18. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • My Trip to China


Separate reports have given you the substantive highlights and atmosphere of my visit to the People’s Republic of China, plus a complete rundown of my conversation with Chairman Mao.2 This will give you a more detailed account of my talks with the Chinese and place them in the context of our developing relationship.

I spent twenty hours in formal meetings with Chou, almost two hours with Mao, and several more hours with Chou and other Chinese officials at banquets and on sightseeing tours.3 This included talks with Vice Chairman Yeh Chien-ying, Foreign Minister Chi Peng-fei, and Vice Foreign Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua. These talks were the freest and most candid, and our reception the most cordial and public-oriented, of any of my visits. This was due to a combination of factors:

  • —The Vietnam settlement;
  • —our meticulous handling of the Chinese and fulfillment of our undertakings since July 1971;
  • —the growing Chinese preoccupation with the Soviet threat;
  • —the shadow of advancing age of the PRC leaders;
  • —the consequent urge to accelerate the normalization and institutionalization of our bilateral relationship; and
  • —the fact that we are now familiar interlocutors after five trips and literally hundreds of hours of talks in Peking and New York.

Evolution of Our Relationship

The progression of our relationship in the past twenty months is remarkable. I believe it is one of your most striking successes in foreign policy. If we continue to handle it carefully, it should continue to pay dividends—in relaxing tensions in Asia, in furthering relations with Moscow, and generally in building a structure of peace.

When you sent me to China in July 1971 we had almost no idea what to expect as we penetrated twenty years of accumulated isolation, distrust and enmity. Since then we have progressed faster and further than anyone would have predicted, or the rest of the world realizes. For in plain terms we have now become tacit allies.The evolution has gone as follows:

  • When you took officethere was total lack of diplomatic communication between our two governments, no personal or commercial interchange between our two peoples, mutual public recrimination, and clashing world views.
  • In the first two and a half years of your Administration, we put out private feelers through third countries, took unilateral public steps in such fields as trade and passports in order to send signals, and pointed our rhetoric toward a new relationship. This resulted in agreement in principle that you would meet the Chinese leaders and my secret exploratory trip of July 1971.
  • My July 1971 tripreestablished direct communications, confirmed your trip to Peking and suggested that the PRC was ready to move toward normalization. On the other hand, Chou presented his quota of rhetoric and our policies clashed on most major issues.
  • In October 1971we established the framework for your trip, including the outlines of the joint communiqué. The Taiwan issue remained hanging in the communiqué, however, and our policies continued to conflict in many areas.
  • Your February 1972 visitwas the watershed. It stamped your and Mao’s personal imprints on the move toward normalization. The Shanghai Communiqué contained joint principles in international affairs, finessed the Taiwan problem through mutual and ambiguous compromise, set in motion bilateral trade and exchanges, established the public Paris channel, and accelerated the private New York channel. However, as the communiqué publicly, and your conversations [Page 210] privately demonstrated, we were improving our relations despite different world outlooks.
  • My June 1972 tripmarked substantial evolution toward our views in the Chinese private positions on international issues. But the Vietnam war continued to inhibit the Chinese, and publicly all we could register was a modest increase in exchanges and trade.
  • On this trip in February 1973, the flood gates opened privately and publicly for the reasons stated. The Chinese leaders are among the very few in the world with a global and longer term perspective—and it now parallels ours in many important respects. In such areas as the Soviet Union, Europe, South Asia and even Japan we have similar outlooks. In others, like Indochina and Korea, we each back our allies but share an interest in independent states and relaxed tensions. And on Taiwan we have reached a clear modus vivendi—on our part, continued, concrete evolution toward full relations with all its implications; and on their part, patience and a pragmatism reflected most vividly in the coming side-by-side presence of a GNP Embassy and a PRC Liaison Office. On the bilateral plane, it is full speed ahead on trade and exchanges. As for public relations, the Chinese have long since singled out the USSR for attack and have shown increasing cordiality in their public contacts with us.

Following are the main points of my talks with the Chinese, topic by topic.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union dominated our conversations. In 1971 there were somewhat guarded references by the Chinese to Soviet designs, but they ritualistically linked the U.S. and the USSR as the two superpowers seeking hegemony. By the time of your visit the Chinese leaders were quite candid about the Soviet menace but stayed away from extended discussion. By last June the Soviet Union had become one of the two major topics in my conversations, the other one being Indochina. On this trip it was the centerpiece and completely permeated our talks. The Chinese views generally surfaced in the regional discussion and are detailed later in this report. Following are the more general observations.

