9. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, Washington, July 14, 19711 2
- THE PRESIDENT
- HENRY A. KISSINGER
- My Talks with Chou En-lai
July 14, 1971
My two-day visit to Peking resulted in the most searching, sweeping and significant discussions I have ever had in government. I spent seventeen hours in meetings and informal conversation with Chou En-lai, flanked by Marshal Yeh Chien-ying, member of the Politburo and of the Military Commission; Huang Hua, the new Chinese Ambassador in Ottawa; and Chang Wen-chin, head of the West European and American Department in the Foreign Ministry. Another four hours was spent with Huang and Chang, mostly on drafting a communique. These meetings brought about a summit meeting between you and Mao Tse-Tung, covered all major issues between our two countries at considerable length and with great candor, and may well have marked a major new departure in international relations.
It is extremely difficult to capture in a memorandum the essence of this experience. Simply giving you a straightforward account of the highlights of our talks, potentially momentous as they were, would do violence to an event so shaped by the atmosphere and the ebb and flow of our encounter, or to the Chinese behavior, so dependent on nuances and style. Thus, this memorandum will sketch the overall sequence of events and philosophic framework, as well as the substance of our exchanges. For the intangibles are crucial and we must understand them if we are to take advantage of the opportunities we now have, deal effectively with these tough, idealistic, fanatical, single-minded and remarkable people, and thus transform the very framework of global relationships.
The Chinese treated the entire visit with elaborate correctness and courtesy. They were extremely tough on substance and ideological in their approach, [Page 2] but their dealings were meticulous; they concentrated on essentials; they eschewed invective and haggling over details. The atmosphere on the human plane was relaxed and cordial, matter-of-factly; (one did not have the sense that they were carrying out instructions to be cordial as is often the case with Dobrynin.)
Thus Chinese hospitality started in Pakistan as we boarded the Pakistani plane in pre-dawn obscurity to be greeted by four senior Chinese officials, headed by Chang, flown up from Peking two days earlier along with three Chinese navigators (they had insisted on boarding the plane half an hour before us). And it continued right through to our return flight to Islamabad two days later with all the Chinese officials (except Chou) at the airport and the plane loaded with one last round of Chinese dishes, the latest English version of Mao’s works, and photo albums of our visit prepared throughout the night.
We were met at noon at the Peking airport by the very senior Marshal Yeh who, like Chang aboard the plane, sought to confirm that you were in principle prepared to visit their, country and that I was there for constructive talks between equals. Both were worried about why I had come secretly (Yahya had told me the same thing). Was I ashamed to acknowledge meeting them? Here, and in Chou’s specific references on several occasions, the Chinese showed extreme sensitivity to slights such as Dulles’ refusal to shake Chou’s hand in Geneva in 1954.
We were whisked in Chinese-built limousines, curtains drawn, through wide, clean streets, with little traffic except bicyles. We passed through the huge Tiennmen Square, capable of holding 500,000 people, to a stately, serene, totally secluded government guest house in the Western section of the capital. After drinking tea with our Chinese hosts, we rested, consumed the first of a series of Chinese meals of staggering variety and quantity, and prepared for Chou’s arrival.
He came at 4:30 p.m. At our first encounter like the entire visit, he was matter of fact, urbane, and totally at ease without any of the self-conscious sense of hierarchy of Soviet officials. After a few minutes of ice-breaking small talk and an official photograph, we moved to a conference table and launched into three hours and twenty minutes of discussions.
I gave the substance of the opening statement you had approved, considerably truncated to get to the point quickly, laying out a possible agenda which we in fact took up point-by-point in our meetings—the summit, Taiwan, [Page 3] Indochina, relations with major countries such as Japan and the Soviet Union, South Asia, future American-Chinese communications, arms control, and any other topics of interest to the Chinese. He immediately moved to their fundamental concern, Taiwan, and I rejoined with our position on Indochina.
We broke at 8:00 p.m. for dinner, continuing a low-keyed substantive discussion. Indochina came up again as we finished off the last few of the fifteen or so dishes.
Our resumed session from 9:50 to 11:20 p.m. was dominated by the subject of great power relations in general. Chou spoke of the Chinese fear of a remilitarized Japan, and violently and contemptuously attacked Soviet imperialism which he claimed had learned its lessons from the U.S. I explained the philosophical framework of U.S. foreign policy in the postwar period culminating in the Nixon Doctrine. Chou listened raptly, asking very probing but non-contentious questions, some based on the President’s remarks in Kansas City of July 6. (It was characteristic of Chou that when I indicated that I had seen only press reports, I found Chou’s own annotated copy of the text waiting for me at breakfast with a request to return it since it was the only copy he had.)
On Saturday morning, July 10, we were taken to the Forbidden City, where the entire, enormous Imperial Palace grounds had been closed off from the public for a half day so that we could take a secret tour. For two and a half hours we absorbed the magnificently simple and proportionate sweeps of the red and gold buildings, the courtyards each with its own character, and the living quarters of past emperors. The Director of all of China’s archeological museums guided us past ancient relics of China that had been unearthed in recent years.
We then proceeded to the Great Hall of the People where we were greeted by Chou for another four and a half hours of discussions sandwiched around a one and a half hour roast duck lunch.
