132. Memorandum From Secretary of State Kissinger to President Ford1
- Your Trip to the People’s Republic of China: A Scope Analysis for Your Discussions with Chinese Leaders
As a basis for your preparations for your forthcoming trip to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) we have prepared, in coordination with the NSC, the following analytical paper. It is intended to be a general scope analysis, and is designed to give you a comprehensive sense of the political context of your discussions with Chinese leaders. It reviews the manner in which our relations with the PRC have evolved over the past five years, and lays out in summary form the primary objectives of your meetings with Chairman Mao and Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing.
This scope analysis should also give you the kind of overview which will make more productive your reading of the other background materials being prepared for your trip by the Department, NSC, and CIA on international and bilateral issues.
The Political Context of Your Visit
Your trip to China comes at an important juncture. Our relations with the PRC are showing the first significant signs of strain since we initiated a direct dialogue with Chinese leaders during my secret trip to Peking in the summer of 1971. At the same time, both sides continue to see maintenance of the present relationship as in their respective interests. This situation will make your trip somewhat more difficult and less immediately productive than we had originally hoped. But it makes the visit all the more important if we are to sustain a relationship which has brought substantial strategic benefits to the foreign policy of the United States.
The U.S. Role in the World. There are several reasons for the current tension in our relationship with the Chinese. Probably the primary cause is a growing doubt in Peking that the United States is capable of playing the kind of major world role which will provide an effective counterweight to Moscow’s efforts to project the Soviet presence abroad and to bring about a geo-political encirclement of China. In the wake of the Communist victories in Indochina this past spring, PRC media began to express in explicit terms a concern with the “strategic passivity” of the United States. Peking apparently believes that our domestic political situation is in such turmoil—as a result of the troubles of the last decade, the resignation of President Nixon, the increasingly assertive role of Congress in hobbling Executive Branch foreign policy actions, and the nihilistic mood of our press—that the United States is increasingly incapable of playing a coherent role in world affairs. To the degree that the Chinese downgrade our importance as a world power, or develop doubts about our ability to pursue our own interests abroad, they will question the significance of the relationship we have established over the past four years.
U.S.-Soviet Relations. A related factor prompting the Chinese to question the value of their relations with us is substantial concern about [Page 839] the effects on PRC interests of our détente policies for dealing with the Soviet Union. Chinese leaders seem to be reassessing—within limits—the impact on their interests of such developments as the Helsinki Conference, sales of American grain and technology to Russia, and our continuing efforts to pursue strategic arms limitation agreements with Moscow. Privately the Chinese fear that these developments will tend to isolate them politically and strengthen their major enemy. Publicly Peking is characterizing détente as outright appeasement of a growing Soviet threat to the security of the U.S. and Europe (and the PRC). Their media portray the West as repeating the mistakes of Chamberlain and Daladier in the 1930s in underestimating the menace of Hitler.
As much as the Chinese are concerned with détente, this issue itself cannot be the primary reason for Peking’s current coolness, for the most active period of our relations with Moscow in 1972–73 was also the most positive period in the new U.S.–PRC relationship. While the Chinese did express to us privately in those years their concerns about some of our negotiations with the Russians—particularly the agreement on the prevention of nuclear war—Peking at least saw us capable of taking strong action against the Soviets, as we did in the Indian subcontinent in 1971 and Middle East alert of 1973. Thus the Chinese concern appears derived from the combination of increasing uncertainty about our world role and détente policies pursued from a position of apparent weakness rather than strength.
Of course it is self-serving for the Chinese to urge us toward more frontal opposition to the Soviets. Such a policy would clearly serve Peking’s own interests, as it would strengthen Western counter-pressures against the Russians and force Moscow to concentrate its military and political energies against the U.S. and Europe. Nevertheless the strongest incentive to the Chinese to cooperate with us comes from a combination of American forcefulness in international affairs, coupled with improving U.S. relations with Moscow. In this situation, the Chinese will at once have some assurance that the U.S. is capable of countering Soviet expansionist actions, and at the same time they will fear “falling behind” Moscow in developing constructive relations with us and being left isolated as the only critic of détente.
Your Approach to the Soviet Issue. Thus, much of your discussions with PRC leaders will undoubtedly focus on the central problem of the Soviet threat and our respective approaches to dealing with it. Our underlying position is that we will follow our national interests as we see them, and that neither Peking nor Moscow can presume to define those for us or lecture us on our policies. Your objective should be to forcefully assert your confidence in the overall approach you have adopted for coping with Moscow; to indicate that we have absolutely no illusions about Soviet intentions; but that our policies best serve American [Page 840] interests. You should say forthrightly that we will continue to seek agreements with Moscow which will lower tensions, reduce the dangers of war, and contribute to the evolution of a stable international equilibrium. You can emphasize that the American people are not deluded by détente (as our domestic debate clearly indicates), but that our efforts to encourage restrained behavior on the part of the Russians place us in the best position to mobilize the support of our people for resistance to Soviet expansionism. Only by demonstrating to our public that we have explored reasonable approaches with Moscow can we rally backing for firm actions when they are required.
