33. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Chou En-lai, Premier of the State Council
  • Ch’iao Kuan-hua, Vice Foreign Minister
  • Huang Chen, Chief, PRC LO
  • Chu Ch’uan-hsien, Acting Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Protocol
  • Lin P’ing, Director of the Department of American and Oceanian Affairs, MFA
  • T’ang Wen-sheng, MFA Interpreter,
  • Shen Jo-yun, Notetaker
  • Lien Cheng-pao, Notetaker
  • David K. E. Bruce, Chief, U.S. Liaison Office
  • Alfred le S. Jenkins, Deputy Chief, U.S. Liaison Office
  • John H. Holdridge, Deputy Chief, U.S. Liaison Office
  • Nicholas Platt, Chief, Political Section, U.S. Liaison Office


Premier Chou began the conversation by asking whether Ambassador Bruce had met Ambassador Huang Chen prior to coming to China. Ambassador Bruce replied that he had not had the opportunity. Although Ambassador Huang had been in Paris while he was there, his own work had been concentrated on the negotiations with the North Vietnamese.

Ambassador Bruce told Premier Chou what a great pleasure it was to meet him, and assured the Premier that he, Chou, had a great number [Page 263] of admirers in the United States. Premier Chou asked after President Nixon’s health, and Ambassador Bruce replied that the President was in excellent health, unaffected by certain domestic difficulties. Chou replied that such domestic difficulties frequently arise in the course of American political life.

Sino-U.S. Negotiations

Premier Chou then asked after Dr. Kissinger, commenting that he was a very busy man and remembering with a smile that he had once been able to disappear for a few days on a mission of which even the CIA was unaware. Ambassador Bruce answered that Kissinger’s first trip to Peking was one of the best kept secrets in the history of international relations, as was the decision to establish Liaison Offices in the two capitals. The negotiations, he continued, were carried on in the grand manner, quietly, in a way quite different from any other negotiations.

Premier Chou replied with satisfaction that outside observers could not believe the fact of the Sino-U.S. negotiations because, prisoners of old attitudes and behavior patterns, they could not imagine relations between the two countries could develop so quickly. He believed that the secrecy was essential, because major policy changes require careful preparations and prior consideration. Ambassador Bruce replied that in the United States there was a tendency and an ambition in the press and the media to attempt to formulate foreign policy. The Premier agreed, adding that Congress was also influenced by the media at times. Sometimes unwisely, Ambassador Bruce interjected.

Premier Chou said that the Chinese Government paid great attention to the world press, particularly in the United States and Japan. The two internal reference digests published and circulated each day within the Chinese Government stressed articles from the U.S. press first, Japanese materials next, and then articles from Europe. Soviet press materials received the least attention because they were so repetitious and abusive.


Premier Chou said that the journalist Marquis Childs had requested an interview, and asked Ambassador Bruce’s advice. Marquis Childs had been a friend for 25 years, the Ambassador replied, which prejudiced his view, but he knew Childs to be trustworthy and intelligent.2 Premier Chou said that he had heard some of Childs’ views were the same as those of columnist Joseph Alsop. Ambassador Bruce replied [Page 264] that there were marked differences between the two writers. Premier Chou then said the PRC had invited Walter Lippmann to visit but had heard that his health was poor and that he used a pacemaker for his heart. Ambassador Bruce said that a visit to China would be a very happy thing for Lippmann at his age and at the end of a distinguished writing career. Lippmann was an exceptionally intelligent observer, an old friend in every sense and perhaps the most admired columnist in America in a profession noted for jealousy. Lippmann has strong personal convictions and has been wrong from time to time, but this was a fault we all shared, the Ambassador concluded. Strong convictions were a good thing, Chou replied. Ambassador Bruce ventured that it would be rather difficult to converse with Mr. Lippmann because he was very deaf. Chou replied that the interpreter would simply have to shout. Ambassador Bruce replied that if Lippmann had a pacemaker for his heart, he could probably install a hearing aid for his ear. On balance, however, Chou said, he thought it would be difficult for Lippmann to make the trip, and doubtful that he would come.

“Your ears are very keen, Mr. Ambassador,” Chou said. “They hear what they want to hear, sir,” Ambassador Bruce replied. There followed a brief discussion on accents around the room involving the other members of the two delegations.

The Shanghai Communiqué

Premier Chou then asked Ambassador Bruce his plans for mission activities. Ambassador Bruce replied that he was prepared to discuss any substantive questions of mutual interest. Chou replied that if Ambassador Bruce had any ideas or views to put forward he should contact Vice Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua. It was Ch’iao who had finalized the Shanghai Communiqué. Ambassador Bruce said he understood it had taken a long time to finish the Communiqué. Chou replied that though agreement in principle had been reached during Kissinger’s trip in October 1971, differences over wording continued to exist until February of 1972 in Shanghai. Since the Communiqué had been formulated in such a careful and painstaking way, we should exert vigorous efforts to implement it. Ambassador Bruce agreed that the Communiqué was a document of great importance.

Premier Chou said that the Communiqué represented a new style for such documents in that it stated the different positions of both sides, then listed areas of agreement. Ambassador Bruce replied that this was an excellent innovation. He had grown weary of reading empty communiqués which simply said that talks between the two sides had been carried on in a friendly atmosphere and then ended. At international conferences he had attended during his younger days, he had found it ridiculous that the final communiqués had been drafted and approved before the meetings began. Chou replied that the standard communiqués [Page 265] were empty documents not designed for implementation, but that we had done it differently and very earnestly. It was important and necessary, he continued, that the common points agreed on in the Shanghai Communiqué be carried out speedily.


