129. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Gerald Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[Omitted here is discussion of the loigistics and timetable for the President’s proposed visit to East Asia, and of other matters unrelated to China.]

[The Secretary hands the President a summary/analysis of his conversation with Mao.]2

President: How is Mao’s health?

Kissinger: When you see him you think he is finished; he can hardly articulate. He speaks a few words of English but it is impossible to understand. The interpreter has to guess at the words until he nods—or he writes out the words. Mao’s theme is our weakness. We are the “swallow before the storm.” We are ineffectual. What we say is not reliable. He thinks we won’t use nuclear weapons in Europe and would suffer another Dunkirk. He says we can no longer stand on Chinese shoulders to reach the Soviet Union. “China must be self-reliant.” It is sort of admirable. These are the same people of the Long March.

I said we had a common opponent. He said he likes Schlesinger’s view of the Soviet Union better than mine. They wanted Schlesinger to visit. That would drive the Soviet Union wild. But I said we could have military exchanges to see what we could do. He said, “No. After the war starts we will talk, not before the war.” They want to do the same as Stalin did in World War II—be sure that a war starts in the West so both will be exhausted by the time China has to get in.

I guarantee you that if we do go into confrontation with the Soviet Union, they will attack us and the Soviet Union and draw the Third World around them. Good relations with the Soviet Union are the best for our Chinese relations—and vice versa. Our weakness is the problem—they see us in trouble with SALT and détente. That plays into their hands. [Page 833] They can’t understand the Congress—what the Congress did on Turkey, Hawk missiles, etc.

I think you can’t take any guff from them, and you have to be cooler than Nixon in your toast.

[Discussion of schedule.]

Kissinger: I don’t think you should not just go to China. People will say what did you go for? Then they will have you by the balls in terms of making it look worthwhile. The best thing you can do is something in contrast with Nixon: Don’t stay long, don’t go to another city. Any other city visit, even if it’s different from where Nixon went, will look like a repeat to the American people.

When I saw the communiqué my first reaction was to cancel your trip. Bush’s reaction was the same. But when we thought about it, we changed our minds. It would lose us all our leverage with the Soviet Union. It would upset the Japanese. It would give the Chinese a chance to invite all the Democratic candidates over to say you screwed up the Chinese policy.

President: How about adding India?

Kissinger: No. That’s too big a shock. Manila and Djakarta is just a jab at them. India and Pakistan would add two days minimum. Manila/Djakarta bolsters our friends, and you’ll get a big reception in Manila.

President: I agree. Manila will please the Conservatives. I think you are probably right. Let me think it over just a bit and I’ll let you know.

[He hands the President the U.S. draft press statement on the China trip.]3

President: It sounds all right. This sentence about peaceful settlement of Taiwan by the Chinese themselves—this is what we have said before, isn’t it?

Kissinger: Yes. The conservatives will like it; the PRC won’t like it much.

President: How is George Bush doing?

Kissinger: Magnificently. I am very, very impressed with him. I was not enthusiastic about his appointment, but he has grown into the job and I think he will one day be a considerable national leader. He is a big cut above Moynihan—who is turning into a disaster. To call Brazil a fascist dictatorship [because of its vote on the anti-Zionism resolution]…

President: When did he do that?

[Page 834]

Kissinger: He is going wild about the Israeli issues. [less than 1 line not declassified]

President: I agree with you about George. He is a fine man.

Kissinger: [Reads parts from the analysis of the Mao conversation.]

What is going to happen when Mao dies?

Kissinger: There is no way anyone can know that. He is on the verge of becoming a vegetable, but he has the uncanny ability to go right to the heart of things. No small talk, in the sense that everything has meaning.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to China.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, National Security Adviser Memcons, Box 16, July–October 1975. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. All brackets are in the original, except those bracketed insertions describing the omission of material. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Ford, Kissinger, and Scow-croft met from 9:35 until 11:05 a.m. (Ibid.)
  2. Document 128.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 127.