You can state directly to Chinese leaders that we know they do not agree with our position, but emphasize that this is a disagreement over tactics rather than any difference in our fundamental assessment of the primary threat to the national security of either of our countries. You should recall that it was the problem of Soviet “hegemony” which first brought us together, that we continue to share a basic concern with this problem, and that because we basically agree about the source of expansionistic pressures in the world we can honestly disagree on a strategy for coping with it. While emphasizing that we will continue to pursue policies which we believe serve our own interests, the Administration will—as we have done since 1971—weigh the impact of our policies on China’s interests, take no actions that are directed against the Chinese and actively consult with them.
Normalization. A third reason for some strain in our relations with Peking at this time appears to be reaction against the lack of movement toward full normalization of U.S.–PRC relations. As with their questions about détente, the concern of senior Chinese leaders regarding normalization is not simply a matter of disagreement with our current position on this issue; it is also our evident inability to act and implement policies which affect their interests.
From the very beginning of our relationship with Peking, the Chinese have clearly laid primary emphasis on strategic international considerations. These have always been the primary emphasis of our discussions in Peking. As recently as my conversation with Mao last month,2 he said that the big issue is the international situation and the small issue is Taiwan. Nevertheless, they attach considerable significance to our position on Taiwan, and to whether we will move to recognize them as the sole legal government of China. This is a basic issue of principle for Peking, one with considerable domestic political weight, and which they view as an indicator of how seriously we take our relationship with them.[Page 841]
In addition, the Chinese had been led by President Nixon to expect that a major effort would be made before 1976 to resolve the Taiwan question and establish diplomatic relations. Since 1973 they have patiently worked to put us in a position where we would have to deal with this complex of issues on China’s own terms (what Peking now likes to characterize as the “Japanese model” for normalization: breaking diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan; withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the island; and abrogation of the U.S.–ROC defense treaty). Now there appears to be considerable uncertainty about our ability and willingness to follow through on the normalization question.
The Chinese leadership appears cross-pressured on Taiwan between a rational assessment of their strategic needs vis-à-vis the United States and the emotional weight of an issue of considerable domestic political impact. When your trip was set up in November of 1974, I had an inconclusive discussion with Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing on normalization.3 It was clearly agreed that your trip would be without preconditions on Taiwan or any other issue. The Chinese may nevertheless have hoped a year ago that conditions would be such that you would be in a position to make some progress on this issue.
This past June, in the wake of the spring developments in Indochina, the Chinese appeared anxious that you might postpone your visit to the PRC out of concern that you would be pressured on normalization. They clearly wanted to preserve your visit. To pre-empt a decision to postpone it, Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing publicly told a group of visiting American newspaper editors on June 2 that you would be welcomed in Peking whether or not you had major business to transact.4 Since that time, Chinese leaders have clearly and repeatedly stated—both privately and publicly—that they look forward to your visit even in the absence of progress toward full normalization (because of the desire to sustain a relationship with us for the larger security purposes it serves).
All the senior PRC leaders we have been dealing with—Chairman Mao, Vice Premier Teng, and Foreign Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua—have repeatedly stated that they are prepared to be patient on the timing of normalization and resolution of the Taiwan question. During my most recent visit to Peking, Chairman Mao told me (perhaps with some measure of irony) that it is better for the present that the U.S. maintain control over Taiwan (presumably to keep the island from declaring itself an independent state, and to keep the Soviets out of the picture). [Page 842] At the same time Teng and Ch’iao Kuan-hua recently have been righteously telling us that the U.S. owes China a “debt” for their patience on this issue.5 The stated position of the leadership in Peking on this question may well contrast with their real feelings on the issue.
There would seem to be a number of reasons for Peking’s current attitude apart from any unhappiness with the lack of progress according to President Nixon’s timetable. Chairman Mao, at 82, is nearing the end of his days as one of China’s great political figures, and—despite his protestations of patience regarding Taiwan—no doubt would have liked to crown his career by fully unifying China. We also believe that the leadership in Peking is under some degree of pressure from their domestic political constituency for signs of progress on the Taiwan question. We cannot verify by intelligence means whether this is simply a matter of lower-level Party officials feeling that China has not gained anything from the U.S. on an important issue for their country, or whether there are important divisions of opinion within the central leadership coalition. But it stands to reason that with questions being raised about the value to China of relations with the U.S. on security matters, and without movement on normalization, ambitious political figures in China may be pressing the Mao/Chou/Teng leadership to justify the wisdom of their opening to the United States.
Whether or not there are serious differences within the Chinese leadership over the value of their relationship with us, we think there must be quite strong opposition within China to making any further bilateral accommodations in the absence of agreement on full normalization of relations. This would help explain Peking’s total lack of responsiveness during my October visit to our suggestion that we take certain partial steps to improve our bilateral relations in such areas as a hot line or trade or cultural/scientific exchanges as a way of demonstrating some vitality in our relationship.
