30. Conversation Between President Nixon and the Chief-Designate of the Liaison Office in China (Bruce)1

[Omitted here is Nixon and Bruce’s meeting with reporters.]

Nixon: Well, the great thing for you, as you know, substantively, probably not a great deal will happen for a while.

Bruce: Yes.

Nixon: But the most important thing about this is the symbolism. I mean, symbolism sometimes is not important, but now it is enormously important.

Bruce: The fact that—

Nixon: The fact that you are there. Let me tell you one thing that I particularly would like to see. I know that the social world is a total pain in the [neck], but to the extent that you can, if you could get around, and have your colleagues get around and give us an evaluation of the people on the way up who are there now.

Bruce: Yes. Yes.

Nixon: You’ve got to understand, Mao will soon be leaving; Chou En-lai is in his 70s but he’s as vigorous as can be—terrific. You’re going to really like him, you’ll like them both. Chou En-lai is an amazing man. But on the other hand, except for some men in their 30s—late 30s and 40s—I don’t see much coming up. And I think, you know, you can do that. Look around, see who the power is. That’s one thing that would be very important for us to know. Isn’t it?

Bruce: Well, I think it is, yes. Because if they have sort of a collegial [unclear]—

Nixon: The Russians have quite a few in their shop that you know might come along.

Bruce: Yes.

Nixon: And you know, an interesting thing, the Russians too [unclear], so pretty soon we know in four or five years there’s going to be change there. But there will be a change in China. And the world changes. Well, there’s that. Then, of course, the just, you know, your sense of the country, its people. I mean, I’m really, really more interested in that than [Page 248] I am in the routine cables, “Well, today we did this, or that, or the other thing. We signed an agreement.” You know, this is how we grow figs.

Bruce: Exactly.

Nixon: Huh?

Bruce: Yes.

Nixon: Don’t you agree?

Bruce: I do agree.

Nixon: We’re trying to see what this great—I mean, we’ve got to get along with this one-fourth of all people in the world. The ablest people in the world in my opinion—potentially. We’ve got to get along with them. It’s no problem for the next 5 years, the next 20 years, but it’s the critical problem of our age.

Bruce: Yes, I think it is.

Nixon: The other thing is, if you could, constantly of course, whenever you’re talking, they’ve very subtle—and they’re not like the Russians, who, of course slobber at flattery and all that sort of thing. But you should let them know how—two things: one, from a personal standpoint how much I appreciated the welcome while we were there. Second, we look forward to some time returning. Third, I would very much hope that Chou En-lai will see his way clear to come here to the UN.

Bruce: Yes.

Nixon: Or something. I’d like to take him here, and it can be worked out in a proper way. And fourth, and I think this is the most important, that I look upon the Chinese-American relationship as really the key to peace in the world. Always have in the back of your mind without playing it too obviously, the fact that the only thing that makes the Russian game go is the Chinese game. Always have in the back of your mind that if you say anything pro-Russian, [unclear]. Always have in the back of your mind that the Russians are their deadly enemies. And they know it, and we know it. And that we will stand by them.

Bruce: Yes.

Nixon: And that’s the commitment that I have made. I have.

Bruce: Yes.

Nixon: How we do it, I don’t know. But that’s what keeps. Because David, what is probably in our time maybe that big collision could occur, and collisions even between enemies these days will involve all nations of the world, they’re that big. So we want to avoid that too. But my point is the Chinese must be reassured they have one heck of a friend here. They hate the Indians, as you know.

Bruce: Yes.

[Page 249]

Nixon: Well, they don’t hate them as much as they have contempt for them. They think that India is becoming a, you know, a sort of satellite of Russia. And of course the Japanese, they have a fear and respect for them as well. So with the Japanese, sort of say the right thing in terms of we want to get along with Japan and the rest. And it’s very important that we have our, that we maintain our, in other words the shield there, because otherwise Japan goes into business for itself and that’s not in our interest. And the other point that they’re fairly interested in, looking at the world scene, another point, apart from the fact they’ll go through the usual jazz [unclear] keeping revolutions in mind. That’s fine. What they do in Africa I don’t care anymore. But Europe. They don’t want us to get out of Europe. Because they realize as long as the Russians have a tie down in Europe, that—you see what I mean?

Bruce: Oh, I do.

Nixon: So some of our well-intentioned Congressmen go over there and reassure them, “Oh, look, we’re going to get out of Asia. We’re going to get out of Japan, we’re trying to reduce our forces in Europe.” Well, that for the Chinese scares them to death.

Bruce: Well, I was struck by the conversations that you’ve had, and how they came back to the necessity about preserving forces in Europe. They were very pro-NATO for their own reasons. It was interesting.

Nixon: Absolutely.

Bruce: Well, I’ve got all those points in mind. Those conversations that you had there I’ve read. I must say they really are quite [unclear] fascinating to read.

Nixon: Yeah. You’re one of the few in the country who’s read them.

Bruce: I’d forgotten—but I do think they’re absolutely fascinating.

Nixon: Yeah. A lot of history was made there.