Chou raised the USSR in our first meeting and kept coming back to it. He called a special meeting the night of February 17 to discuss this subject and at the end of his presentation he announced my meeting with Mao, where again it was a major topic. We discussed it at length the next day as well. In literally every region of the world the Chinese see the Soviet hand at play. As you will see in the area discussions below, Mao and Chou urged us to counter the Russians everywhere—to work closely with our allies in Europe and Japan, and to take more positive action to prevent the Soviets filling vacuums or spreading their influence in areas like the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Near East, South Asia and Indian Ocean.

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In our first meeting, after my opening statement, Chou asked me in effect whether we thought the world was moving toward peace or war. I said that there were some positive developments, but we were not naive about potential dangers, such as the intensive Soviet military buildup. I made clear that we had major business to do with Moscow, but we were under no illusions about its possible motivations. We would continue our policy of keeping the Chinese fully informed and not concluding any agreements that could be directed against Peking.

Chou pointed to developments in Europe and said perhaps we sought to “push the ill waters of the Soviet Union eastward.” He also cited our diversion of fighters from Taiwan to South Vietnam last fall in Enhance Plus4 as an example of our taking advantage of Peking; somewhat out of context, he said that this showed that we might be standing on Chinese shoulders to reach out toward the Soviet Union.

The next day I purposely detailed our proposed force reductions on Taiwan and then made a more sweeping analysis of our policy toward the Soviet Union. I said that the nature of our relationship meant that we had to pursue a more complicated policy than the PRC which could oppose the Soviet Union outright on issues. We were making several agreements with Moscow, but we would not let these constrain us in the event that our interests were jeopardized. I pointed out that the USSR could follow one of two courses. If they truly wanted peace, we would welcome that course, and the agreements we were making might contribute to that end. If, however, as seemed more likely, they were bent on a more threatening road, we had shown in the past that we would react strongly if our interests were jeopardized. In any event, I emphasized, we would maintain strong defenses and improve our strategic forces so long as the Soviet buildup continued. And on issues of direct concern to Peking we would take Chinese interests into account, such as on the Soviet initiative on a nuclear understanding, where we have been fighting a delaying action ever since last spring.

Chou and then Mao, however, both replayed the theme that we might be helping the Soviet Union, whether or not purposely. Whereas we saw two possibilities, i.e. that the Soviet Union would either pursue a peaceful or a menacing course, the Chinese saw only the latter. They were spreading their influence everywhere with the help of their satellites, like India, and were out to isolate the Chinese. The “new czars” were neurotic and omnipresent. It was the Chinese duty to try and expose their designs wherever possible, however lonely their efforts in a world enamored with false détente.

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Mao even went so far as to suggest that we might like to see the Russians bogged down in an attack on China; after wearing themselves out for a couple of years, we would then “poke a finger” in Moscow’s back. I rejoined that we believe that a war between the two Communist giants was likely to be uncontrollable and have unfortunate consequences for everyone. We therefore wished to prevent such a conflict, not take advantage of it.

Given Mao’s and Chou’s skeptical comments on this issue, I treated it at considerable length the day after my meeting with the Chairman. I said there were three hypothetical U.S. motives in a policy that contributed to pressures on the PRC from the USSR. First, we might want the Soviet Union to defeat China. I stressed emphatically that whether Moscow defeated China or Europe first, the consequences for us would be the same; we would be isolated and the ultimate target. Thus this could never be our policy.

The second possible motive was the one Mao mentioned—our wish for a stalemated Moscow attack on Peking, so as to exhaust the Soviet Union. I pointed out that even partial Soviet dominance of China could have many of the consequences of the first option. In any event, such a major conflict would have unpredictable consequences. The Soviet Union might take rash actions if they were stymied as the Chairman claimed we had been in Vietnam. And we would be forced either to demonstrate our impotence and irrelevance, or make a series of extremely complex decisions.

