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


  • Communication with the Communist Chinese

As I mentioned to you at the time on the phone, Professor Ernst Winters, a naturalized American working with UNESCO in Paris, and an old acquaintance, called me on May 3 to relay the reaction of personnel in the Communist Chinese Embassy in Paris to your decision on the Cambodian sanctuaries.2 This reaction was obtained on April 30, i.e., before your speech.3 Thus, the Chinese were aware of only South Vietnamese ground operations in Cambodia, not our own.

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On hearing the gist of his information, I asked Professor Winters to come to my office right away. We met at 2:00 p.m. that afternoon for about fifteen minutes.

I asked Professor Winters what had transpired in Paris. He said that on Thursday, April 30, at 11:30 a.m. (i.e., before your speech) one of his contact people with the Chinese, a Frenchman who arranges exchanges between Chinese and French students, called to say that the Chinese wanted to see Professor Winters. He went to the Embassy for a two-hour lunch.

He met with several young low-echelon personnel, such as the chauffeur and a switchboard operator, who are imbued with the cultural revolution and in a sense run the Embassy. The Ambassador and a young man from the Foreign Service were also there but, as usual, were not very articulate. The Chinese immediately asked Professor Winters what he thought of the President’s decisions on Cambodia.

Professor Winters replied that he supposed that the United States thought that its natural interest was at stake and was acting accordingly. The Chinese immediately began to harangue him with invective, a marked departure from their previous polite dealings, and lumped him together with all other Americans. They claimed that the U.S. wished to conquer China, that we were considering preventive war, that we were in collusion with the Soviets in a pincer movement on China, and that our Vietnam withdrawals were a ruse.

Professor Winters was struck by the enormous, un-Chinese intensity of their reaction. Clearly, a nerve had been touched. He took the Chinese reaction in stride and asked how the United States was to know how the Chinese felt without any contact. The Chinese did not allow American visitors and the Warsaw meetings were not really productive.

The Chinese asked Professor Winters who in America they could talk to and trust, the significant groups. In his only intervention, the Foreign Service officer said, “Don’t say the student movement.” Professor Winters replied that the President and his Cabinet were the policy makers and the ones to talk to.

He left the Chinese Embassy very depressed, with a feeling of hopelessness after seven years of cultivating the Chinese. Since he was going to New York that afternoon anyway for a meeting, he thought it would be useful to go to Washington and give me his information in case it fit into our overall strategic mosaic.

I asked Professor Winters whether they would see him, and he replied that they never refused to do so. They did not know that he had been in New York or that he knew me.

I then asked Professor Winters to see the Chinese the next day on May 4 and to tell them that he had seen me, and had put their [Page 210]questions to me. I asked Professor Winters to pass a message to the Chinese along the lines of the attachment at Tab A.4 I told him to contact General Walters as soon as he had seen the Chinese and give him any message from them.

Professor Winters added that he had observed during the past few weeks that the Soviets in UNESCO circles were moving away from the U.S. and that there was a growing Soviet-U.S. tension. Our meeting closed with Professor Winters assuring me that he would act on this the next day and my observing that if the Chinese refused to receive him, this would be an interesting development also.

We have not heard back from Winters or Walters on this subject.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1031, Files for the President—China Material, Material Concerning Preparations for First China Trip by HAK, July 1971. Top Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only. Sent for information. An unsigned May 3 version of this memorandum is ibid., RG 59, S/P Files: Lot 77 D 112, Policy Planning Staff, Director’s Files, Winston Lord Chronology, May 1970.
  2. On May 3 Kissinger informed the President of his conversation with Winters. Kissinger told Nixon that “they [the Chinese] wanted to know if it [the Cambodian invasion] is a highly tactical move or intense campaign. They wanted to know who they should talk to here. What I think we should do is tell them that they can talk to us here and that if they want to they should call General Walters. It has two advantages. One, we can surface it if we want to and two, we can establish a channel which the Dutchman has never brought off. This man said he has never seen them in such a state of agitation. He said they called him in which is unheard of.” The President replied: “That is very interesting and should be explored to the hilt.” (Transcript of a telephone conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, May 3, 1:50 p.m.; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) The transcript of Winters’ telephone conversation with Kissinger, May 3, 1:40 p.m., is ibid.
  3. “Address to the Nation on the Situation in Southeast Asia,” April 30, 1970, in Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 405–410.
  4. The attached message reads in its entirety: “The United States has no aggressive intentions concerning Communist China. On the contrary, we would like to establish regular relations with her, recognizing our differences in ideology. We have no interest in establishing military bases in Vietnam, and we believe that a peace that takes into account everyone’s interests in that area can be achieved. Dr. Kissinger is prepared to talk to a person of stature on the Communist Chinese side if this can be done secretly. The Chinese can reply by getting in touch with Major General Vernon Walters, Senior U.S. Military Attaché, American Embassy, Paris. No one but the President is aware of this message and the Chinese reply should be through General Walters and nobody else.”
  5. Kissinger did not hear again from Winters until late September. Lord relayed Winters’ message to Kissinger, stating: “Assuming you would consider this the least promising of the various Chinese tracks, I have drafted a friendly, nonsubstantive acknowledgment for your signature.” (Memorandum from Lord to Kissinger, October 21; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1033, Files for the President—China Material, Miscellaneous Memoranda Relating to HAK’s Trip to the PRC, July 1971) Winters visited the White House in mid-December but did not see Kissinger. Winters reported that his Chinese contacts in Paris requested the names of “influential” or “establishment” Americans who could be invited to China. Kissinger’s reply, January 6, 1971, was noncommittal. (Memorandum from Jon Howe to Kissinger, December 16, 1970; ibid.)