The Chinese Domestic Dimensions. The exact manner in which the play of forces within the Chinese leadership affects this situation, however, is something we do not clearly understand. Chairman Mao, by all evidence, continues to set the major orientation in China’s foreign policy; he is clearly the author of the current concern with our détente policies; and he also has been the primary articulator of policy on Taiwan. We are confident that Premier Chou En-lai was close to Mao in both formulating and implementing the opening to the U.S. Chou, however, now appears to be out of the picture as an active leader because of a serious illness. Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing has taken over Chou’s role as the principal implement or of Peking’s foreign policies. [Page 843] We believe that Chairman Mao was responsible for the 1973 political rehabilitation of Teng Hsiao-p’ing (who was purged in 1967 during the Cultural Revolution), but we have other indications that Teng may be the object of a political challenge. Moreover, there have been signs that Mao himself has his differences with other leaders, particularly those in the military. The precise relationship between these domestic political factors and Peking’s current foreign policy orientation, however, is not known. (the CIA analysis prepared for your visit will give you our best estimate of the interplay within the Chinese leadership and its impact on foreign policy.)6
Your Approach to the Normalization Issue. We do believe, however, that there is an element of tactics in Peking’s current hardening in their dealings with us. The Chinese do not want us to become complacent about the relationship, and probably hope to extract from you some sense of how you might handle the normalization issue after 1976 (as well as to challenge your approach to dealing with the Soviets). They also probably seek to narrow our already limited range of options for handling the Taiwan question.
During the past year of our discussions on normalization, the Chinese have tried to turn issues we hope to resolve with them on a mutual basis into unilateral American requirements. They have brushed aside, for example, suggestions that we must find some mutually acceptable position on the question of a peaceful resolution of Taiwan’s future. Teng Hsiao-p’ing’s attitude has been that we owe China a “debt” for their patience on this issue; that China has no problems normalizing with the U.S. but we still “need” Taiwan; and that ultimately we must meet the PRC’s terms. In addition, in the draft communiqué submitted by the Chinese side during my October visit to Peking, new language was added to the Shanghai Communiqué formulation on normalization which was both highly polemical in phrasing and also more restrictive of our options (such as the new position that our military forces must be withdrawn from “the Taiwan Strait area” as well as from the island, and the explicit condition that we must abrogate “the U.S.–Chiang ‘joint defense treaty’.”)
Thus a second major element of your discussions in Peking will be to convince the Chinese that we are not just stringing them along on Taiwan, and that we are prepared to seriously confront the question of normalization if a mutually acceptable way can be worked out, particularly of assuring that the future of Taiwan will be resolved by peaceful means. At the same time, the Chinese understand clearly that you are not prepared to resolve this matter during your forthcoming visit.[Page 844]
The Chinese Desire to Maintain the Relationship. Despite these areas of policy difference—as well as the evident ideological chasm between us, and our very different perspectives on specific international issues—we believe that the Chinese leadership still sees it in the interest of their country to maintain an official dialogue with the U.S. Frankly, during my October visit to the PRC and in its aftermath—when we exchanged messages with Peking on the question of a communiqué or press statement to be issued at the conclusion of your visit—the Chinese, by their insolent behavior and self-righteous lack of responsiveness in discussing international and bilateral issues, seemed to be daring us to postpone your visit. They appeared to have tried to put us on the psychological defensive, presumably in hopes of forcing us to re-evaluate some of our positions which they dislike, and creating a situation where we appeared to need a relationship with them more then they with us.
Their request of November 4 for a delay in announcing the date of your trip apparently was an effort to buy time in order to reevaluate their position regarding the visit in the wake of your Cabinet changes.7 The fact that they responded to us affirmatively on November 8—in a context where we had clearly indicated in a prior message the prospect of a postponement of your trip if they did not give us a favorable reply by that date—indicates that they had made a basic decision not to break off the official dialogue. Having thus exposed their position, there may now be a more healthy psychological balance in the relationship which will enable you to present your positions forcefully and to emphasize the need for mutual efforts in coping with international security questions of common concern and in completing the normalization process.
This does not mean, however, that they will not press you on Administration positions that disturb them. But it does mean that you can go to Peking confident that the Chinese see the need for a continuing relationship with the U.S. As Foreign Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua said in a message of November 4—a statement otherwise filled with sarcastic comments about our relationship—“the Chinese side has always felt that the issuance of a joint communiqué of the nature of the Shanghai Communiqué, which shows the world that our two countries each maintains its principled position while sharing common points, would be helpful in dealing with international problems of common concern and moving towards normalization. The impact of the Shanghai Communiqué has clearly borne this out.”8[Page 845]
The Evolving Pattern Of U.S.–PRC Relations
The above analysis describes the immediate context of your visit to Peking. The following chronological review of the pattern of our dealings over the past several years should be helpful in giving you a sense of the importance and historical place of your discussions with PRC leaders.
