29. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Prime Minister Eisaku Sato of Japan
  • The President
  • James J. Wickel, Special Assistant to Ambassador Meyer (Interpreter)
[Page 86]


  • Evaluation and Implications of Sino-Soviet Confrontation

During dinner the President asked for the Prime Minister’s evaluation of the situation in Communist China.

The Prime Minister said that the situation there seemed to have reverted to the stage which preceded the “rioting and violence” conducted by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. As for the prospects for succession, he felt that Mao Tse-Tung was in ill-health and would not last much longer. Lin Piao was also in poor health, and he thought that Premier Chou En-lai might well emerge as the eventual leader. In some ways Chou possessed a decisive manner and broad scope of vision reminiscent of Chiang Kai-shek.

While its meaning was not yet clear, the Prime Minister said that five of the eleven Japanese imprisoned by Communist China had been released half-a-month ago for no apparent reason.

When asked by the President whether the Sino-Soviet split was caused primarily by nationalism, ideology or competition for first place in the kind of hierarchy required by communism, the Prime Minister said that competition for first place was no doubt the major factor, but the other two also contributed. For example, the traditional Chinese concept of “the central flowery kingdom” and the concommitant cultural superiority made it difficult for the Chinese to accept Soviet aid in an early period in their relations. They let the Soviets know that the Chinese were “civilized” and the Russians “barbaric,” which was not helpful. Having created a situation in which they could not accept Soviet aid because it demonstrated an unacceptable position of inferiority, the Soviets, for their own reasons terminated their aid and left. The competition for first place has continued since.

In response to the President, the Prime Minister said that he did not believe that the Soviets and the Chinese could resolve their split under the present circumstances, even though they were engaged in the formalities of border talks. Their differences were too deep for a reconciliation in the foreseeable future.

The President explained his view that the United States, itself, and in its relations with Japan, thought it wise not to take sides between the Soviets and the Chinese.

The Prime Minister agreed that outward neutrality was the “wise” policy but suggested that it would also be prudent “behind the scenes” to consider the influence of both powers on other nations, both communist and non-communist. For example, the Government of Japan was concerned over the intransigence of North Korea, which increased with the increase of the Chinese and the decline of the Soviet influence in Pyongyang. He felt that a wise policy designed to renew Soviet interest [Page 87] and restore its influence in North Korea would be helpful, although he conceded that the Soviets could not be trusted either in view of their actions in the Middle East and Vietnam.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 63, Memcons, Presidential File, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. Wickel drafted this memorandum of conversation on November 24. The meeting took place at the White House. Two additional memoranda of conversation from the same dinner were found. According to one: “During dinner the Prime Minister noted his pleasure at the recent political success of President Park in the Republic of Korea, since he was the ʽonlyʼ leader there who could be trusted. Unfortunately, he said, none of those around him were worthy of any great trust.” (Ibid.) The other noted: “In separate dinner conversations with the Prime Minister and Mrs. Sato, the President noted the value of the experience of his visit to Japan as Vice President in 1953, and said that he hoped to have Vice President Agnew visit Japan soon. The Prime Minister agreed that this was a good idea. (Note: He did not warmly welcome this nor did he pursue the idea.)” (Ibid.)