115. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Senator Jacob K. Javits
  • Senator James B. Pearson
  • Senator Claiborne Pell
  • Senator Charles H. Percy
  • Senator Adlai E. Stevenson, III
  • Representative John B. Anderson
  • Representative Paul Findley
  • Representative Paul N. McCloskey, Jr.
  • Representative John Slack
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Philip C. Habib, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Robert J. McCloskey, Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations
  • Winston Lord, Director, Policy Planning, Department of State
  • Oscar V. Armstrong, Director, People’s Republic of China and Mongolia Affairs, Department of State
  • Richard H. Solomon, Senior Staff Member, National Security Council


  • Secretary Kissinger’s Briefing of Congressional Delegates Before Their Visit to the People’s Republic of China

Secretary Kissinger: I appreciate your coming. Let me give you our impressions of our relations with China, and then I will be glad to answer your questions. None of you have been there before?

Let me give you my experience. When I first met the Chinese I found them the most fascinating, intelligent and charming people I had known. To some extent this is true, but I can add to it now that they are the most self-centered, the most cold-blooded, analytical people I have encountered. I’d say that nothing in my experience matches it. Whether it’s talking with a counter girl at the Shanghai Airport, or with Chou En-lai, everything seems to have one grand design. Nothing is accidental. Dealing with them is like one endless negotiation. I don’t know if this is true when a Congressional delegation travels but it has been my experience. They make the totally planned appear spontaneous.

Even their sight-seeing is a totally planned activity. For example they will take you out to the Ming Tombs or the Great Wall. You can set your clock on the schedule they follow, but when you are there no one is looking at their watches; there is no sense of pressure. I asked their protocol chief Han Hsu how they did it. He replied: (1) they don’t give a detailed schedule to the guests, and (2) they estimate what their guests will do and then segment the activity into eight minute segments. If the guests do more in any given segment then they just take out some of the later segments; if they do less, they just add on some segments. I am not sure what this says about their view of the attention span of foreigners. All this is done without using walkie-talkies.

When I have reviewed the records of my talks in China, in retrospect you can see how it fits into one grand scheme. The first time that President Nixon met Chairman Mao I thought—with my characteristic humility—that it was a “B” conversation; there was nothing spectacular. Mao just seemed to ramble from one subject to another. Two weeks later I reread the record of the conversation. Mao’s comments [Page 707] were like the overture to a Wagner opera. Every theme discussed during the week [of the Nixon visit] had its predicate in the Mao conversation. Every other statesman in the world would say, “I have fifteen points I want to make,” and then he would read them. Mao just rambled along. He didn’t say, “Remember this point.” They are not like the Soviets: “Here are ten points” and a baseball bat. Someday I expect to be in an elevator in the Soviet Union and to push a button and I will over load the whole system.

On the negative side, they [the Chinese] basically don’t give a damn about what you think. They truly consider themselves the Middle Kingdom. They have such a feeling of arrogant self-sufficiency.

Those things that they see as essential to their survival they study with meticulous attention. They give the most cold-blooded, amoral attention to the geopolitical factors of containing the Soviet Union. Mao and Chou En-lai have been through the revolution from the beginning, on the Great March. They are men of principle, of great conviction. They combine the ideological level with a cold-blooded pragmatism. Teng might not impress you this way, but if you were to meet Chou, you would see this combination of principle and cold-bloodedness. Their basic reason for moving to us has nothing to do with Formosa. It has everything to do with their fear of the Soviet Union. They don’t want to appear to want us, rather they will warn everyone about the Soviet threat. Their basic interest in the U.S. is in maintaining a world balance of power. If they lose this view, they will lose interest in us. I believe the Turkish aid situation has had an impact on them. Everytime I have seen Mao he talks about a tier of states to the south of the Soviet Union. This will affect their perception of our ability to effect our own survival.

