16. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • James C. H. Shen, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of China
  • Mr. Hengli Chen, Counselor, Embassy of the Republic of China
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • John H. Holdridge, Senior Staff Member, NSC


  • Mr. Kissinger’s Remarks to Ambassador Shen Concerning U.S. Relations with the PRC and the ROC

After a few preliminary remarks between Ambassador Shen and Mr. Kissinger concerning the tiring nature of Mr. Kissinger’s recent trip, Mr. Kissinger said that, first, he wanted to show the Ambassador the Joint U.S.–PRC Communiqué which was to be issued the following day.2 He assumed, of course, that the Ambassador would keep the Communiqué confidential. After Ambassador Shen had read it, he, Mr. Kissinger, could then answer any questions about our general policy.

Ambassador Shen quickly scanned the text of the Joint Communiqué, and then asked what the diplomatic level of the liaison offices would be. Mr. Kissinger explained that the liaison offices would be non-diplomatic, and that there would therefore be no diplomatic level. The senior man’s title would be chief of the liaison office, and he would not be at the ambassadorial level. For several reasons we had not wanted to call the offices “trade offices.” What we had done was to more or less abolish the Paris channel; however, if we had a diplomatic note to present, for example, a protest, this couldn’t be handled by the liaison office. The liaison office would handle exchange and trade matters, and other things of a non-diplomatic nature.

Mr. Kissinger wanted to emphasize two things: first, the liaison offices would not have any effect on our recognition of Taiwan, and secondly, he wanted to make it absolutely clear that he didn’t anticipate any other steps in this direction for the foreseeable future.

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Ambassador Shen wanted to know how this matter had come up—was it at the initiative of the U.S. Government? Mr. Kissinger recalled that when the President had been in Peking he had said we were willing to do this, but they wouldn’t agree so long as an ROC Embassy was in Washington and we maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Now, however, they had withdrawn this objection. When asked by Ambassador Shen why they had done so, Mr. Kissinger conjectured that it was due to fear of Russia. This was only conjecture, though.

Mr. Kissinger went on to say that the chief of the PRC liaison office in Washington would not be part of the diplomatic corps—there would be no presentation of credentials, and the office could not fly the flag. “But, could he conduct business with the Government through the State Department?” Ambassador Shen asked. Mr. Kissinger replied that we hadn’t worked out the details yet, but obviously the PRC representatives could conduct business with Government agencies. It was interesting that the PRC was willing to go this far while the U.S. was still maintaining diplomatic relations with the ROC.

Ambassador Shen raised the question of the size of the liaison offices. Mr. Kissinger indicated that this had to be worked out, but that a staff of between five and ten might be envisaged. We might send around four people plus a supporting staff. When asked by Ambassador Shen how soon this might be, Mr. Kissinger expressed the view that it would not be too soon, but probably would take place in three or four months. Ambassador Shen wondered what the position of the liaison office might be comparable to—minister, consul general, or chargé? Mr. Kissinger indicated that the liaison officer would not be put on the diplomatic list, and so he didn’t see how this individual would be comparable to anything at all. If, for example, the President gave a reception for the diplomatic corps, the liaison officer wouldn’t be invited, because he had no diplomatic status. But, Ambassador Shen pressed, would he have diplomatic immunities and privileges? Mr. Kissinger replied, yes, very probably. Ambassador Shen asked if he would be able to use codes, and Mr. Kissinger answered affirmatively. Ambassador Shen then remarked that this would be an embassy without the name of it. Mr. Kissinger demurred saying that he did not think so.

Ambassador Shen commented that the Joint Communiqué impressed him as being strikingly brief and touched upon just this one point of the liaison offices. Was there anything else which Mr. Kissinger cared to tell him? Mr. Kissinger declared that there was nothing else to say. Some more exchanges had been agreed upon—we would send the Philadelphia Orchestra to Peking and they would send some physicists here, etc. There was literally nothing more, and this had exhausted the discussions.

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Mr. Kissinger added that he had read in the newspapers that we were going to reduce our forces on Taiwan, but this was ridiculous. The subject had come up more in the way that they had to state for the record rather than as a part of the negotiations, and not as a part of the regular discussions. As to what we would do with our forces on Taiwan, we wouldn’t even look at the problem until after our withdrawal from Vietnam, and then only in connection with our forces supporting Vietnam. We did not expect to remove any combat forces.

When Ambassador Shen stated that there were no U.S. combat forces on Taiwan as such, Mr. Kissinger responded by citing Air Force units. Of course, there were also intelligence units on Taiwan. In any event, we would work within the framework of the forces moved in since March 30 of last year.