The Opening: 1969–1971. During the decades of the 1950s and ’60s—beginning with the Korean War and President Truman’s “neutralization” of Taiwan with the Seventh Fleet, and running through the sterile ambassadorial-level talks at Geneva and Warsaw—the U.S. posture towards the PRC was one of “containment and isolation.” For much of the period, we saw China as little more than an extension of Soviet power. For their part, the Chinese took the view that they would not even talk with the U.S. about establishing a normal relationship until we had returned Taiwan to their [control?].
Peking’s position changed only when Sino-Soviet relations had deteriorated to the point where Peking felt its major security problem lay in Moscow, not in Washington. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968, and serious border clashes on the Sino-Soviet frontier in the spring and summer of 1969, the Chinese shifted their order of priorities. They decided to deal with us on strategic matters, while assuming that resolution of our bilateral differences would follow from cooperation on the more basic issue of a common concern with the Soviet threat and development of a positive “China mood” in the U.S.
In 1969 the Chinese leaders had strong incentives for re-establishing authoritative contact with the U.S. China was emerging from the self-imposed isolation of the Cultural Revolution period and was very apprehensive about its exposed position in the face of the Soviet threat. In June of that year Brezhnev had expressed his intention of creating an “Asian Collective Security System” that was demonstrably anti-Chinese in purpose. Japan had become the third major industrial state, and Chinese leaders were concerned that a power that had invaded their country in the 1930s might take the road of rearmament, or ally itself with a hostile power. In addition, India was an unfriendly state (with whom the Chinese had had a border war in 1962) and the Soviets had been trying to establish an active political relationship with New Delhi for almost a decade. In sum, six years ago the international environment confronting the PRC seemed increasingly threatening, yet fluid and capable of being influenced if China took the initiative.
In this context, the United States seemed the only country with the power to offset the Soviet Union. Despite two decades of confrontation, we presented to the Chinese leaders the least threat with regard [Page 846] to geography or recent behavior (having clearly indicated in the 1960s, for example, that we were not prepared to encourage military action by the Chiang Kai-shek government against the PRC). Despite two decades of mutual estrangement, there seemed to be a clean slate to write upon. It was obvious by 1969 that major adjustments in the U.S. posture in East Asia were going to occur and that these shifts would be of significance to China. President Nixon had indicated publicly in such statements as his “Guam Doctrine” press conference of July, 1969 that we were re-evaluating our entire position in Asia, from Vietnam to China, Japan, and Korea.9 This situation was reinforced by the fact that only we could assist them in dealing with the Taiwan problem, and that over time our trade and technology could help China industrialize.
In turn, the United States had many reasons to open up an authoritative dialogue with Peking. This would give us more diplomatic flexibility in a multipolar world. It could give us much greater leverage with Moscow and induce it to establish a more constructive relationship with us. It could help reduce tensions and possible miscalculations in Asia. We also believed it could generate pressures on Hanoi which would move the North Vietnamese toward a reasonable settlement of the Indochina conflicts. And in a larger geo-political and historical framework, elimination of our military confrontation with China—a country embodying a quarter of mankind—at a time when the PRC was still strategically weak and vulnerable, would enable the United States to move away from one front of its two-front cold war of the 1950s and ’60s. The hope was that we could, at our own initiative, eliminate the immediate causes of our differences with Peking and establish a relatively positive relationship with the PRC before the country acquired the strategic weaponry to directly threaten America’s security.
Accordingly, the Administration purposefully pursued a series of carefully orchestrated moves beginning in early 1969 designed to forge an opening to China. After seeking to establish indirect contact with Peking by way of private messages routed through third parties, and on the basis of a series of unilateral public steps easing trade and travel restrictions, we established a reliable channel to the Chinese leadership through Pakistan in 1970–71. My secret trip to Peking in July 1971 paved the way for President Nixon’s visit in February 1972.
The Early Advances: 1971–1973. This first phase in our constructive contacts with the PRC—which can be said to have been initiated with mutual suggestions at the Warsaw talks in January and February, 1970, that an authoritative dialogue in a secure environment would be of mutual benefit—concluded with issuance of the Shanghai Communiqué [Page 847] in February of 1972. This document set the direction for the further normalization of relations.
President Nixon and I discovered in our early exchanges with the Chinese that we shared common views on many international issues and could develop parallel action where it served common interests. Both sides had a basic distrust of Soviet intentions, and neither of us saw Russian efforts to bring about a geo-political encirclement of the PRC as in our respective national interests. China was concerned about a weakened Europe, as was the United States; and we both opposed Soviet objectives in the Middle East and South Asia. Peking clearly appreciated, for example, our backing of Pakistan during the Indo-Pak war of 1971—a position we took despite considerable domestic criticism.
