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

SUBJECT

  • Department of State Analysis of China’s Troubled Domestic Political Situation
[Page 230]

At Tab A is an analysis of current political conditions in the People’s Republic of China prepared by the Department of State, which Secretary Rogers has sent to you.2 This analysis seems to embody the view most prevalent in the government that there is a continuing and tenuous political balance between Communist Party and military officials in the wake of the Lin Piao affair of September 1971. The State paper emphasizes the following points:

  • —There is a continuing effort by Party leaders to downgrade the power of the military in political affairs. This power was built up by Lin Piao and his followers during the Cultural Revolution. The civilian leaders now find the military reluctant to relinquish their authority, even in the wake of Lin’s death while fleeing toward the Soviet Union.
  • —The central leadership in Peking is finding it difficult to recentralize power. There is considerable instability in personnel assignments in the provinces, suggesting continuing efforts to remove local and provincial leaders not responsive to Peking.
  • —The national leadership remains in a state of precarious balance, with continuing inability to reach consensus on new personnel assignments. There is still no Defense Minister; less than half of the state ministries have appointed ministers in command; and only 12 of the 25 Party politburo members are active.
  • —China gives all appearances of a country in an unresolved succession crisis. While officials stress that there is “collective leadership,” it is anticipated that the death of Mao Tse-tung and/or Chou En-lai could lead to considerable instability as political institutions are still fragile four years after the conclusion of the Cultural Revolution.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 526, Country Files, Far East, People’s Republic of China, Vol. 6, Jan–Apr 1973. Secret; Noforn Attachment. Sent for information. Holdridge sent this memorandum to Kissinger on January 29; Kissinger initialed it and passed it on to Nixon. (Ibid.) According to the attached correspondence profile, Nixon saw it on March 29.
  2. Dated January 8, attached but not printed.
  3. The President underlined “death of Mao Tse-tung and/or Chou En-lai” and wrote, “K—what is your analysis as to what we can expect in the event?—What should our contingency be?” On March 29, Scowcroft asked Holdridge to prepare a response to the President. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 526, Country Files, Far East, People’s Republic of China, Vol. 6, Jan–Apr 1973) According to the White House correspondence profile attached to Rogers’ memorandum, this request was instead fulfilled by other analyses of the Chinese political situation that reached the NSC.