103. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


  • China’s National People’s Congress Formalizes the Continuity of the PRC’s Recent Policies: But Where is Mao?

Following is an analysis of the results of Peking’s recent National People’s Congress which I thought you might find of interest.

Peking’s long-delayed National People’s Congress was held secretly between January 13 and 17. Prior to the session the Chinese Communist Party convened a three day Central Committee Plenum which gave formal approval to the list of Congress delegates and the basic documentation, and elevated Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing to membership in the Politburo’s Standing Committee and to a Party Vice Chairmanship. Premier Chou En-lai delivered a political report in person to the Congress in which he confirmed continuity of Peking’s foreign and domestic policies of the past several years. As well, senior [Page 651] leaders we have been dealing with since 1971 have, without exception, been reaffirmed in high state positions. Civilian control over the military has been strengthened, and the organization influence of the left wing of the Communist Party has been further attenuated. The one curious note in these proceedings has been the absence of Chairman Mao as a direct participant. His policies, however, are strongly represented in the Congress documents.

Continuity in Key Personnel

The Congress reappointed Chou En-lai as Premier of the State Council. One senses that Chou is now resuming a more active political role after a period of illness. He not only delivered the political report to the Congress but also left his hospital to participate in the funeral of a long-time associate a few days before the leadership meetings began. How much of his old work load Chou will reshoulder remains to be seen. My own guess is that he will continue to delegate much of the day-to-day business to Teng Hsiao-p’ing and other deputies, and increasingly play the role of a Mao—arbiter of key political decisions and above the play of administration and bureaucratic politics.

Yeh Chien-ying was formalized as Minister of Defense, thus confirming Teng Hsiao-p’ing’s hint to me during my November trip that such a development was in the offing. The elderly Yeh represents continuity for Mao’s national defense policy, although his appointment probably is a reflection of continuing problems with the military, from which the Party was unable to draw a younger candidate. The Congress explicitly named Mao as Commander-in-Chief of China’s armed forces, thus reasserting Party control over the military.

Ch’iao Kuan-hua was formalized as Foreign Minister. He was not, however, made a Vice Premier (as was his long-term predecessor Chen Yi). This suggests Ch’iao’s domestic political base remains rather narrow, or that he is somewhat controversial. Mao, for example, has contemptuously referred to the Foreign Minister on several occasions as “Lord Ch’iao”; and Teng Hsiao-p’ing needled him in front of the Fulbright Congressional delegation by referring to himself [Teng] as a “rural bumpkin” and then characterizing Ch’iao as a “foreign bumpkin.”

PRC Liaison Office Chief Huang Chen, who was a delegate to the Third National People’s Congress in 1964, was—for unknown reasons—not a delegate to the present session. Huang left Peking for Washington while the Congress was in session, although he did presumably participate in the Central Committee Plenum which preceded it.

Attenuation of the Political “Left”

The list of Ministerial posts confirmed by the Congress indicates that the left wing of the Chinese Communist Party, which we have hypothesized has been on the political defensive during the past three [Page 652] years (despite their polemicizing in the press), was further attenuated in its organizational influence at the Congress. Mao’s wife Chiang Ch’ing, the young Shanghai leader Wang Hung-wen, and the propagandist Yao Wen-yuan, are noticeable in their absence from posts in the state administration. None of the three were even made members of the permanent presidium of the NPC; and it is difficult to identify newly appointed state officials who represent the Party’s left wing.

Conversely, there are a number of appointments which clearly go against the influence of the left. The Minister of Education, for example, is a professional bureaucrat who was criticized and removed from office during the Cultural Revolution for supporting a “bourgeois” educational line. The left has attempted to repoliticize the Chinese educational system since the summer of 1973, but these efforts have apparently failed. The Secretary-General of the Congress, in addition, is a man who was under attack from the left in 1974 for having allowed the performance of a play in 1973 which was a veiled ridicule of Chiang Ch’ing.

In policy terms, however, there are several areas where compromises with the left appear to have been made. The Revolutionary Committees of the Cultural Revolution era—through which the left and military exercised administrative power—are given permanent status, although they are clearly placed under Party and state control. Similarly, the new state constitution affirms the legitimacy of mass debates via big character posters, which the left used during the Cultural Revolution to attack Party “revisionists.” As well, Chou En-lai—known for being a balancer of political factions—made several verbal bows in the direction of policies supported by Mao’s wife, but these seem unlikely to have a major influence on the otherwise moderate program approved by the Congress.

Implications for the Succession

We have assumed for some time that the 63 year old Shanghai leader Chang Ch’un-ch’iao—who hosted President Nixon in that city in 1972—is a good bet as one of the more likely leaders for a successor to Party and state leadership after Mao and Chou leave the scene. Chang appears to have eclipsed his younger protégé Wang Hung-wen at the Congress by reading the delegates a report on the new state constitution. (Wang delivered the report on the Party Constitution at the 10th Party Congress in 1973.) Chang appears to be situated in both the Party and state systems as a key “organization man,” positioned to be able to build a national political following over the long run. At the same time, the overall list of ministerial appointments indicates that the generation of leaders in their 50s and 60s has yet to take the reins of national leadership. The Congress returned administration of the state apparatus to men in their 70s who were removed from power during the Cultural Revolution. China remains a gerontocracy.

