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


  • Mao Tse-tung Statement on U.S. Action in Cambodia

Mao on May 20 issued a statement concerning U.S. actions in Cambodia (Tab A).2 These statements appear occasionally, and usually concern the U.S. The last one concerned the negro struggle in America, in 1968.

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The statement is full of sounding phrases such as “U.S. Imperialism, which looks like a huge monster, is in essence a paper tiger, now in the throes of its death-bed struggle.” In substance, however, it is remarkably bland. It offers only “warm support” to the three peoples of Indo-China, without even the usual phrases about China being a “rear area” for the struggle. It hammers home the thesis that a small nation can defeat a large one, which must seem cold comfort in Hanoi. It makes no threats, offers no commitments, is not personally abusive toward you, and avoids positions on contentious bilateral issues.

Tactically, Mao’s statement serves several purposes:

  • —It makes propaganda capital of your action in Cambodia.
  • —It adds Mao’s personal prestige to Chinese support for Sihanouk.
  • —It embarrasses the Soviets by noting pointedly that twenty (other) countries have recognized Sihanouk.

One may wonder why Mao put his prestige on the line for such a vapid undertaking. No answer to this question is completely satisfactory, but it would seem that the Mao mystique is somehow involved. I think (though some analysts would disagree) that Mao really does write these. He is an old man, and obsessed with his place in history. In this, and in earlier such pronouncements, he is highlighting what he sees as salient developments in the death throes of the American system—and he wants history to see that he correctly diagnosed the process. He predicts in the article that the “American people” will eventually rise against “fascist rule.” He probably does see the Cambodian exercise as a paroxysm of a dying imperialism, as he sees the negro struggle as a sign of internal decay.

In addition, Mao may have had a particular tactical issue in mind. The top Hanoi leadership is presently engaged in deliberations over policy, and by identifying his personal prestige with maintenance of a “protracted people’s war,” Mao may calculate that he can help to check any inclinations among the Hanoi leaders to seek a political settlement. A related matter would, of course, be that Mao senses such an inclination actually exists. A hint of this is contained in Mao’s assertion that: “Strengthening their unity, supporting each other and persevering in a protracted people’s war, the three Indo-Chinese peoples will certainly overcome all difficulties and win complete victory.” This sounds like an argument directed against elements who might wish to take another course.

CIA and State analysts have come to similar preliminary readings of the Mao statement, without touching on the surmise sketched out as to Mao’s personal vision or on the implications regarding a political settlement. A CIA analysis is at Tab B.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 520, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. IV. Confidential. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. A May 20 covering memorandum indicates that Holdrige prepared the memorandum.
  2. Attached but not printed is the 2-page translation of a May 20 New China News Agency report.
  3. Attached but not printed is an undated 1-page CIA analysis of Mao’s statement.