10. Conversation Between President Nixon and Ambassador David K.E. 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: Yeah. [unclear]
Nixon: The most important thing about this is the symbolism. I mean, symbolism sometimes is not important, but, now, it’s enormously important.
Bruce: Yeah, in this case particularly so—
Nixon: The fact—
Nixon: The fact that you are there. Let me tell you one thing I—that I, particularly, would like is that—I know that the social world is a total pain in the rump, 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, and who’s—
Nixon: —coming after Mao.
Bruce: Yes. Yes.
Nixon: And you’ve got to understand: Mao will soon be leaving; Chou En-lai is in his 70s, but he’s as vigorous as a bee—terrific. You’re gonna really like him. You’ll like them both. Chou En-lai is an amazing man because of—and—but, on the other hand, except for some men in their 30s—late 30s and 40s, I don’t see much coming up. And then I think, you know, you can do that. Look around, see who the power is. That’s the 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 collegium [unclear] at this point in time.
Nixon: Hmm. The Russians have quite a few in their shop that, you know, might come along.
Bruce: Yes.[Page 45]
Nixon: And, you know, an interesting thing: the Russians too—at least, we realize Brezhnev [unclear]. So, pretty soon, you know—in 4 or 5 years, there’ll be change there. But, there’ll be a change in China, and—and the world changes. Well, there’s that. Then, of course, the—just your, you know, your sense of—your sense of the country, its people. I mean, I’m really, really more interested in that than I am in the routine cables, “Well, today we did this, or that, or the other thing. We signed an agreement, you know, to test how we grow figs.”
Bruce: Exactly. [laughs]
Bruce: Yes, I [unclear]—
Nixon: Don’t you agree?
Bruce: I do agree.
Nixon: We’re trying to see what this great—
Nixon: Huh? 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’re going to get along, or not. It’s no problem for the next 5 years, but in the next 20 years, it’s the critical problem of our age.
Nixon: China’s it.
Bruce: Yes, I think it is—
Nixon: The other thing is, if you could, you know, constantly, of course, whenever you’re talking—they’re very subtle, but—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 our welcome when we were there. The second thing, we look forward to sometime returning. Third, we would very much hope that Chou En-lai will see his way clear to come here to the U.N.—
Bruce: Yes, of course—
Nixon: —or something, as I would like to entertain him here—
Nixon: —and it can be worked out the proper way. And fourth—and I think this is the most important—that I look upon the Chinese and American relationship as, really, the key to peace in the world. Always have that in the back of your mind, without playing it too obviously, the fact that the only thing that makes the Russian game go is just the Chinese game.
Nixon: Always have in the back of your mind that saying anything pro-Russian is not in our—always have in the back of your mind the fact that the Russians are their deadly enemies—[Page 46]
Nixon: —and they know it, and we know it, and that we will stand by them.
Nixon: And that’s the commitment that I have made.
Bruce: Right, sir.
Nixon: I have.
Nixon: And, how we do it, I don’t know, but that’s what keeps. Because, David, what is, probably in our time, maybe, that great collision could occur. And collisions even between enemies, these days, will involve all nations of the world if they’re that big. So, we want to avoid that, too. But, now, my point is—
Nixon: —the Chinese must be reassured they have one heck of a friend here. They hate the Indians, as you know well.
Nixon: They don’t hate them, so as much as they have contempt for them.
Nixon: They think that India’s becoming a—you know, a sort of a 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 terribly interested in, looking at the world scene—another point, apart from the fact they’ll go through the usual jazz as to [unclear] revolutions [unclear]. That’s fine. What they do in Africa, I don’t care anymore [unclear]. 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 that’s—you see what I mean?
Bruce: Oh, I do.
Nixon: So, if some—some of our well-intentioned Congressmen go over there. They go over there and reassure them, “Oh, look, we’re going to get out of Asia—”
Nixon: “—and 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.[Page 47]
Bruce: Well, I was very struck, sir, by the conversations that you’ve had, and how they came back to the necessity about preserving forces in Europe. I mean, they were almost—they were very pro-NATO, for their own reasons.
Bruce: Isn’t it interesting?
Bruce: Well, I’ve got all those points in mind. Those conversations that you had there, I’ve read [unclear]. I must say, they are—they really are quite—not only startling, but they’re sort of fascinating to read.
Nixon: Yeah. You’re one of the few that got to read them.
Bruce: I was told that.
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: That’s right.
