “in-house distribution only.”
  2. Kissinger corrected this sentence, changing “did not have” to “had.”