17. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs(Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • My Asian Trip

My trip to Bangkok, Vientiane, Hanoi, Peking, and Tokyo was timely.

We have just concluded a Vietnam settlement: I was able to tell ally and adversary alike that you will insist on strict implementation of the Agreement, maintain forces in the region to deter violation, and key economic aid to compliance.

The war continued in Laos and Cambodia: I stressed the need for early ceasefires and North Vietnamese withdrawals. The conversations on Laos served to hasten the ceasefire; the ones on Cambodia may lead to a negotiating process, but the many forces at play make this problem especially difficult.

This is the start of your second term: I expressed your determination to maintain a strong world leadership role the next four years. This message not only reassured our friends but also remains the key element in our developing relations with Peking. With the Chinese we are now entering into a positive new relationship of greatly expanded bilateral contacts and tacit cooperation in our global approach. With the North Vietnamese we may have laid the foundation for better relations; we have at least made clear that they must choose between restraint, reconciliation and reconstruction on the one hand and cheating and confrontation on the other.

Following are the highlights of each of my stops.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to China that was excised by the NSC staff.]

China

I had twenty hours of talks with Chou and almost two with Mao in addition to several informal hours with Chou and other Chinese leaders. Following within the framework which your trip clearly established, these talks were exceedingly frank and cordial. With the [Page 204] Vietnam settlement behind us, the reception was the warmest and easiest ever. The conversations made clear that the Chinese are bent on accelerating our relationship. This was reflected outwardly as well in innumerable ways. My meeting with Mao was splashed across the top half of the People’s Daily and a film on our trip ran for twelve minutes on national television. Guards saluted us for the first time as we entered the Great Hall and our Guest House. Our plane taxied right up to the terminal, etc., etc.

I will send you separate memoranda on the atmospherics and substantive discussions in Peking.2 Following are the main conclusions.

We are now in the extraordinary situation that, with the exception of the United Kingdom, the PRC might well be closest to us in its global perceptions. No other world leaders have the sweep and imagination of Mao and Chou nor the capacity and will to pursue a long range policy. Our ideologies and views of history clash, but objective factors induce tacit cooperation for at least several years. If the Soviet danger fades and/or China becomes stronger over a period of time, the Chinese could follow an antagonistic policy with the same single-mindedness. For now, however, they need us, and their course is set.

Peking has chosen normalization because of our strength. It is precisely your assertion of a responsible American world role and taking strong measures when necessary that has convinced the PRC that the U.S. is a useful counterweight to the Soviet menace. Indeed, we have come full circle since July 1971. In my first trip to Peking I was treated to dissertations by Chou on our “stretching out our hands” around the world like the Soviet Union. It is true that Chinese perceptions had already evolved to the point that American imperialism was largely in the past while the Soviet variety was in full bloom. But the Chinese emphasis was nevertheless on American withdrawals from Asia; the Japan-U.S. military ties were at a minimum unhelpful; we were told to get out of Korea; there was considerable attention to Taiwan; there was almost no interest in Europe; and the U.S. might be capable of colluding with the USSR, Japan and India to carve up China.

We have come a very long way. The watershed clearly was your discussions with Mao and Chou when you stamped your personal imprint on our course. Substantial manifestation of our shared world view [Page 205] showed up in my subsequent June visit, as you will recall, but the Vietnam war still inhibited Chinese moves. On this trip the floodgates opened. Mao and Chou were obsessed by Moscow’s intentions. With Vietnam out of the way as an obstacle and age closing in, they spoke with complete candor and an extreme cordiality which was reflected in every facet of our reception.

The contrast of their views with July 1971 was remarkable. Rather than being scolded for our global presence we were scolded for not doing enough to counter Soviet pressures. Mao said our forces were spread too thin. Chou complained that we were too slow and too slack in such areas as the Persian Gulf, South Asia and the Indian Ocean. For example, he urged us to give military aid to Pakistan, grant economic aid to Bangladesh, improve relations with Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Nepal, etc. in order to oppose Moscow and its agent, New Delhi. I assured the Chinese of your determination to maintain a strong foreign policy and our willingness to undertake some of the specific steps he recommended.

Mao and Chou also urged us in work more closely with Japan. Our view that the U.S.-Japanese Security Treaty serves to brake Japanese militarism has now been accepted. I was told that I should be spending more than one day consulting with Japanese leaders. I responded that we intended to continue our close relationship with Tokyo and favored improvement of Chinese-Japanese relations.

Even on Indochina, where our formal positions inevitably differ, we share a common interest in independent states rather than dominance by Hanoi as an agent of the Soviet Union. I stressed this general theme and the need for restraint by all parties. We were prepared to normalize relations with Hanoi but only if it honored its obligations and was prepared to pursue its objectives through political evolution. I think Chou clearly understands our requirements in this regard, and Peking can have no interest in Hanoi’s risking renewed confrontation with us. As for the need for Chinese restraint in military shipments, Chou pointed to the much more dominant Soviet aid role, but I think we can expect some Chinese moderation.