At the same time, we found the Chinese responsive to some of our arguments on issues where we had clear public differences. For example, after 1972 Peking shifted its antagonistic stance toward U.S.–Japan relations to one which recognizes that our close ties with Tokyo serve as a restraint on Japanese militarism. As well, the Chinese have been quietly supportive of our negotiating role in the Middle East, despite their public posture of opposition to Israel. At the same time, however, we have retained our differences on such issues as Korea and Cambodia—although even in these cases Peking’s apparently hostile public stance appears to be derived from ideology and special circumstances, rather than a complete conflict of American and Chinese objectives. Neither of us wants hostilities on the Korean peninsula; both distrust a powerful Hanoi backed by Moscow.
It was in the larger context of our dialogue on international questions that the Chinese began to show signs of flexibility in their bilateral dealings with us in order to strengthen domestic support in the United States for U.S.–PRC normalization. The active growth of trade after President Nixon’s visit to Peking, and the expansion of cultural and scientific exchanges, gave public visibility to this growing relationship.
Privately we reinforced the expectation in Peking that our relations would evolve step-by-step toward diplomatic recognition. We said that we would attempt to complete the normalization process by 1976, and assured them that we would not foster any “two Chinas” situation or a Taiwan independence movement. Moreover, we gave concrete expression to our desire to eliminate the remaining elements of our military confrontation of the cold-war era by unilaterally reducing our troop levels and offensive weaponry and aircraft on Taiwan—particularly after the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war.
For their part, the Chinese have been farsighted enough not to press us unduly on normalization, knowing that had they begun our dialogue by presenting extreme demands the relationship probably would never get off the ground. At the same time, their objective [Page 848] undoubtedly was to draw us into a sufficiently positive relationship so that the difficult decisions affecting our ties with Taiwan would be weighed against the value of sustaining a positive relationship with the PRC—a relationship that would have strategic as well as bilateral advantages to the U.S.
With the end of America’s direct role in the Vietnam war, the Chinese clearly indicated their desire to move to a more active relationship and to accelerate the normalization process. During my February, 1973 visit to Peking—just after the signing of the Paris Agreements—Chairman Mao received me for a long discussion of international developments.10 The Chinese also agreed to open Liaison Offices in our respective capitals—thus reversing themselves on the long-held position that as long as the Republic of China (ROC) had an embassy in Washington they would not send their officials to our capital.
The Recent Slowdown: 1973–1975. It was in late 1973, however, that certain trends developed on both sides of the U.S.–PRC relationship which were to grow over the next two years into our present cooler dealings. On the American side, the bureaucratic goof of allowing the ROC to open two new consulates in the U.S. in late 1973, and the appointment in early 1974 of a senior FSO as a new ambassador to Taipei, must have raised doubts in Peking about the direction of our policy. Moreover, the evolution of the Watergate problem, coupled with the increasingly assertive role of the Congress in international affairs, gave the Chinese the impression of a weakened and chaotic America, unable to implement a coherent and forceful foreign policy. Peking reacted, for example, to the Congressional cut-off of the bombing in Cambodia (our primary source of influence over the insurgents, and a factor which we could control in coordination with the Chinese to affect the situation) by drawing back from certain helpful steps they had indicated they were prepared to take to stimulate a negotiated resolution of the conflict. Instead, they hardened their attitude toward us and heightened their support for the insurgents. Peking now had minimal incentive to track with us in Indochina because we had lost our major lever for influencing the situation.
The Chinese sense of an increasingly ineffectual United States deepened as the impact of Watergate spread in 1974, leading to the removal of President Nixon—the man who had initiated the opening with them, and a leader for whom they have continued to express admiration. Not only could they not clearly grasp the reasons for this serious weakening of Executive Branch authority, but they now saw us confronted by substantial difficulties in gaining Congressional approval [Page 849] for such policy moves which obviously served America’s own interests as aid to Turkey and the interim agreement in the Middle East. The Chinese must now see the CIA hearings as a near complete breakdown of internal political discipline because of partisan rivalries.
Compounding this perception was Chinese concern that the agreements we were negotiating with the Russians—the 1973 agreement on limiting the dangers of nuclear war, the Vladivostok understanding of 1974, and the Helsinki Conference—represented an unwarranted trustworthiness in Washington of Soviet intentions and a naive belief in the value of agreements signed with the Russians. They may also have questioned whether we were concluding such accords from a position of weakness: a desire to create the appearance of stability rather than bear the continuing burden of an active defense, and to undercut domestic critics of détente with the argument that the relationship with Moscow was still yielding positive benefits.
At the least, the Chinese began to express concern to us privately in 1973 that we were merely using them against the Russians. As Premier Chou said to me during my February visit, “You want to reach out to the Soviet Union by standing on Chinese shoulders.”11 During the same trip Mao expressed concern that the Europeans were trying to push the Soviet threat eastward (toward China), and that if Russia attacked the PRC the United States would let the two countries fight it out for several years until—in Vietnam fashion—the Soviets had dissipated their strength before using American force to “poke your finger at the Soviet back.”12 While these statements reflected some measure of Chinese posturing for psychological effect, they did seem to reveal a growing concern in Peking about the impact on PRC interests of our approach to dealing with the Soviets.