Bruce: It was indeed. I think probably the most significant history, diplomatic history, of our time. No question about it. And I don’t see anything, which could really ruin it in the time being. Without any hesitation I can tell you I always thought the preservation of good relations should have sort of ordinary courtesies and what not in the beginning, it’ll probably be all business, but you try and get to know as many people as possible. [unclear]

Nixon: Let them think that we are strong, respected, and we’re not going to be pushed around by the Russians or anybody else. Middle East—we have no answer there, as you know.

Bruce: I know.

Nixon: They haven’t either. But I think the great irony is that today the United States of all nations is China’s most important friend. [laughter] Romania? Tanzania? Albania?

[unclear exchange]

[Page 250]

Bruce: That’s pretty good stuff.

Nixon: My point is, with that in mind—would you like a little coffee?

Bruce: No, I wouldn’t like some. I just had some.

Nixon: Oh, fine. I’ll have a little, just a cup.

Bruce: But this is a most fascinating development, I think.

Nixon: It sure is.

Bruce: We must replace the policies that have become so embedded almost in the American consciousness that nobody in particular complained about it, and nobody intended [unclear].

Nixon: Look, for 20 years, do you know, we were sort of—now look, I’m supposed to be the number one Red-baiter in the country. I have earned that reputation for what you know very well. Had we just continued the policy of just a silent confrontation and almost non-communication with the PRC

Bruce: Yes.

Nixon: In the end we would reap a nuclear war. No question.

Bruce: Yes. Yes.

Nixon: We just had to breakthrough.

Bruce: Yeah.

Nixon: Also, as I said, it was so important to the Russian game.

Bruce: Terribly important.

Nixon: Yeah.

Bruce: Terribly important.

Nixon: Yeah.

Bruce: It must have [unclear]. How about does one explain to the Chinese that we want to preserve a relationship that has great importance to us, a meaningful relationship with Russia? The Chinese are undoubtedly our favorites between the two. But—

Nixon: The Russians are saying: Now look, this is very important. That Nixon is having another meeting with Brezhnev. There’s going to be a lot of reasons for having that meeting. The important thing there to remember is that Russia and the United States are superpowers. That our interests do rub together in the Mideast and in Europe, particularly. That their rubbing together is a danger that is almost unbelievably great, and that under these circumstances we feel what we have to do is try to limit that danger as much as we can through communication. But, on the other hand, we do not consider putting it quite bluntly as between the two. We consider the Soviet, because of its power and of its long history of expansionism, we consider it more of a danger that we have to deal with than we do China, which has a longer history of, frankly, defense. Now, I think a little of that is well [Page 251] worth saying. In other words—and also I’d be very blunt about it. Just say you’ve had a long talk with the President and there’s no illusions—our systems are different. They’re better Communists than the Russians are today. But we want to get back to our national interest. And the President considers—he’s a man of the Pacific. He considers that China and America have a hell of a lot more in common than Russia and America, and that is the God’s truth.

Bruce: Yes, that’s true.

Nixon: And that therefore, looking at the historical process, I want to work toward that direction. And I think that’s what we have to do. But the Chinese-American relationship can be the great lynchpin of peace in the world.

Bruce: Well, I’ll tell you that after you’ve talked to Brezhnev, the Chinese will be filled in rather completely.

Nixon: Totally. I’ve instructed, I’ll have, of course we’ll be in touch with you, but we’ll probably have Kissinger go over again. Incidentally, I want to tell you one thing. Normally on these visits when he goes, this is very important, he has sometimes met alone. So far. But in this instance, I want you to feel, David, that you are basically, not the State Department’s ambassador, you are the President’s, and I want you to be in on everything. You see what I mean? You’ve got to remember that we cannot—there’s parts of these games that we don’t want to go to the bureaucracy. It’s no lack of confidence in Bill or any of the others. But you know how it is. So will you have this in mind, please?

Bruce: I will, Mr. President. I certainly will. Because the security of the State Department is, in my mind, non-existent.

Nixon: It’s non-existent.

Bruce: [unclear]

Nixon: That’s right.

Bruce: No, I think that I understand that part of the [unclear]. And I think the back channel can be used [unclear]

Nixon: Well, I want to use the backchannel. And also, when Henry gets over there to do the briefings. I think it’s very important that you be with him.

Bruce: Well, I would like that.

Nixon: So that you can, you know, get the feel of the thing too.

Bruce: Yes, I think it would be on that occasion, good. They offered when they came to Paris in connection with the Vietnam peace talks taking me to secret meetings. And I was very indisposed to do it. I think it would have been a great mistake. I never would have been able to—

Nixon: Oh, yes. When you were there?

Bruce: Yes. But I think with China it’s probably a different thing.

[Page 252]

Nixon: Well, in China [unclear]. I’ll see that it’s done.

Bruce: All right, sir. I’ve only got one other thing, which I have not [unclear]—because they are behind the times with what’s going on. This Cambodia thing, I wonder if it’s possible to settle.

Nixon: I wish it were. We’re willing to settle; China can have it. Whether they can still get that [unclear] Sihanouk back in I don’t know. We don’t care. The Cambodians don’t want it at the moment. What ideas did you have? I mean, anything we can do—God, Cambodia is a terrible, terrible place.

[Omitted here is further discussion of Cambodia and South Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation No. 911–9. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon spoke with Bruce in the Oval Office from 9:48 until 10:12 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)