62. Editorial Note

The National Security Council met in San Clemente, California on August 14, 1969, to discuss U.S. policy toward China and South Korea and Sino-Soviet hostilities. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting, which lasted from 9:39 a.m. to 12:25 p.m., was attended by President Nixon; Kissinger, his Assistant for National Security Affairs; Vice President Agnew; Secretary of State Rogers; Secretary of Defense Laird; Attorney General Mitchell; Lincoln, Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness; Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Under Secretary of State Richardson; Director of Central Intelligence Helms; Marshall Green, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; and NSC Staff members Halperin, Haig, Laurence Lynn, and John Holdridge. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)

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For the minutes of the portion of the meeting dealing with China and its clash with the Soviet Union see Document 74, Foreign Relations, 1969–1972, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970. Nixon took handwritten notes during Helms’ briefing about China’s nuclear capabilities and political trends, including its tense relations vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. According to Nixon’s notes, Helms stated that the most recent incident on the border between Sinkiang and Kazakhstan, which culminated in a clash on August 13 that reportedly resulted in heavy Chinese casualties, was less serious than “previous levels,” presumably a reference to the March Ussuri River crisis. Helms also estimated that although Chinese leaders were “nervous now,” they neither wanted nor expected a “Soviet attack.” Nixon’s notes are published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 25.

Kissinger provided an account of the NSC meeting in his memoirs. He recalled, “the President startled his Cabinet colleagues by his revolutionary thesis (which I strongly shared) that the Soviet Union was the more aggressive party and that it was against our interests to let China be ‘smashed’ in a Sino-Soviet war. It was a major event in American foreign policy when a President declared that we had a strategic interest in the survival of a major Communist country, long an enemy, and with which we had no contact. The reason a Sino-Soviet war was on his mind was that a new increase of tensions along the border caused us grave concern.” (Kissinger, White House Years, page 182)