Paralleling our own domestic difficulties after 1973 were increasing signs of tension in the Peking scene. In the summer of 1973, as PRC leaders prepared for their Tenth Party Congress, Premier Chou En-lai’s position appeared to come under attack for rehabilitating formerly disgraced leaders such as Teng Hsiao-p’ing. The Chinese put our exchange program on ice in the second half of the year, apparently in a desire to sort out their own domestic situation before allowing in observant foreigners. There were reports that Chinese doctors and scientists who had visited the U.S. in 1972–73 were subject to criticism by radical elements in the leadership for being too “pro-American” and the left wing of the Party appeared to appeal to Chinese military leaders for [Page 850] support against the moderate Mao/Chou leadership, which was steadily depriving them of political influence.
At the turn of 1974, in a move to reduce the political influence of the army, Peking shuffled around the major military region commanders to new territorial bases in order to disorganize their local political machines.13 During the rest of the year, however, there remained signs that the military continued to resist pressures from Mao for the removal of senior commanders considered disloyal to the Chairman’s policies and person. Polemics in the PRC’s internal media suggested that the military were challenging Mao’s foreign policy orientation of dealing with the United States as a way of countering the Soviet threat. We believe that some voices in Peking may have asserted that China was “tilting” too far toward the United States, particularly at a time when our internal divisions made us appear to be a less effective counterweight to the Soviets. As a result—this argument may have gone—China should take steps to lower the level of tension with Moscow.
While the line never acquired official support, it does suggest one of the reasons why the Chairman and other Chinese leaders have become so overtly critical of our détente policies. Our actions may be exposing them to greater domestic criticism—this quite apart from the fact that it would obviously be to China’s advantage to have us take on the Soviets frontally. Despite the signs of criticism of Mao’s foreign policy orientation, however, the Chairman appears determined not to ease off pressures against what he sees as China’s primary security problem, Soviet “hegemonism.”
The signs of increasing political dissension in Peking in late 1973 coincided with the gradual diminution in the direct leadership role of Premier Chou En-lai—not only a major figure in the opening to the U.S., but also an urbane and far-sighted negotiator and moderating political influence within China. During my November 1973 visit to Peking, Chou adopted a rather passive role, while Mao—despite his age—discussed world events for over three hours and in great detail, clearly putting his stamp on policies which the Premier had articulated on my previous trip.
The Chinese apparently knew in late 1973 that Chou En-lai’s health was failing, and consciously sought to reduce his load of responsibility. Peking sent Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing to New York for a special UN session in April 1974 in his first major foreign policy role since his rehabilitation a year earlier. During my first encounter with the Vice Premier, Chou’s name was never mentioned. Throughout the rest of the year Teng assumed an ever-larger proportion of Chou’s responsibilities [Page 851] in foreign affairs, and when I visited Peking in November, I had only a brief and largely non-substantive discussion with the Premier. Teng became the principal interlocutor across the negotiating table.
The exact mixture of physical and political elements which account for the Premier’s gradual withdrawal from a direct role in Chinese politics—and in our dealings with Peking—is difficult to estimate. We believe Chou has either heart trouble or stomach cancer, and may have had an operation this past September. Certainly the recent hardening in our dialogue with Peking is not merely an effect of Chou En-lai’s withdrawal; yet there is no question but that the Premier imparted a degree of vision and finesse to our dialogue which is lacking in the style of his immediate successor, Teng Hsiao-p’ing. Teng does not display Chou’s grasp of history or his deft handling of diplomatic discourse. His style is rather frontal and somewhat acerbic. Moreover, being a recent rehabilitee from the Cultural Revolution purges, Teng may feel the need to adopt a hard stance to limit his vulnerability to criticism from rivals unhappy with his remarkable return to political influence, and to retain the confidence which Chairman Mao appears to have vested in him in the past three years. In short, for both intellectual and political reasons, Teng does not appear to have the self-assurance to range very widely from his brief, or to take very innovative or controversial positions.
Apart from our sense of the respective positions of Chou and Teng, we believe that Chairman Mao continues to exercise the predominant influence in the formulation of China’s foreign policy. This was borne out in my discussions with him last month. Distrust of the Soviet Union remains the cornerstone of his approach to dealing with the outside world. While the Chairman may be under some internal pressure for his policies, he gives no sign of wavering in his effort to construct a loose coalition of forces opposed to Soviet “hegemonism” as a way of countering Moscow’s efforts to encircle China through détente with the West and promotion of an anti-PRC Asian Collective Security System.