Mr. Kissinger said it was his personal view that what we were doing had to be looked at in historical perspective, because what happened on the Mainland after the departure of Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai was hard to foresee. At this, Ambassador Shen remarked that Mr. Kissinger had spent some time with Mao Tse-tung—how had he seemed? Had his physical condition changed? Mr. Kissinger replied that while Mao had seemed all right, the Chinese were smart, but not that smart.

Continuing, Ambassador Shen asked Mr. Kissinger if he had been able to get any feeling for the situation on the Mainland. Mr. Kissinger then spoke of the great Chinese culture and of the magnificant quality of the Chinese to make one feel at ease. The situation in China was much different from that in Russia, and the Chinese atmosphere did not seem to be a Communist atmosphere. What the real internal situation was, he didn’t know, but for the last two years he had always dealt with the same people: Chou En-lai and others around him.

Ambassador Shen wondered if Mr. Kissinger had seen Yeh Chienying, to which Mr. Kissinger responded affirmatively. When asked by the Ambassador if Yeh was in control of the PRC armed forces, Mr. Kissinger said that according to our information, the answer was to some extent yes and to some extent no. Our information was not obtained from our impressions of Peking, which on the surface looked very good. However, information from the provinces suggested that many of them were not under firm government control. The situation was very complicated for the Chinese leaders, and he personally did not know how they proposed to handle the succession problem.

Ambassador Shen commented that he had thought the Chinese had everything worked out in connection with the succession. What about Yao Wen-wuan, who had been mentioned by Chou En-lai? To this, Mr. Kissinger remarked that no person designated as a successor to Mao had ever survived.

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Changing the subject Ambassador Shen asked if there had been any discussion in Peking of an increase in trade. Mr. Kissinger indicated that there had been such a discussion in the context of what had been said in the Shanghai Joint Communiqué. The discussion had been in general terms only, and the Chinese had said that they didn’t want credit loans, but wanted to pay for what they ordered in hard currency. Ambassador Shen speculated on the size of the PRC’s specie reserve, and then raised the question of Most Favored Nation treatment for the PRC. Had they asked for MFN treatment? Mr. Kissinger replied that they were not eligible for MFN right now, but they had said that they did want it. Ambassador Shen asked, was this within the President’s power to grant, or was Congressional approval required? Mr. Kissinger explained that MFN could not be granted without Congressional approval, although it would not be needed if the future new trade bill passed. Congressional approval was not needed by the President to grant credit loans.

Ambassador Shen turned the conversation to the question of Sino-Soviet relations, and wondered if the PRC fear of the Soviets was genuine. Was the situation serious, and if so, how serious? To a statement from Mr. Kissinger that he thought the Chinese fear of the Soviets was genuine, Ambassador Shen raised the possibility that it might be overblown. Mr. Kissinger reiterated that, while he didn’t know for sure, the people in Peking felt that the threat was serious enough. He did not believe that they were doing what they were with respect to the U.S. because they liked him personally. Ambassador Shen expressed some doubts, but noted that of course he had not been there. It was at least possible, though, that they were simply going through the motions of showing great admiration—everything they did was for a purpose. Mr. Kissinger agreed, but added that we did everything we had done, at least for the time being, for mutual self-interest.

Ambassador Shen wanted to know if any other matters had been discussed in Peking. What about the 12-nation conference? Mr. Kissinger agreed that there had, in fact, been some discussions on this question. Ambassador Shen wondered whether there had been any reservations expressed with respect to the position of the U.N. Secretary General, to which Mr. Kissinger indicated that there indeed had been some reservations but did not elaborate further.

Ambassador Shen then asked how Mr. Kissinger’s talks in Japan had gone. Mr. Kissinger said that after their (the Japanese) “very generous behavior” toward Taiwan, they had become very solicitous of Taiwan’s position in relation to the PRC. He had told them that we had not been the ones to betray Taiwan, they had—we were not breaking diplomatic relations.

Mr. Kissinger observed that the Japanese Government was in trouble. Ambassador Shen expressed the view that the Japanese Government was not in trouble which would cost it too much. Mr. Kissinger [Page 201] said that he didn’t know about this. Most of the people with whom he had talked felt that Tanaka would not serve out his full three years. At any rate, the Japanese now showed great interest in Taiwan’s future. Ambassador Shen was surprised at this, and felt that any such attitude on the part of the Japanese must have been an after-thought. According to Mr. Kissinger, the Japanese liked to play the game with Taiwan’s chips because this didn’t cost them anything.