Chou then spoke of Indochina, hoping Dr. Kissinger would succeed in his negotiations with Le Duc Tho at Paris. Ambassador Bruce assured Chou that no one desired success in this endeavor more than the President. Chou observed that “to drag out” the negotiations would have a bad effect on the general situation and on mutual progress on other issues. Ambassador Bruce agreed that the issues must be settled so that the Governments concerned could move to other problems. Chou mentioned the problem Viet-Nam had already posed for satisfactory PRC-U.S. relations, a matter which he had frequently called to Dr. Kissinger’s attention.

He then asked Ambassador Bruce to tell the President that “the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Viet-Nam ardently wish to comply with all the clauses of the Agreement. It is necessary for the situation in the South to stabilize before the political negotiations can proceed. The North must also have time to recover.”


Shifting the conversation to Cambodia, Chou said that the only way to find a solution was for the parties concerned to implement fully all the subsidiary clauses of Article 20.3 Ambassador Bruce replied that the United States Government is thoroughly in accord and feels an overwhelming necessity to bring the issue to a close. He knew personally that the President is devoted to this purpose. Chou hoped that Dr. Kissinger’s talks in Paris would find a way to settle the Cambodian problem. If this was not possible then “we should discuss the issue later.” Although our stands are different, he continued, we share the hope for a peaceful, independent and neutral Cambodia. Ambassador Bruce replied that all countries involved share this goal. “More peaceful, neutral and independent than ever before,” the Premier added. Though some countries may say they support this goal, they do not always act this way, he continued.

Chou expressed concern that the Cambodian issue might be submerged due to President Nixon’s concentration on summit meetings with Pompidou and Brezhnev during June. Ambassador Bruce assured [Page 266] the Premier that the June meetings would not detract from the primacy that the President ascribed to the achievement of a settlement in Indochina. Chou then noted that Ambassador Huang would leave Peking May 25 and arrive in Washington by June 1. He invited the Ambassador to pass to Ch’iao Kuan-hua ideas the U.S. might wish to convey before then. Any further Chinese ideas would be passed by Huang Chen in Washington.

The Premier then asked whether Ambassador Bruce had ever met Prince Sihanouk. Ambassador Bruce replied that he had not. Chou said that he had considered Sihanouk’s visit to Angkor a courageous and marvelous act. He went with his wife only and had no forces to protect him. Premier Chou was convinced that Sihanouk was the only person who could unify Cambodia and cited in support of this position the views of Senator Mansfield, and the Sirik Matak New York Times interview predicting that Sihanouk would win over Lon Nol in a referendum.4 In an aside, Chou complained that the New York Timeshad recently carried an advertisement favoring the Chiang Government in Taiwan5 which the PRC had formally protested. The reply which the PRC had received was that the New York Timesprinted “everything”. Ambassador Bruce reminded Premier Chou that the Times’ motto was “all the news that’s fit to print”, but they sometimes exercised bad judgment in the interpretation of the motto.

Chou told Ambassador Bruce that he had received the mistaken impression that Senator Mansfield was being designated by the U.S. Administration to mediate the Cambodia issue last year. Ambassador Bruce replied that under the American system members of Congress could not mediate on behalf of the Executive Branch. Private citizens were sometimes given special appointments to handle international problems, but never members of the Legislature. Members of the Congress have the freedom to express themselves “at any length”, to block the Executive by refusing to appropriate funds, and to appeal to the public. But the primacy of the Executive Branch in foreign policy is guaranteed by the Constitution. The President can veto legislation but the Senate can override his veto with a two-thirds majority. Conflicts between the Executive and Legislative branches on foreign policy matters, Ambassador Bruce continued, have led in the past to some tragic mistakes. He cited Woodrow Wilson’s experience with the Senate over the Fourteen Points as evidence. Chou En-lai noted that both he and Ambassador Bruce were in middle school when that happened.

[Page 267]

Ambassador Bruce asked the Premier whether Prince Sihanouk had reported any damage to the temples of Angkor Wat. While there had been some minor damage, Chou replied, the temples were largely intact. The films and movies Prince Sihanouk had brought back proved this. Prince Sihanouk, he continued, is an artist at heart. He had shown Chou some beautiful shots that the Prince had taken at dawn in Angkor with his wife in the foreground.

The conversation ended with further expressions of welcome on Chou’s part, a brief discussion of the weather, and a final invitation for Ambassador Bruce to contact Vice Foreign Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua on any questions.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 527, Country Files, Far East, People’s Republic of China, Vol. 7, May, 1973–Jul 9, 1973. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Great Hall of People. The USLO sent this memorandum of conversation as an attachment to airgram 9 from Beijing, May 21. The USLO also sent a cable reporting the substance of this conversation. (Telegram 121 from Beijing, May 19, 0500Z; ibid.)
  2. Marquis Childs visited China later in the month and wrote two columns about his conversations with Zhou. (“A Conversation With Chou En-lai,”The Washington Post, May 25, p. A31; “Talking With Chou En-lai,” ibid., May 26, p. A19)
  3. Article 20 of the Paris Peace Accords, signed on January 27, addressed military activities in Cambodia and Laos.
  4. See “Ousted Cambodian Premier Speaks Out,”The New York Times, March 24.
  5. See the advertisement “Foreign Trade of the Republic of China Surpasses That of Chinese Mainland,” ibid., January 21.