If China’s domestic political scene now produces greater caution, if not a certain immobilism and cooling of atmosphere, in their foreign policy stance, the Chinese perception of our own position may well reinforce such a tendency. While, as noted above, I believe the key factor accounting for this is the Chinese view that our domestic political foundation has eroded and that the U.S. is increasingly unable to project a coherent foreign policy, they also probably sense an increasing lack of responsiveness in our bilateral dealings. During my visit to Peking in November 1974, I foreshadowed for the first time the likelihood that there would be no major progress on the Taiwan issue before 1977 unless China explicitly renounced the use of force. I reinforced this view with the Chinese during the past summer, and explicitly told Foreign [Page 852] Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua in late September that we were not prepared to complete the normalization process at this time.14
The Chinese are well aware that our major setbacks in Indochina have increased the Administration’s domestic and international political vulnerabilities, creating a context where any major change in our relationships with Taiwan which implied abandonment of yet another ally would be unacceptable at this time. Moreover, as our pre-election politicking gathers momentum—and with it criticism of détente and other foreign policies which Peking does not like—the Chinese may calculate that their most effective posture will be one of waiting to see how our politics and leading personalities evolve over the coming year.
These cumulative factors seem to account for the cooler attitude toward the U.S. which was reflected in the way the Chinese handled my visit in October. Prior to my arrival in Peking their Foreign Minister criticized our positions with unusual force in his speech at the United Nations,15 and the Foreign Ministry highlighted our differences by creating problems in our bilateral dealings on issues of Tibet and Puerto Rico. During the banquet toasts on my first night in Peking, Ch’iao Kuan-hua publicly criticized our détente policy, knowing full well that this would generate considerable attention and speculation in the world press.16
My conversations with Vice Premier Teng were rather desultory, except for rather taunting questioning regarding our dealings with the Soviet Union and Europe which he indicated were reminiscent of the appeasement policies of Chamberlain and Daladier in the 1930s. Chairman Mao reinforced these themes in our conversation, and clearly questioned our reliability as a serious world power. He alleged that China was a lesser priority for us now. And against a backdrop of our ineffectual maneuvering, European weakness and disunity and Japanese ambivalence, he sounded a consistent theme of Chinese self-reliance. In their unforthcoming posture on trade issues and the exchange programs, and by their lack of interest in some special briefings, the Chinese indicated a desire to keep us at some distance. And finally, the contentious nature of both the content of their draft communiqué for your visit, and their insolent procedure of presenting it to me at the eleventh hour of my visit, represented their most disdainful performance with us since the opening of our relationship. On substance, the Chinese indicated a desire to highlight our differences on international questions while showing no interest in advancing our bilateral relations.[Page 853]
This change in mood in our relationship is annoying, even somewhat disturbing. At the same time, we do not believe it represents a major crisis in the relationship, and should be kept in perspective. The Chinese have no real strategic alternative to maintaining at least the symbolic aspects of our relationship at this time. They clearly remain interested in your visit. The international forces which brought us together remain basically at work. They still treat the Soviet Union as their principal enemy, even while they appear to want to maintain somewhat greater restraint in their posture toward us. And for all our domestic problems, they know full well that we remain the strongest power in the world and are not to be trifled with.
The Objectives Of Your Talks In Peking
The above analysis represents our best estimate of Peking’s perceptions of the U.S. and the Administration’s various policies at this time. While we have confidence that the Chinese do not wish to break off a dialogue with the Administration, we have little expectation that Peking will make your visit much more than an occasion for symbolic contact and an opportunity to question Administration policies affecting them. On the other hand, it is not in their interest, given their concerns about the Soviet Union, to have your visit result in an apparent breakdown in the relationship. Moreover, we have been assured that you will be received courteously and with all appropriate protocol.
The Chinese Position. The results of my October trip to Peking indicate that the Chinese will not be very forthcoming on either international or bilateral issues in a way that will imply forward progress in our relationship. The draft communiqué which they tabled indicates that they are likely to highlight our differing approaches to dealing with the problem of “hegemony;” and we can expect no overt signs of cooperation on third country issues. They are most likely to try to sustain the relationship at its current level by limiting cultural and scientific exchanges to present levels; and they will continue to show no interest in movement on trade-related issues such as solution of the claims/assets problem. They will probably emphasize to you their continuing commitment to a policy of national “self-reliance.” They are likely to state rather self-righteously that they will be “patient” on the Taiwan issue if we still “need” the island and that they are quite prepared to live with our relationship in its presently semi-normal condition.
Your Position. Thus, we believe the most realistic approach to your trip to Peking is that of a sustaining visit, an effort to maintain what has been a useful dialogue on world issues and a symbolic relationship of strategic value to both sides. A relationship such as this, because it lacks the substance of our ties to a country like Japan, requires periodic high-level exchanges on issues of common concern to maintain common [Page 854] perceptions and sustain its symbolic weight. Moreover, it will be very useful for you to get a direct sense of the way this leadership works and to size up those who are likely to succeed Chairman Mao and Premier Chou En-lai as the next generation of senior PRC officials.