The third possibility was that we might contribute to a war between China and the Soviet Union through misjudgment rather than policy. This I recognized as a danger despite our intentions. I then analyzed at length our policy around the world, with emphasis on Europe, to demonstrate that we plan to maintain our defense, continue a responsible international role, and work closely with our allies. In short, while seeking relaxation with Moscow, we would also ensure that if it did not choose a peaceful course we and our friends would be in a position to resist and defend our national interests. And I made it evident that we would consider aggression against China as involving our own national security.

It is not at all clear that we have fully allayed Chinese suspicions. While they have nowhere else to go in the short term, they will certainly watch our Soviet moves with wariness, and take out insurance with Japan and Europe.


Europe is now a major preoccupation of the Chinese leaders. Since my June trip there has been a series of high-level visitors from European capitals to Peking. The Chinese believe that Europe is becoming [Page 213] demoralized and sapped of its strength through the illusions of peace fostered by the Soviet Union. Such a fake détente, most evident in Ostpolitik but also spreading elsewhere, is not only deceptive but dangerous in the Chinese view. They see these European developments as adding to the Soviet pressures against China. The atmospherics of events like the European Security Conference and the possible concrete results of events like the MBFR negotiations free the Soviet western flank so that Moscow can concentrate on its Chinese flank. Both Mao and Chou suggested that we were cooperating in this enterprise and thus, whether or not inadvertently, contributing to the pressures on them.

The Chinese have contempt for the Communist parties of Europe, which are generally Moscow-dominated, and favor the Conservatives over the Socialist and Labor parties. This is most evident in France where the Mitterand challenge to Pompidou causes Peking great concern. Mao told Pompidou to maintain strong ties with the U.S. The Chinese are also worried about German weakness and were anxious to hear why the Christian Democrats had lost the election there. The British seem the most level-headed to them.

In general, Chou pointed out, Europe has grown strong economically but weak militarily, in direct contrast to the Soviet Union whose military strength continues to increase but whose mismanagement has caused serious economic problems. The latter, however, can be eased by U.S. and European trade and credits.

Mao and Chou both stressed the need for us to maintain close ties with Europe. As in the case of Japan, we should not let trade barriers and other frictions disrupt our political bonds. Mao included Europe in the anti-Soviet axis that he urged across the world, together with Japan, the U.S., Iran, Pakistan and Turkey.

In response I emphasized the top priority that we give to our European allies. You plan to concentrate greatly during the coming months on our political, economic and security relations with Europe with a view toward a high-level conference once we had coordinated a general strategy. We had no illusions about Soviet intentions in Europe, and we would conduct our policy so as not to render allied defense vulnerable. The European Security Conference had been foisted upon us by our allies, and we were forced to go through with it. Our only choice was to make it as brief and as meaningless as possible. On the other hand, I said that the MBFR talks were useful, not only to deter Congressional pressures for unilateral American troop reductions in Europe but also to educate our European allies about the military threat posed by Soviet forces. I assured Chou that there would be no reductions before 1975 and these in any event would not exceed 10 to 15%. We would encourage European political and security unit, and we welcome Chinese education of Europe’s shortsighted leadership.

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South Asia

Mao and Chou made clear that in addition to the Soviet Union’s Eastward pressures, the other major threat was hegemonial drives toward the South. In their view Soviet designs include a variety of maneuvers directed along the whole axis running from the Middle East through the Near East, South Asia and the Indian Ocean.

In South Asia, the Chinese believe India remains Moscow’s principal agent; their distrust of New Delhi remains as potent as ever. When we first began talking directly to the Chinese twenty months ago Chou cited four potential enemies—the Soviet Union, the United States, Japan, and India. the PRC has now decided to improve relations with us and Japan, reassured that we are not colluding with the Soviet Union. This leaves two enemies in its pantheon, Moscow and New Delhi.

Chou displayed a particular contempt for the Indians and a personal dislike for Indian leaders. He related several cynical and disdainful anecdotes about Prime Ministers Nehru and Gandhi. The Indians have been pressing Peking for improved relations, and the reestablishment of embassies in both capitals. Chou related that Peking had responded with a typical Chinese ploy—they raised their chargé d’affaires in New Delhi from first secretary to counsellor!

As evidence of the Moscow–New Delhi alliance Chou pointed to those two countries’ attempt to dismember Pakistan by encouraging dissident movements in Baluchistan and Pushtunistan and the fact that most of the Indian Navy is becoming Russian-built. He did not demur when I suggested that New Delhi was seeking to expand its influence in Indochina as well.

