110. Editorial Note

On the morning of May 12, 1975, United States officials in Washington learned that the Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia had captured an American merchant ship, the Mayaguez. Because the United States did not have diplomatic relations with Cambodia, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Ingersoll transmitted a message to the Cambodian Government through Huang Zhen, Chief of the People’s Republic of China Liaison Office. Ingersoll declared that the seizure of the ship was “an act of international piracy” and stated, “the Government of the United States demands the immediate release of the vessel and of the full crew. If that release does not immediately take place, the authorities in Phnom Penh will be responsible for the consequences.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, KissingerScowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1969–1977, Box 5, China, unnumbered items (13), 5/11–5/30/75)

According to telegram 110673 to Beijing, May 13, Huang refused to relay Ingersoll’s message and replied, “This is your matter. It has nothing to do with us.” The Department informed the Liaison Office that “Huang Chen will of course report to his govt in Peking, and we assume Chinese will inform Cambodians of our approach and their reaction.” (Ibid.) The Department also asked that the Liaison Office deliver the same message to both the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Cambodian Embassy in Beijing, an action accomplished on May 13. (Ibid.)

The same day, Deputy Premier Deng Xiaoping, while on a visit to Paris, received a question from a journalist about how his government would respond if the United States intervened to recover the Mayaguez. Deng laughed and said, “If they intervene, there is nothing we can do.” (AP report from May 13; ibid.) The next day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry informed the Liaison Office, “it is not in a position to pass the U.S. message on to the Royal Government of the National Union of Cambodia and hereby returns the May 13 note of the U.S. side.” (Telegram 925 from Beijing, May 14; ibid.)

On May 16, the Liaison Office reported that the People’s Daily had quoted a Chinese official, Li Xiannian, as saying that the Mayaguez had been in Cambodian territorial waters at the time of its seizure. (Telegram 950 from Beijing, May 16; ibid.) In response, U.S. officials in Washington communicated to the Chinese Government their displeasure with anti-U.S. statements during the Mayaguez crisis. Richard Solomon informed Kissinger, “Per your instructions, Win Lord, Bill Gleysteen, and I met with Han Hsu of the PRC Liaison Office Friday afternoon to convey the points you authorized about the unhelpful impact of their public statements regarding the Mayaguez on our relationship.” [Page 673] (“Welcome Home” Book Submission, May 23; ibid, National Security Adviser, NSC Staff for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Convenience File, Box 40, Solomon Chronological File)