Everytime I see Mao he gives a magnificant explanation of the geopolitical situation and talks of the need to take actions to control the Soviet Union— Chou En-lai also. You don’t see the bureaucratic factor in Chou.

Formosa:Of course we have discussed it, but it is not central. If they make a list of topics they put it last. They are not eager, partly because they don’t want to create complications for us. It is not the central issue in our relationship. As the Shanghai Communiqué says, we have to move toward a new relationship; but whether it is this year or next, or later, it is not critical.

There is one school of thought that says you have to move while Mao and Chou are alive. I don’t fully agree with this view as they haven’t offered us a better deal. The mistake of many visitors is that they try to solve the Taiwan problem. It is not excessively helpful for people to try to solve it now. The Chinese have said that the President will be welcome regardless of the Taiwan problem. If you raise this question they may be compelled to take some action.

[Page 708]

Their overriding concern is with the Soviets having new openings in Indochina. Indochina was a moral defeat for the U.S., but a geopolitical defeat for the Chinese. They now have on their southern border a country of 45 million trying to create an empire of 90 million—if you include the Laotians and the Cambodians. This may spill over into Thailand. The Chinese look at international affairs in terms of power relationships—as De Gaulle did. If they [the North Vietnamese] succeed, China will be in the unenviable position of having a major military power on every border. They know that the Vietnamese historically distrust China. Hanoi leans on the Soviets because of this. The Chinese are the only foreign power active in Cambodia—the only country in Indochina trying to insulate Cambodia against the Vietnamese. They are anxious to keep us in Asia.

They are not interested in—unlike my academic friends—cultural exchanges and trade. They want us to be strong in Asia, strong in the world. They are our best NATO allies. Every European leader [who visits China] gets a lecture on maintaining NATO. Everytime I go there I get scolded for not maintaining good relations with our allies.

They have certain parallel interests with us. They want us to have strong relations with Europe, want to have good relations between the United States and Japan. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves. In five years if they become strong they could just cold-bloodedly push us away. Someday they may treat us like the Soviet Union, like an enemy. But for the foreseeable future, their fear of the Soviet Union is the basis of their assessments.

They are endlessly fascinating.

Representative McCloskey: If they want us to maintain NATO, do they not want us in Korea?

Secretary Kissinger: On the one hand they don’t want us involved. They have certain obligations to North Korea, as they did in Indochina. They will tell you that they want our troops out. But they would be very disturbed if Japan struck out on an independent and militaristic path—which would happen if we withdrew from Korea. They will restrain North Korea from making an attack, but will support them in the UN.

Senator Javits: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if you could tell us what their aspirations are for their country; and what is their attitude toward Japan.

Secretary Kissinger: I only know Chinese in their 60s and 70s. I don’t know younger people there. It sounds ridiculous to say that I only know Mao, Chou, Ch’iao Kuan-hua and Teng Hsiao-p’ing. Very few Americans have conversations with these people outside of their senior officials. Mao, Chou, and Teng have enormous pride in their accomplishments. They remember the Long March. I remember Marshal [Page 709] Yeh Chien-ying—their acting Defense Minister, now their Defense Minister—on my first trip. He made some comments that sounded spontaneous. He said, “When I joined Mao, I never thought I was doing anything for the present generation. When I joined the revolution, I thought I was joining a teacher, yet here we are and here you are.” He saw Mao just as a teacher, not a military man. They want economic advancement, but also an egalitarian society. Mao has a conception that if you have Communism you create a bureaucracy, a new Mandarin class. Mao believes in permanent revolution, that every ten years you have to do away with it all. He is right.