As in other areas of the world the Chinese urged an active U.S. foreign policy to counter their enemies’ designs. Chou suggested the following:

  • —I should see Mrs. Bhutto while I was in Peking.
  • —We should increase our military aid to Pakistan. China had given it some assistance, but it was up to us to take the lead for Peking’s capability was limited.
  • —We should better our relations not only with Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Nepal but also with the Indian protectorates of Bhutan and Sikkim.
  • —We should provide Bangladesh with humanitarian assistance and establish some influence there to counter New Delhi. Peking would be willing to do so as well at some point, but couldn’t move so long as the emotional issue of Pakistani prisoners held by Bangladesh was not resolved.
  • —He asked about our bases in the Indian Ocean.

In response I stated that our policies toward South Asia were still in parallel. We would go slow in any improvement of relations with [Page 215] New Delhi and would keep the PRC informed. With regard to Pakistan, I assured Chou that we would resume our pre-war policy of providing spare parts for equipment it already possessed; that we would release military equipment that Pakistan had already contracted for, including 300 APC’s; and that we would work vigorously with third countries like Iran and Turkey to encourage them to provide military assistance to Pakistan which was awkward for us because of our Congressional problems. We would also maintain, perhaps increase, our $200 million in economic aid. As you know, I paid a courtesy call on Mrs. Bhutto while I was in Peking, during which I stressed our continued support and friendship for Pakistan.

On Bangladesh, I informed Chou that we had been holding up $30 million in food assistance until we had elicited Chinese views, but that we would now move immediately to release this. On Sri Lanka, we were prepared to improve our relations at whatever pace Madame Bandaranaike desired. As for the Indian Ocean, we would review our naval deployments in that region, suggesting that we would maintain a meaningful presence. I emphasized that in any event our naval strength was far superior to that of the Soviet Union.

The Near and Middle East

In past trips, the Chinese leaders have shown only passing interest in this region. Now it is an area of great concern, subject to Soviet southward pressures. As in South Asia, Chou claimed that here too we were too slack in our efforts and should do more to counter Soviet designs. Mao explicitly included Iran and Turkey as well as Pakistan in the friendly axis that he suggested we shape; Chou urged us to be more active in the Persian Gulf and queried me on Iran and Turkey specifically.

I replied that the Shah of Iran was a very farsighted leader, and that we considered him a pivotal ally. For this reason we were sending Helms to be Ambassador, not only to step up our efforts with Iran but to organize a more active and cooperative American role with other friendly countries in the Near East and Persian Gulf regions. I reassured Chou that our relations remain good with Turkey, but pointed out that it had domestic problems. Chou commented that the Soviet Union was trying to take advantage of these.

Chou also showed significant interest in the Middle East for the first time, again because of Soviet efforts which he cited in such places as Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya. He cited the discovery of Soviet arms in the Iraqi Embassy in Pakistan as evidence of the interlocking web of Soviet designs throughout the entire axis. He made clear that China fully supported the Arabs in their efforts to regain all lost territories and solve the plight of the Palestinian refugees. When I forcefully pointed out that we were committed to the survival of Israel, he acknowledged that Israel could not be destroyed and that its existence [Page 216] was now a fact. He said that PRC relations with Israel were not possible until it gave up its territorial aggression.

Despite our opposing views he clearly looked with favor on our continuing presence in the Middle East to counter the Soviets. The Chinese, he said, were unable to do much in that area except to try to expose Soviet designs. I filled him in on my upcoming talks with Ismail and said that we were prepared to deal with the Arab countries on the basis of their own interests, so long as these were distinct from Moscow’s. He agreed with us that we should try to reach a settlement with Egypt before Jordan. He welcomed my suggestion that we keep him posted on any significant developments in our negotiations on the Middle East.

Indochina and Southeast Asia

The Chinese held up agreeing to my visit until the Vietnam settlement was completed. In turn the ceasefire in Vietnam paved the way for the success of my trip to the PRC. Mao and Chou welcomed the settlement, with the Chairman pointing out that we had done “good work” and getting my confirmation that the basic issues were settled.