Ambassador Shen questioned Mr. Kissinger as to the latter’s next visit to Peking, and Mr. Kissinger declared that he had no present plans for another visit. To a question as to whether we had picked the staff yet for the U.S. liaison office in Peking, Mr. Kissinger indicated that we had not really made a judgment on this matter.

At this point Ambassador Shen produced some pictures of himself standing next to Mr. Kissinger, and asked Mr. Kissinger to sign one for him. Ambassador Shen jokingly said that he would include this picture in his book if he were to write one.

Ambassador Shen called attention to the fact that Mr. Kissinger had spent 20 hours talking to the people in Peking. What had gone on in all this time? Mr. Kissinger explained that most of the conversation had consisted of a review of the world and of the individual exchange programs we had with the PRC. Strangely enough, there had been no more than one-half hour on Taiwan. They had said that they could not accept our presence, and we had stayed within the confines of what we had said in the Shanghai Communiqué.

Ambassador Shen asked what they (the PRC) wanted the ROC to do. Mr. Kissinger’s response was: “negotiate.” When Ambassador Shen asked if they were serious, Mr. Kissinger said that they were indeed serious. At social events they had said that they didn’t want to change the social system on Taiwan, they just wanted to maintain the principle that it was part of China. The question of Taiwan’s social system was separate from that of maintaining the integrity of China. They had repeatedly said that they wouldn’t use force against Taiwan and therefore the question of U.S. troops defending Taiwan would not arise because there would be no use of force. Nevertheless, we had no illusions, and remembered what they had said about us four years ago. They could change again. But we believed that they wanted talks they always said that they admired and respected Chiang Kai-shek for one thing: he had always wanted to maintain the unity of China.

Ambassador Shen asked if the PRC has asked the President to mediate or to play any other role. Mr. Kissinger said no, but he was sure that if we were asked we would be willing to listen; we weren’t asked, though, and would not take the initiative in any future which he, Mr. Kissinger, could see. At this, Ambassador Shen asked how far in the future Mr. Kissinger could see. Mr. Kissinger remarked that he had told the Ambassador last year that nothing would happen until now. Looking [Page 202] forward the same would be the case until 1974, which was all which he could foresee at this time. Nothing would happen in this period.

Ambassador Shen queried Mr. Kissinger as to whether he had any opinion of the way that the Chinese on Taiwan had been conducting themselves. Mr. Kissinger replied that he had a very high opinion of them on this score. They had behaved with great dignity and skill. We had no complaints. Ambassador Shen agreed that Taiwan had not caused the U.S. any difficulties. Mr. Kissinger declared that if personal feelings had entered in, the talks would have been different. Ambassador Shen’s people had behaved with nobility, and we had no complaints.

Ambassador Shen stated that the ROC was gratified over the agreement on co-production of F–5s, which had now been signed. There were now just a couple of other small matters about which he would like to ask. The first was the situation of three over-aged destroyers which were to be transferred to the ROC—he had heard that this matter was in the hands of the White House. Mr. Kissinger noted that he had not heard of this but would look into it.3

Continuing, Ambassador Shen referred to another co-production product, that of fast PT boats. He understood that there was some hitch in obtaining agreement on this. Mr. Kissinger again indicated that he had not seen anything of this matter.4 He emphasized that our general trend was to maintain all of our relationships with Taiwan, and to be helpful where we could.

Ambassador Shen expressed some misgivings to Mr. Kissinger as to what would happen when he, Ambassador Shen, faced a representative from Peking. Mr. Kissinger said that this would not happen for several months yet and referred earlier to what he had said about the non-diplomatic status of Peking’s liaison office. Ambassador Shen nevertheless felt that Taipei would look upon it as an embassy without a name. Mr. Kissinger disagreed, saying that it could not do everything while the ROC had an embassy here. This certainly proved that Japan had paid too hard a price in return for its normalization of relations with Peking. He had said this to Tanaka, and to Sato as well. Sato had agreed.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. XI, Aug 1972–Oct 24, 1973. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office from 6:05 until 6:25 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) Holdridge sent this memorandum of conversation to Kissinger under a March 1 covering letter. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. XI, Aug 1972–Oct 24, 1973) On February 20, Froebe sent Kissinger talking points for this meeting. (Ibid.)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 14.
  3. The request for the destroyer transfer was then working its way through the Department of Defense and had not yet reached the White House. (Memorandum from Holdridge to Kissinger, March 1; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 523, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. XI, Aug 1972–Oct 24, 1973) Kissinger approved the destroyer transfer on March 27. (Memorandum from Kissinger to Laird; ibid.)
  4. At the time of this conversation, the Department of State was in the process of responding to a request from the Office of Management and Budget to finance patrol boat co-production. (Ibid.)