Nixon: But, let them think that we are strong and respected, and that we are not going to be pushed around by the Russians, or by anybody else. The Mideast, they could help us there. We have no answer there, as you know.
Bruce: I know.
Nixon: They haven’t either. But I think—I think what they really, what concern—it’s a—the great irony is, today, the United States, of all nations, is China’s most important friend.
[laughter, unclear exchange]
Nixon: Romania? Huh?
Bruce: No, no.
Bruce: Albania, they’d probably say—
Bruce: Really, that’s pretty good stuff.
Nixon: That’s my—my point is that, with that in mind—
[Omitted here is a short discussion of beverages.][Page 48]
Bruce: But, this is a most fascinating development, I think. I think they [unclear] replace the policies that have become so embedded, almost, in the American consciousness that nobody—the people complained about it, but nobody intended to do anything about it.
Nixon: Look, for 20 years—
Nixon: For 20 years, as 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 reasons that you know very well. That had we just continued the policy of, just, of a silent confrontation and almost non-communication with the PRC—
Nixon: —in the end we would reap a nuclear whirlwind. No, no, no question.
Bruce: Yes. Yes.
Nixon: We just had to break through.
Bruce: Yeah. Right.
Nixon: Also, as I said, it was so important to the Russian game. [laughs]
Bruce: It must be terribly important—
Bruce: Terribly important.
Bruce: It must, though, keep them worrying how about does one explain to the Chinese [unclear] if you want to preserve a relationship, which is of great importance to us, an amiable meaningful relationship with Russia? The Chinese are undoubtedly our favorites, certainly, between the two. But—
Nixon: The Russians are saying, “Now, look, this is very important, that Nixon is having another meeting with Brezhnev, and there’s going to be a lot of agreements coming out of that meeting.” But the important thing there is to remember that Russia and the United States are superpowers, that we—that our interests do rub together in the Mideast and in Europe, particularly.
Nixon: That their rubbing together is a danger that is almost unbelievably great, and that under these circumstances, that we feel that what we have to do is to 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, be[Page 49]cause 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, even, which has a longer history of, frankly, defense. Now, I think a little of that history is—
Nixon: —is well worth saying. In other words—
Nixon: —[unclear] Also, I’d be very blunt about it. Just say that you’ve had a long—you’ve talked with the President, and there’s no illusions. Our systems are different, both with the Chinese and the Russians. They’re better Communists than the Russians are today. But, we finally plan to get back to national—natural interests. 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—that 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 [unclear] the Chinese will be filled in rather completely.
Nixon: Totally, I’ve—
Nixon: —instructed—I’ll have [unclear]. Of course, we’ll keep in touch with you, but we’ll probably have Kissinger go over again.
Nixon: Incidentally, I want to tell you one thing: normally, on these visits, when he goes why he—he meets—and, this is very important, he has sometimes met alone with their leaders and so forth.
Nixon: But, in this instance, I want you to feel, Dave, that you are basically, not the State Department’s ambassador—
Nixon: —you are the President’s, and I want you to be in on everything. You see what I mean?
Nixon: 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—
Bruce: No, no.[Page 50]
Nixon: Would you have this in mind, please?
Bruce: I will, Mr. President. I certainly will, because the security of the State Department is, to my mind, non-existent.
Nixon: It’s non-existent—
[unclear exchange, laughter]
Bruce: In other words, that’s to be the policy.
Nixon: That’s right.
Bruce: Well, I think I understand that part of it perfectly, and that backchannel can be used when we think it’s necessary—
Nixon: Fine. 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—
Nixon: —you know, get the feel of the thing, too.
Bruce: Yes, I think it would be, on that occasion, good. He offered, when he came to Paris in connection with the Vietnam peace talks, to take me to secret meetings with him, and I was very indisposed to do it. I think it would have been a great mistake. He never would have been able to—
Nixon: Oh, yes. [unclear] When you were there? Yeah?
Bruce: Yes, but in China, I think it’s probably a different thing.
Nixon: Well, in China, it could downgrade you. Frankly, if—[unclear]. I’ll see that it’s done.
Bruce: All right, sir.
[Omitted here is discussion of Cambodia and South Vietnam.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 911–9. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Bruce and Nixon met in the White House Oval Office from 9:48 until 10:12 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Appointed on March 15 as Chief of the new U.S. Liaison Office, Bruce presented his credentials in Beijing on May 14.↩