I said that we would, of course, strictly implement the Agreement but I emphasized that we expected Hanoi to do the same. I described my trip to Hanoi and underlined the two choices for Hanoi which we saw. The first was to use the Agreement as an offensive weapon, pressuring us and the GVN and seeking their Indochina objectives through violations. I made clear that this would mean confrontation with us and obviously no possibility of economic assistance. Hanoi’s other choice was to use the Agreement as an instrument of conciliation as we wish to do. This would allow us to move towards normalization of relations and economic reconstruction which we considered in our own interests.

I also stressed the need for restraint in Indochina, not only by the DRV but also by major outside powers. When I specifically mentioned limits on military assistance, Chou was ambiguous, saying that the Soviet Union was the dominant supplier and China only supplied small arms. I believe, however, that we can expect some moderation on the Chinese part.

My corollary emphasis was on the need for a gradual evolution in Indochina and a period of tranquility. Mao and Chou seemed to recognize this, although their basic posture is that Indochina problems are up to the individual countries themselves. We agreed that we shared an interest in there being independent states in the region, to alleviate the threat of a Soviet and Indian-dominated Indochina.

While I was in Peking, the Laos ceasefire was still not pinned down. I pointed out the urgent need to cease hostilities there and begin [Page 217] North Vietnamese withdrawals. Chou indicated that they would welcome a settlement in Laos, although he maintained a hands-off attitude on the pending issues. He assured me that as soon as there was a ceasefire their anti-aircraft units would withdraw from Laos and that once the Chinese road was completed they would withdraw their engineer teams as well. I indicated that Souvanna Phouma, who had requested me to raise the issue of the Chinese road, was prepared for better relations with Peking. Chou seemed receptive, and noted his respect for the King of Laos.

We both agreed that Cambodia presented a more complex problem because of the many factions involved. I rejected Chou’s rather pro forma request that I talk to Sihanouk. I stated that Lon Nol’s government was a major factor and that Sihanouk’s representatives should speak to him. As in Laos I emphasized the importance of the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops as stipulated in the Vietnam Agreement. I said that our objectives were to bring about a ceasefire and North Vietnamese withdrawal and direct contacts between the various factions. Chou agreed that the situation would be more manageable if the conflict became a purely civil war. He made some cynical remarks about Sihanouk; I believe their alliance has cooled somewhat. He said he would think over my proposal that representatives of Lon Nol and Sihanouk get together, and he agreed that we should exchange views on Cambodia on a continuing basis.

At Bangkok’s request I brought up the subject of Chinese support of the insurgency in Thailand. Chou denied PRC involvement, saying that revolutions were the responsibility of the indigenous peoples. He pointed out that some Chinese Nationalist troops were still left in Thailand and often crossed over into Chinese territory. When I noted Thai nervousness about the Chinese road in Laos, he assured me that the road would stop at the Mekong Valley, way short of Thai territory, so there was no cause for Bangkok concern.

Chou also indicated an interest in other countries in Southeast Asia, and we briefly touched on them. He gave only lip service to revolutionary movements—the peoples themselves must accomplish this task, and it seemed that revolutionary movements were not maturing quickly in the region. He echoed his approach of June when he called for a neutral and stable region; clearly he is concerned here as elsewhere about Moscow and New Delhi influence. I made clear that if there were sudden changes in the situation in the region we might have to react, but otherwise we were prepared for a gradual evolution and genuine independence and neutrality for the countries of the region over the longer term.

We also discussed the International Conference. The basic Chinese position was to back whatever the DRV wanted; they clearly were [Page 218] reluctant to get out in front. Thus they were for a short conference which was free of recrimination and endorsed the Vietnam Agreement, but treated Laos and Cambodia only in the context of the Agreement. Chou would not be drawn out on other issues, such as continuing authority for ceasefire reports and chairmanship of the Conference, leaving that up to Hanoi. We continued to keep in touch with Peking in the period before the Conference and during the Conference itself.


The Chinese have done a major turnabout in their attitude toward Japan and the U.S. in the last 20 months. Chou’s approach this time continued the marked evolution which I noticed last June. From Peking’s perspective in 1971 Japan was one of the potential large powers that might help to carve up China. It had been fattened economically by the U.S. and was now threatening to expand its militarism throughout the region, in such areas as Taiwan and Korea. Both publicly and privately China used to oppose the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

Although Chou still urged us to keep Japan out of Taiwan and Korea and noted the continuing threat of Japanese militarism, the Chinese now clearly consider Japan as an incipient ally along with ourselves to counter Soviet and Indian designs. Publicly this has been reflected in Tanaka’s visit to the Mainland, PRC-Japan establishment of diplomatic relations, and (since my visit) Chou’s expressed desire to visit Japan.