I also emphasized the need for an early ceasefire in Laos and direct negotiations among the Cambodians. The Chinese approach remained essentially hands-off. However, Chou clearly favored an early end to hostilities in Laos, and promised them to pull out Chinese anti-aircraft and withdraw their road-building teams when the road is completed. On Cambodia, he introduced some cynical remarks about Sihanouk. There is a definite cooling off in their relationship though Chou made a pro forma pitch for me to talk to Sihanouk which I rejected. He agreed to study my suggestion that Lon Nol’s government talk directly to Sihanouk’s representatives, and we agreed [Page 206] to keep each other informed on Cambodia through our New York channel.

Our talks on the International Conference were inconclusive and not very encouraging. the PRC will follow Hanoi’s lead which means they will favor a brief, anodyne Conference which would do little concrete to guarantee the Vietnam settlement and would avoid Laos and Cambodia.

Chou expressed their desire for a stable Southeast Asian region in general made up of independent countries. It was up to the people of those countries to bring about revolution. Not even lip service was paid to PRC support of such efforts. Here—as elsewhere around the globe—Peking finds it more important to counter Soviet and Indian designs.

Chou didn’t mention Korea until the very end of our discussions. He made only a pro forma pitch for gradual U.S. withdrawal. There was virtually no discussion of Taiwan and only then at my initiative. When I outlined your intentions on troop withdrawals, Chou shrugged this off, saying the timing was a matter of indifference to them.

Europe is now a major concern to Peking. A series of European leaders have visited China and the PRC Foreign Minister is undertaking a tour there. The Chinese are worried that Europe is being beguiled by the Soviet-sponsored illusions of peace and will thus cease to be a factor in the global balance. Chou contrasted Europe’s growing economic strength with its military weakness. In short, the Chinese see a false détente in the region freeing the Russians’ Western flank and “pushing the ill waters of the Soviet Union eastward.”

I emphasized that we had no illusions about Soviet motives in Europe. We would try to keep the European Security Conference brief and meaningless. We would use MBFR to educate our allies about the military threat and need for vigilance, as well as to fend off Congressional pressures for unilateral American withdrawals. Any MBFR reductions would not be before 1975 and not exceed 10–15%. We would encourage European political and security unity. And we welcomed Chinese education of Europe’s short-sighted leadership.

Finally, Mao and Chou, though they sounded warnings about our dealings with the Soviet Union, clearly dismissed any American designs on China and urged closer U.S.-PRC relations. Thus, in addition to encouraging a vigorous U.S. international presence, they were anxious to step up our bilateral relationship in every field. They not only accepted our proposal for an American liaison office in Peking, they proposed one of their own in Washington. These non-diplomatic offices will be established by May. Mao and Chou urged greater trade between us. They agreed to a large, specific, and two-way program of exchanges in the scientific, cultural and other fields. They pointed up the need for increased travel and the learning of English. These positive [Page 207] steps were reflected in our Joint Communiqué.3 Typically, they accepted our draft almost verbatim; with most countries there would have been at least some haggling, even if the document was generally acceptable. In addition, Chou informed me that the two American pilots captured while on Vietnam-related missions will be released within the 60-day period of the Vietnam Agreement; and Downey, the CIA agent, will be set free the latter part of this year.

Against this background, the following elements are essential in our policy toward the PRC:

  • We must continue being meticulous in our bilateral dealings. Our practice of keeping Peking informed of major policy developments has clearly paid off. We have shown a consistent willingness to take PRC views into account and act in parallel where possible. This approach has helped to gain Peking’s confidence and to slacken it now would erode this precious commodity.
  • We need to institutionalize our relationship. As explained above, this trip produced significant advances in this respect. The liaison offices and accelerated trade and exchanges will provide visible evidence of our growing ties which others will have to take into account. They also serve to accustom our two peoples to full-scale relations and lay a foundation that should survive the departure of China’s aging leadership and a new American Administration four years hence.
  • We must continue to play a strong world role, especially in Asia. A weak or passive America is of no use to the PRC. Mao and Chou have clearly been impressed with your strong policies and willingness to take tough decisions despite domestic pressures. If the Chinese see us turn inward or lose our will, they will cast about for other ways to deal with the threat of the “new czars.” In that case they might as well emphasize ideology.
  • We need to be very careful in our policies toward Moscow and New Delhi. These are now the two principal threats for Peking; faced with almost total isolation a couple of years ago, the PRC has opted for normalization with us and Tokyo. Mao and Chou both voiced suspicion that, whether or not by design, we could contribute to pressures on China. Therefore while we should not be paralyzed in our Soviet and India policies—and indeed with Moscow we have very important business—we will need to be deliberate and keep the PRC informed.

Our reception and conversations on this trip convince me that the PRC has firmly set its course: explicitly toward normalization and tacitly as ally. They are ready to move quickly—with the Soviet threat [Page 208] growing, the Vietnam war over, and age crowding the Chinese leadership. If we proceed carefully and observe elements such as those listed above, we are now launched on a totally new relationship that should last through your second Administration.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Far East, Box 98, HAK China Trip, Memcons & Reports (originals), February 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. There are no markings on the memorandum indicating that Nixon saw it.
  2. See Document 18. On March 2, Kissinger also sent Nixon a memorandum on the “Atmospherics of My Trip to Peking.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 98, Country Files, Far East, HAK China Trip, Memcons & Reports (originals), February 1973) Kissinger’s report on his meeting with Mao, February 24, is also ibid.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 14.