On my first trip to China Chou En-lai talked to me about their Cultural Revolution. I said, “This is your domestic problem.” He said, “No, no, you have to understand.” They want permanent revolution; this is a major issue of principle to them. If you appeal to their principles they are happy. Not the Soviets. They are happy only when they are chiseling you. My experience is that the Chinese give you an honest position and then stick to it. When we were drafting the Shanghai Communiqué, the Chinese included several sentences we felt were inappropriate to a document that the President would sign. I said to Chou En-lai that if you take out these sentences, I’ll give you several of ours that are objectionable to your side. Chou said, “Keep your sentences, I don’t want them. You tell me why you find our sentences offensive. If you can convince me, I will take them out.” So we talked about them and they later took out those sentences. But the Chinese are very thrifty. A short time later they used these same sentences in a speech that Ch’iao Kuan-hua gave at the United Nations.

Those who knew China before are impressed that visible poverty has been eliminated; it is not like India. There is no squalor, plenty of food. And they have done it without foreign help.

Japan:They are ambivalent. The first time I came they were very hostile toward Japan. Now they want a positive relationship with the Japanese, and they never attack our relations with Japan. In one of my meetings with Mao he asked if I had been in Japan. I said I had been there for a day and a half. Mao said that that was not enough, that I should not offend the Japanese. But they are afraid of a nationalistic Japan. In five years, they might try to move Japan away from us, but not now. They could raise hell by forcing Japan to chose between China and the U.S.

Senator Percy: What are they up to in Vietnam and Cambodia?

Secretary Kissinger: The Chinese are now saying that the Soviets have military bases in Indochina. This is not their governmental people but some of their people in Hong Kong. According to our information that is not correct. I don’t believe Hanoi won the war to become a Soviet stooge. They are just playing them both off (the Chinese [Page 710] and the Soviets). The Chinese are trying to gain a foothold in Cambodia. Hanoi sustains the heritage of Ho Chi Minh. His vision of a united Indochina. The Vietnamese hope to gain control of Cambodia. Le Duc Tho told us this in Paris. So at present there is greater Soviet influence than Chinese in Hanoi, but Hanoi isn’t a Soviet stooge.

The Chinese nightmare is of a Soviet security system coming down to surround them. They see India as a Soviet stooge, an extension of the Soviet Union. They have contempt for them. They think India started the border war. This is the view expressed by Neville Maxwell in his book on the border war.2 In Indochina the Chinese are supporting the Cambodians; they warn the Thai against the North Vietnamese. I have the impression that the Chinese did not urge the Thai to get rid of the United States. This was also the position they took with the Filipinos.

Senator Pearson: Are they likely to have a succession crisis?

Secretary Kissinger: We don’t have any idea of what will happen after Mao and Chou die. Anyone who tells you that he does is full of nonsense. For example, Chou En-lai’s situation: We don’t know whether he is in the hospital; whether he is hiding in the hospital during a purge; or whether he is there masterminding the purge. Mao is slipping. With Chou it is very hard to know. He came out of the National People’s Congress in a dominant position. There is evidence that his health is failing. Mao a year and a half ago was intellectually in good shape. Teng Hsiao-p’ing now is the dominant figure. But we don’t know what will happen when that age-group goes.

Mr. Solomon: We believe Chang Ch’un-ch’iao may be an important figure in the succession. Teng Hsiao-p’ing has some major political liabilities.

Secretary Kissinger: It’s like the guessing when Stalin was alive. No one picked Khrushchev. The military could be influential in a succession struggle.

Senator Pell: What are their objectives regarding nuclear weaponry?

Secretary Kissinger: They say that they have no intention of using nuclear weapons first. They also say they will not accept any limitations on nuclear weapons short of their total destruction. Since this won’t happen, they are proceeding with their nuclear weapons program. They are building a submarine and ICBMs.

Mr. Habib: They are having problems with their ICBM program.

Secretary Kissinger: The Soviets are in range of a number of their rockets. It is a minor number; less than a hundred. But it is growing. [Page 711] We used to estimate that by 1978 the Soviets would not be able to strike China without suffering unacceptable damage.

Mr. Lord: They are very sensitive to the U.S. nuclear balance with the Soviets.

Secretary Kissinger: They like Schlesinger’s tough statements about maintaining our strength.