Privately, the change in their attitude is even more marked. Chou stated that Japan is at a crossroads; having grown up it wants its freedom. He now acknowledges that our Security Treaty is a brake on Japanese expansionism and militarism; he pointed out that Peking had not attacked the Treaty in any way in recent months in their dealings with Japan, despite its original opposition to it. Since we had fattened Japan and still had great influence with Tokyo, he suggested that we had a great responsibility to restrain it. He urged the closest U.S.-Japanese cooperation generally and mentioned development of Siberian resources specifically. He said that work should be done with Japan to win it over and prevent the situation where the Soviet Union became its ally instead of the U.S., for this would be a threat to the world.

Mao said that it was a mistake for me to spend only one day in Tokyo on my way home and that I should take more time with our ally. He wanted to make sure that trade and other frictions with Tokyo (as well as with Europe) would not mar our fundamental cooperation. He cited the U.S. and Japan, together with Europe and the friendly Near East countries, as the axis to be formed to oppose the Soviet Union.

In response I noted our similarity of approach and stressed the restraining factor of our Security Treaty. I assured both Mao and Chou [Page 219] that you put the highest value on our relations with Japan, as well as with our European allies, and we would be working hard to foster this relationship. I acknowledged Chinese restraint in dealing with the Japanese and cautioned that any attempt to compete for Tokyo’s allegiance could end up encouraging resurgent Japanese nationalism through conflicting pressures. Accordingly, we favored improvement in PRC-Japanese relations and expected reciprocal treatment from Peking.


While this had been a significant area of interest in our past conversations and there had been much speculation that Chou would raise Korea this time as a prime topic, it did not come up until the very end of my trip. In his final tour d’horizon Chou repeated, with somewhat less emphasis, past Chinese views on the Korean Peninsula. He called for the abolition of both UNCURK and the United Nations Command, said that our forces should be withdrawn, and favored relaxation of tensions and reunification between the two Koreas. At the same time he made it clear that the Chinese were prepared for a gradual evolution in the situation. He informed me that they had been telling Pyongyang in effect to be patient with gradual U.S. withdrawals and reunification, and that the North Koreans were beginning to understand. He stressed that we should make sure that as we left Korea, Japan did not send its own forces to replace us.

I said that we were prepared to consider abolishing UNCURK—we would check with our South Korean allies and let Peking know in a few weeks—in exchange for his pledge that Peking would defuse the Korean issue, specifically in the next UN General Assembly debate. I indicated that we would entertain a gradual withdrawal of troops over time but made clear that this was in the context of the Nixon Doctrine5 and a strengthening of South Korean defenses. Chou did not demur. In fact, given gradual withdrawal and gradual reunification and the keeping out of Japan, he was quite sure that “no one will commit aggression” in the Korean Peninsula.


Purposely I brought up the issue of Taiwan at the very outset of our conversations. I reaffirmed the principles that you had outlined to Chou concerning our formula on China and Taiwan in the Shanghai Communiqué; our disassociation from any Taiwan independence movement; our discouragement of the Japanese moving into Taiwan; [Page 220] our support for any peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue; and our intention to seek normalization of relations with Peking. I also promised to give Chou a specific schedule of the reduction of some of our forces on Taiwan now that the Vietnam war was over.

Chou was more concerned about our military assistance to Taiwan, which he said should be phased out over time, and our providing Taiwan with the ability to produce its own F–5 airplanes. As noted above, he also complained that in diverting F–4’s from Taiwan to South Vietnam during Enhance Plus last fall, we were taking advantage of China, and this was an example of standing on China’s shoulders to reach out toward the Soviet Union.