In addition, your subsequent stops in Jakarta and Manila will put the Peking visit—and our overall relationship with the Chinese—in more balanced perspective as one element of American policy in the Pacific. Your speech at the East-West Center in Hawaii on December 7 can be used to articulate our overall objectives in the Pacific Basin: our desire to encourage the evolution of an equilibrium of forces in the Asian area; our intention to support change in the region through political means and not violence; our enduring commitment to sustain the security of our allies and support the sovereignty of all states in the region; and our desire to maintain mutually beneficial economic and political relations with all the countries of East Asia.17
In your discussions with Chairman Mao and Vice Premier Teng, I believe you should concentrate on the following themes:
- —Confirm the Administration’s position that we seek to build a vital relationship with the PRC on both international and bilateral matters so as to strengthen the basis for coordinated action on the security issues which have brought us together.
- —Emphasize that the U.S. will continue to play a vigorous international role, and that we are not constrained on basic security issues despite the short-term effects of Congressional actions and our post-Vietnam/post-Watergate domestic mood. (You should not, however, appear defensive about our domestic situation.)
- —Stress that our complex strategy of combining serious negotiations and basic firmness is the best U.S. approach toward the USSR. We are convinced that this strategy is the most effective way to constrain the Soviets and to achieve agreements which reduce the danger of war. Tactically, it also creates a public orientation in the United States which will enable us to rally public support for resistance to expansionist activities when they occur. You should review recent examples of American actions which indicate that we are both determined and capable of countering Moscow’s outward pressures and that we are not “strategically passive.” (You can cite such recent examples as Congressional support for your Middle East diplomacy, renewed aid to Turkey, our increased efforts in Portugal and Angola, and the results of the European Economic Summit meeting.)
- —State your views regarding further steps toward full normalization of U.S.–PRC relations and the handling of the Taiwan question. [Page 855] Your objective is to assure the Chinese that we are not just stringing them along on normalization, but that mutual efforts will be required to resolved the Taiwan question.
- —Briefly touch on bilateral relations in relaxed fashion. You can indicate your awareness of their position that they are not prepared at this time to take steps in our bilateral relations which would indicate at least partial forward movement. You should say that we are ready to accept this, but this will lead much of the world to believe our relationship is stagnating, which is not in the interests of either of us. You can reiterate that we do not view progress in our economic relations or exchange programs as ends in themselves, but rather as activities which will strengthen the support of our public for a normal relationship with the PRC and for actions that we may have to take which would affect the security of both our countries.
On the basis of the mood and substance of your exchanges on the first day or so of your visit, you will have to decide on an approach regarding a public document which might be issued at the conclusion of your visit.
Thus far, the Chinese have made it crystal clear that they are not prepared to negotiate a full-fledged communiqué which would have sufficient balance between our areas of disagreement and points of common interest on international issues, combined with signs of progress in our bilateral relations, to make such a document look like an advance in our relations. Indeed what they have in mind could well be interpreted as a setback in our relations, especially three years after the Shanghai Communiqué. We seriously doubt that this situation will change. Your choice is likely to be between no formal statement at all and a bland, descriptive press release which simply puts on the public record the fact that you visited the PRC and held “frank and useful” talks with Chinese leaders. We will have to make a judgment at the time about which approach is likely to be most useful (or least damaging) to our purposes.
While most of the substantive issues of common interest have been covered in my previous discussions in Peking, it is of course essential that the Chinese get a feel for your own approach to them. Ultimately, it will not be words that will modify Chinese positions on the issues which have induced some current strain in our relationship. They will decide how much vitality to inject into their dealings with us on the basis of the degree of pressure they feel under from Moscow, their estimate of our ability to act as a world power—especially against the Russians—and the measure of purpose they sense in Washington with regard to completion of the normalization process. Hopefully, your visit to Peking will not only sustain a useful relationship and deepen the official dialogue, but will also lay the basis for a more constructive evolution of our bilateral relations in the years to come.
- Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Trip Briefing Books and Cables for President Ford, Presidential Trips File, Box 20, 11/28–12/7/75, Far East, General. Top Secret; Nodis. This memorandum was attached to a November 22 covering memorandum from Scowcroft to the President, which noted, “It was prepared jointly by the NSC Staff and Department of State. It is meant to pull together the many aspects of U.S.–PRC relations that you will be reviewing in the other briefing materials we have sent.”↩
- See Document 124.↩
- See Document 93.↩
- See footnote 18, Document 112.↩
- See Document 131.↩
- Not found.↩
- See Document 131.↩
- See footnote 3, Document 131.↩
- Reference is to the Nixon Doctrine; see footnote 5, Document 18.↩
- See Document 12.↩
- See Document 8.↩
- See Document 12.↩
- See footnote 4, Document 67.↩
- See Document 119.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 119.↩
- See Department of State Bulletin, November 17, 1975, pp. 681–682.↩
- For text of President Ford’s speech, see Public Papers: Ford, 1975, vol. II, pp. 1950–1955.↩