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The new state constitution does not provide for a chief of state. Thus the post which Mao held concurrently with his position as Party chairman until 1959, has been abolished. This is a victory for Mao in that Lin Piao had tried to gain the post of state chairman in 1970. Mao objected to there even being such a post at that time as a way of undercutting Lin’s efforts to consolidate his power. The fact that the new constitution is consistent with Mao’s view of 1970 can be seen as evidence of the Chairman’s continuing influence, as well as the leading role of the Party over the state bureaucracy.

Continuity of Foreign and National Defense Policies

The Congress documents express support for “Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line in foreign affairs” and assert that “we [Chinese] should ally ourselves with all the forces that can be allied with.” As well, the key Congress documents reaffirm Mao’s national defense policy when they express support for his “principle” of “dig tunnels deep, store grain everywhere, and never seek hegemony.”

At the same time, the Congress communiqué calls on China to ally with the Third World and to support the Second World in their struggle against “superpower control, threats, and bullying.” The document also asserts that “the contention for world hegemony between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, is becoming more and more intense. The factors for both revolution and war are increasing. The peoples of all countries must get prepared against a world war.”

Chou En-lai’s political report makes it clear that the Soviet Union remains China’s primary security problem, and that Peking has not relented in its political feud with Moscow, which he predicted will continue “for a long time.” The Premier asserts in his speech that the “Soviet leading clique has betrayed Marxism-Leninism” and indicates that Peking’s intransigent stand on the border negotiations has not changed: “We [Chinese] wish to advise the Soviet leadership to sit down and negotiate honestly, do something to solve a bit of the [border] problem and stop playing deceitful tricks.”

Chou makes a brief and low-key statement on Sino-American relations that seems intended to convey to us the message that Peking looks to the U.S. to “earnestly” follow through on the terms of the Shanghai Communiqué:

There exist fundamental differences between China and the United States. Owing to the joint efforts of both sides the relations between the two countries have improved to some extent in the last three years, and contacts between the two peoples have developed. The relations between the two countries will continue to improve so long as the principles of the Sino-American Shanghai Communiqué are carried out in earnest.

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Regarding Taiwan, the Premier’s report asserts in familiar terms, “We are determined to liberate Taiwan! Fellow countrymen in Taiwan and people of the whole country, unite and work together to achieve the noble aim of liberating Taiwan and unifying the Motherland!”

Economic Policy: How to Control a “Rightist” Line?

The Congress approved an economic policy line which allows for contract labor, private plots, and the continuity of the commune system as it was in the early 1960s. This is the same set of policies which was criticized heavily during the Cultural Revolution, and for which men like Teng Hsiao-p’ing were removed from power. This indicates that PRC leaders remain concerned about their economic base, and will attempt to make a big push in economic production in the coming year. Premier Chou indicated in his speech that the PRC leadership sees the coming decade as “crucial” for consolidating a viable economic system.

The “rightist” economic line approved by the Congress is very likely the subject of controversy within the leadership, however. Chou En-lai’s political report revealed, for example, that China’s recent policy of importing foreign technology has drawn criticism from the “left” as representing “servility to things foreign.” He indicates all the same that imports will continue, but stresses the goal of developing an independent economy. Chang Ch’un-ch’iao’s report on the constitution contains the one overtly threatening political note of the Congress when he warns that “in some [economic] enterprises the form is that of socialist ownership, but the reality is that their leadership is not in the hands of Marxists and the masses of workers. The bourgeoisie will seize hold of many fronts if the proletariat does not occupy them.” Chang seems to hint at political pressures on economic managers to counteract the otherwise rightist economic line.

Where Was Mao?

Mao Tse-tung was conspicuous by his absence from both the Central Committee Plenum and Congress. Ill health does not seem to be the issue, inasmuch as the Chairman received Maltese leader Dom Mintoff on January 9, and West German leader Strauss on January 16. Both meetings appear to have taken place in South China, where Mao has been for more than six months.

It is difficult to conclude from the Congress documents that Mao’s political influence has diminished. The new state constitution reaffirms that “Mao Tse-tung thought” is one of the “theoretical bases guiding the thinking of our nation”; and the speeches of Premier Chou and Chang Ch’un-ch’iao make repeated references to the “principles” and policies of “our great leader Chairman Mao.” Indeed, except for agricultural policy, the decisions of the Congress—designating the Chairman as commander of the PRC’s armed forces, accepting Mao’s [Page 655] personal proposal that the constitution contain a provision ensuring the freedom of workers to strike, and abiding by Mao’s view that there should be no state chairman—are unquestionably Maoist positions.

We would just note that in past periods of diminished power and conflict over policy Mao has “retreated” to the provinces and has absented himself from formal leadership conclaves. We do not know if Mao’s current aloofness represents such a situation. There is tenuous evidence in the Chinese press that the Chairman wants to carry the struggle against political dissenters and military renegades through to the end. It is possible that while Mao accepts the consolidation of the bureaucratic organs of state power, as was accomplished by the National People’s Congress, at the same time he wishes to avoid personal identification with this development as he has more disruptive political objectives in mind—such as purging remaining dissidents from the military. We do not know if this is the case, yet the questions raised by Mao’s absence from the Party Plenum and Congress will be worth watching in the months ahead.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Advisor, Presidential Country Files for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Box 13, People’s Republic of China. Secret. Sent for information. All brackets are in the original. Ford initialed the memorandum. On January 21, Solomon sent Kissinger a draft of this memorandum. (Ibid.)