In our second meeting, before giving Chou a long analysis of our policy toward the Soviet Union in reaction to his comment, I gave him a specific schedule for the reduction of our Taiwan forces. I told him that we would withdraw five air force squadrons, or about half of our 9,000 military personnel on Taiwan, during the coming year. I also said that we would withdraw at least two squadrons of F–4’s during the following year and would look at other military units carefully.6 Chou professed disinterest in a specific timetable for withdrawal, saying that the important thing was the principle had already been established. He returned to our military aid policy which I said we would review. He assured me that Peking had no intention to liberate Taiwan by armed force.7

In response to this latter comment I reaffirmed our intention to move toward normalization of relations. This set up the eventual deal for an exchange of liaison offices in each other’s capital. I also told Chou that we would be prepared to move after the 1974 elections toward something like the Japanese solution with regard to diplomatic relations and before mid-1976, we were prepared to establish full diplomatic relations. I added that we would want to keep some form of representation on Taiwan but I was sure that we could find some mutually acceptable formula. He agreed with this approach.

Bilateral Relations

The public manifestations of the discussions with the Chinese are reflected in the substantial progress in our bilateral relations. The factors I have cited impelled the Chinese to move forward faster than we [Page 221] anticipated. The most dramatic development was the establishment of liaison offices in each other’s capitals. We had expected them to agree to a trade, or perhaps liaison, office in Peking, but Chou quickly raised the question of their having an office in the United States. This contrasts their consistent policy of not having a significant mission in the same capital as an Ambassador from the Republic of China. And these offices, which as you know may well be at Ambassadorial rank, and will enjoy diplomatic immunity and privileges, will be closely equivalent to Embassies in everything but name. Yet Chou never mentioned the GNP Embassy or our diplomatic relations. This is the best proof of Chinese eagerness to institutionalize our relationship. It reflects our approach, which I reiterated at the very first meeting, that we need greatly to increase our contacts and to get our peoples used to U.S.-Chinese exchanges and cooperation.

The counterpart meetings we held on exchanges and trade went very smoothly.8 The Chinese were prepared with a whole series of specific programs which they were ready to approve in various scientific, cultural and other fields. In contrast to the past, they put as much emphasis on our groups going to China as on their groups coming here. They are ready to invite more Senators and Congressmen. They also expressed interest in increased bilateral trade and readily agreed to our approach of a political package deal of a lump sum exchange between private claims against them and blocked PRC assets. Since then Secretary Rogers and Foreign Minister Chi Peng-fei have launched this negotiation in Paris.9

Both Mao and Chou went to considerable length to show their interest in trade, exchanges, and the liaison offices. They supplemented this with a desire to increase the knowledge of English in their country and the number of Americans residing in China. They agreed to the release of the two captured American pilots within the same time period as the release of other prisoners under the Vietnam Agreement, and Chou clearly indicated that Downey’s case would be reviewed favorably in the second half of this year. They also cooperated in providing information on Lieutenant Dunn, a pilot who has been missing in action since 1968 near Hainan Island. Unfortunately no new facts turned up in this case, and his death now seems confirmed. We have provided this information to Mrs. Dunn.

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All these steps were taken against the background of your approach to the PRC which I emphasized. We see a strong and independent China as being clearly in our interest and the interest of world peace. We would consider an attack on China as an ultimate threat to our own national security. We therefore would not encourage nor try to take advantage of any attack on China from other countries. Indeed we would develop our global policies in the way that Chairman Mao had indicated would be needed to counter possible hegemonial designs.


The current trend therefore is positive, but there are no grounds for complacency. There are at least two areas which have substantial potential for trouble in our relationship:

Our dealings with the Soviet Union. To date the Soviet factor has been the main leverage in our dealings with the PRC. At the same time—and contrary to the predictions of almost all Soviet experts—our opening to Peking has paid us substantial dividends with Moscow as well. With conscientious attention to both capitals we should be able to continue to have our mao tai and drink our vodka too. Peking, after all, assuming continued hostility with the USSR, has no real alternative to us as a counterweight (despite its recent reaching out to Japan and Western Europe as insurance). And Moscow needs us in such areas as Europe and economics.

But this is nevertheless a difficult balancing act that will increasingly face us with hard choices. Mao and Chou both suggested that, inadvertently or not, our Soviet policies could increase the pressures on China. It was even intimated that we might favor a Sino-Soviet conflict, so as to bog down the Soviet Union and weaken it for our own attack. A cutting edge is the Soviet initiative on a nuclear understanding. One of Moscow’s motives is certainly to embarrass us in our relations with Peking, since they know their initiative is anathema to Peking. We have fought a delaying action on this issue for almost a year now, but Brezhnev is apt to push it to a head in conjunction with his visit here. To satisfy him and not dissatisfy Chou at the same time will be a challenge. Other concrete awkward areas in our triangular relationship include European security policies and the granting of credits to Moscow.