I would like to meet with you when you get back. They will take seriously what you have to say. I hope you will take full notes. They are likely to drop things into the conversation that they assume will get back to us. They assume that we will see a full report on your conversations.

Senator Stevenson: Whom do you think we’ll see? Do you have any suggestions about topics we might raise?

Secretary Kissinger: I think you will find the Foreign Minister— Ch’iao Kuan-hua—more rewarding than Teng.

Anything that your conscience would enable you to say about the United States maintaining a global role in Asia and Europe they will welcome. They don’t want us to collapse in the Middle East or to collaborate with the Soviet Union. You could emphasize that we will not collapse; that it’s not just that we support Israel but that we will also compete with the Soviets for the moderate Arabs. Their major concern is that the Soviets will inherit the Middle East.

You might convey a sense of continuity in our foreign policy, that if the Democrats win there will be no change in our foreign policy.

Taiwan:It would be helpful for you to push suggestions. They have already rejected a number of them, like our leaving a Liaison Office in Taipei. This is not a question of finding some gimmick. There is one point: If we had some assurance that they would not use force then we could make progress. If they won’t, we will have difficulty in turning over 15 million—especially in the year when we lost Indochina. This issue is more important than what we call our office in Taipei.

They told us that the Jackson formula—switching our Liaison Office and Embassy—was unacceptable before we raised it as a proposition. Our representation in Taiwan will not be a problem. Our problem is the future relationship of Taiwan with the mainland. This is the basic problem. If you raise this, this point would be helpful. Stress the desire for a peaceful settlement of this issue, that there be no use of force. Especially in a bipartisan group this might help them move in that direction.

Senator Percy: Han Hsu told me that they want more normal relations with the Soviet Union and are willing to be reasonable, but the Soviets are hostile toward them. Where’s the truth?

Senator Javits: Huang Hua says just the opposite.

Secretary Kissinger: All of them say that the Soviets are hostile to China. Some of the issues could be easily settled. But what bothers the [Page 712] Chinese is the withdrawal of the Soviet technicians in 1960 which paralyzed the Chinese economy. Secondly, they see the Soviets as basically expansionist. If they could concentrate enough force they could go after China. Mao, and to some extent Chou, are psychopathic on this point. I think the next generation may be less hostile to the Soviets; somewhat more accommodating. From the Soviet point of view, there are over 800 million highly disciplined Chinese. There will be ups and downs, but a 3,000 mile border is a geopolitical fact. They will continue to be competitive powers.

Do any of my colleagues want to add anything? Win.

Mr. Lord: They are now stressing that the Soviet threat is directed at Europe. This is partly for tactical effect, but they do see the CSCE conference as weakening Europe.

Secretary Kissinger: The Chinese are against popular front governments in Europe. Phil, did you want to add anything?

Mr. Habib: Regarding Korea, you might reinforce the thought that North Korea should not engage in any adventurism against the South.

Senator Percy: Do you think they will be troubled by the fact that we were recently in the Soviet Union? I took pains to be as open with them about our recent trip as possible. Han Hsu seemed to have been fully briefed on it.

Mr. Solomon: I don’t think you will find them upset about this. They seem to have great confidence that they will outshine the Soviets. Virtually every group I have talked to who has been to both Russia and China has found the Chinese much more sophisticated and appealing.

Representative Findley: Have they expressed any interest in getting MFN?

Secretary Kissinger: Some newsmen asked the Chinese what they thought of the Jackson–Vanik amendment. The Chinese responded that they will be glad to export 30 million Chinese to the United States any time we are interested. They are not pushing us on this.

I look forward to seeing you when you get back.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, KissingerScowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1969–1977, Box 5, China, unnumbered items (16), 7/6/75–7/23/75. Confidential; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Madison–Monroe Room at the Department of State. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Neville Maxwell, India’s China War (London, Cape, 1970).