The coming change in Chinese leadership. Mao is in his 80s and has received an “invitation” from “God.” Chou is 75 and has just publicly noted the need for new leadership soon in his country. They obviously control PRC policy now, but it is not at all clear that they can assure continuity in their policy lines. The Lin Piao affair was obviously a major challenge and may have been a close thing. They have not managed [Page 223] to fill many key party and military posts since then. Mao constantly referred to the difficulties posed by women in China, undoubtedly a reference to his wife who represents the challenge from the left. All of this is reflected in Chinese eagerness to institutionalize our relationship, even if it means bending the sacred “one China” policy to do it.

We know little about power relationships in the PRC and even less about the succession problem. We can only assume—both from the above indices and because of the objective choices facing China—that substantial opposition to present policies exist and that this includes foreign policy. There are undoubtedly those who favor accommodation with Moscow over Washington for example. Thus, before the present dynasty passes from the scene, we must strengthen bilateral ties, get our two peoples used to a closer relationship, and reach out to more layers of Chinese leadership so as to strengthen the advocates of an opening to America.

There are two other potential problems, but these would seem to be more manageable and under our control:

  • The need for a strong American world role. We are useless to Peking as a counterweight to Moscow if we withdraw from the world, lower our defenses, or play a passive international game. Mao and Chou urged a more aggressive American presence—countering Soviet designs in various areas, keeping close ties with our allies, maintaining our defense posture. If the Chinese became convinced that we were heeding the inward impulses of voluble sectors of Congress, the public and the press, we would undoubtedly witness a sharp turn in Peking’s attitude. You and I have, of course, assured the PRC leaders privately, as well as proclaiming publicly, our intentions to maintain a responsible international role. So long as you are President, Peking should certainly be convinced that we will be a crucial factor in the world balance.
  • The issue of Taiwan. The Chinese have been farsighted and patient on this question. Their willingness to ease our predicament is now most dramatically shown in their setting up a liaison office in Washington while we maintain diplomatic relations with the GNP. On the other hand, we have largely bought their public reasonableness with your own private assurances—to normalize fully our relations by 1976 and to withdraw our forces from Taiwan now that the Vietnam War is over. Taiwan is a problem we should be able to control, both internationally and domestically, as we continue to add to the handwriting on the wall and condition our audiences. However, we should be under no illusions that our final step will be anything but painful—there are few friends as decent as our allies on Taiwan.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 98, Country Files, Far East, HAK China Trip, Memcons & Reports (originals), February 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. There are no markings on the memorandum indicating that Nixon saw it.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 17.
  3. See Documents 814. All memoranda of conversation of Kissinger’s meetings of February 15–19 are in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 98, Country Files, Far East, HAK China Trip, Memcons & Reports (originals), February 1973.
  4. “Enhance Plus” was an effort by the United States to expand and improve the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam before the peace agreement came into effect. It lasted from October 23 to December 12, 1972. See also footnote 3, Document 73.
  5. According to the Nixon Doctrine, the origin of which can be traced to a July 25, 1969, informal background briefing on Guam that Nixon gave to reporters, the United States would stand by its commitments but encourage Asian nations to take responsibility for their own security. see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. I, Document 29.
  6. The figures cited by Kissinger were most likely based on those he received in a February 6 memorandum from Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 98, Country Files, Far East, HAK China Trip, Memcons & Reports (originals), February 1973)
  7. After this sentence, a notation in unknown handwriting reads: “not so clear cut.” Zhou remarked on February 16, “I can assure you that we don’t mean that we are going to liberate it [Taiwan] by the armed forces. We have no such plan at the moment.” see Document 9.
  8. Memoranda of conversation of these talks are at National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 87, Country Files, Far East, PRC Counterpart Talks, 1971–1973.
  9. In a memorandum to Kissinger, March 9, 1973, Theodore Eliot reported that the PRC “has agreed to settle U.S. private claims through an assignment of blocked Chinese assets to the U.S. Government for use in compensating American claimants.” (Ibid., Box 527, Country Files, Far East, People’s Republic of China, Vol. 7, May, 1973–Jul 9, 1973)