Before lunch Chou made a one and a half hour presentation, as always without notes, responding to each of the seven points on my original agenda. This was an extremely tough presentation, though put forward without rhetorical flourish—the preoccupation with Taiwan; the support for the North Vietnamese; the spectre of big power collusion, specifically of being carved up by the U.S., USSR, and Japan; the contempt of the Indians, hatred for the Russians and apprehension over the Japanese; the disclaimer that China is, or would want to be, a superpower like the Russians and we who have “stretched out our hands too far”; and throughout, the constant view [Page 4] that the world must move toward peace, that there is too “much turmoil under the heavens.” There were light touches as well, such as Chou’s revelation that James Reston was taking a slow train from the border which would conveniently get him to Peking right after our departure. Still, Chou ended with a challenge—whether there was any sense in a high-level meeting given our vast differences.
I responded very toughly, pointing out that they had raised the issue of a Presidential visit and that we could not accept any conditions. I would not raise the issue again; they had to decide whether to issue an invitation. I then launched into a deliberately brusque point-by-point rebuttal of Chou’s presentation. Chou stopped me after the first point, saying the duck would get cold if we did not eat first.
At lunch the mood changed and Chou’s geniality returned. I gathered the impression that his speech had been largely for the record.
At the end of lunch Chou launched into a moving account of the Cultural Revolution which he continued to relate even after I noted that this was China’s internal affair. One could tell that the Revolution was an anguishing period for him. He described China as torn between its fear of bureaucracy and the excesses of revolution, with each side claiming to speak for Mao until the acknowledged excesses threatened to destroy the fruits of some fifty years of struggle.
After lunch I continued my comments on his remarks, having covered Taiwan and Japan before the break. On Indochina, as on Taiwan, I noted the need for time for a political evolution and I re-emphasized the link between the two questions. After moving through the other issues such as great power relations, South Asia, communications between our governments and arms control, we had laid a sound substantive framework. Chou, suddenly, matter-of-factly returned to your visit to China. He suggested the summer of 1972, indicating that they would prefer it if you met the Soviet leaders first. He said that they were not afraid of anyone but they were not looking for unnecessary trouble either. I said that a U.S.-Soviet summit had been agreed in principle but I could make no promise and would accept no condition. I also said that a summer summit might look like a political campaign gesture. Chou then moved your visit up to the spring.
We adjourned at six so Chou could go to another meeting (he normally works from noon to early morning) and agreed to meet four hours later to draft the joint announcement. We returned to the guest house for dinner and [Page 5] an evening of fits and starts, of nighttime strolls and cancelled meetings and a complicated, occasionally painful minuet of communique drafting. This process is described in the section dealing with the summit.
The next morning we held a final two hour meeting which wrapped up the summit, the communique, and final substantive comments. In the first forty minutes we reached agreement with Huang and Chang on the Communique at Tab A. This capped a drafting process that had its quota of tension but was marked by the other side’s clear willingness to meet us half way. Our negotiating over the language was free of the pettiness and elbowing that we have experienced with the Russians. And once the basic bargain was struck, the rest of our business flowed comparatively easily.
Chou, who had been waiting nearby—so as to avoid a confrontation over language—suddenly appeared after the announcement was agreed, and we proceeded to settle all the major principles of your visit along the lines you wished.
After bidding farewell to Chou, we and the other Chinese officials had a final lunch. All tension was gone and Marshal Yeh’s normally impassive face was finally creased by smiles. On the way to the airport he recounted some of his experiences—how over forty years ago as a division commander of Chiang, he heard of Mao and his 2000 followers in the mountains and joined them. And as we drove up toward the waiting Pakistani plane he remarked that none of them on the Long March had ever dreamed to see victory in their lifetimes. They had thought their struggle was for future generations.
Yet, he said, “here we are and here you are.”[Page 6]
Two qualities in the Chinese came across with particular force during this initial encounter: their inward philosophical tension and their inward strength.
For us this episode is, of course, a major new turn in international relations. For the Chinese Communists it is no less than a personal, intellectual, and emotional drama. They have endured fifty years of the Long March, struggle against the Japanese and Kuomintang, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution.
Yet here they were, dealing with arch capitalists, while what they call a “war of liberation” was going on at their borders, acting out a drama of philosophic contradictions. The moral ambivalance of this encounter for them was reflected in a certain brooding quality, in the occasional schizophrenia of Chou’s presentations, in the jagged rHythym in drafting the announcement, and the tales of the Cultural Revolution and the Long March and Mao Tse-Tung’s inspirational leadership. This ambivalence showed up also in their request during our Saturday Imperial Palace tour for an oral summary statement to be made on tape by both sides the final day. I suggested this idea be shelved until we had finished our discussions and they confirmed it would be for internal use only. When Chou arrived at the guest house late that evening he said that they no longer considered the tape necessary. I suspect they wanted the tape for Mao Tse-Tung.
Thus these were men in some anguish. Yet their long history of past suffering gave them an inner confidence that was reflected in a certain largeness of spirit. There was none of the Russian ploymanship, scoring points, rigidity or bullying. They did not turn everything into a contest. Profoundly committed and firm on principle, they dealt in historical terms; and once we reached basic understandings, such as on the announcement, details fell into place without maneuvering for petty gains.
They can be expected to be meticulous in their diplomacy. Indeed they stressed over and over again that they considered meticulous observance of even the spirit of our agreements the key to good future relationships. When I mentioned the fact that the Russians had put out their own, and different, English translation of the May 20 SALT announcement, Chou showed obvious contempt and assured me that the Chinese would never resort to such a gambit. Our hosts stressed that the television film and photos of our visit would be held until we agreed to their use.
The Chinese are clearly men of deep conviction and a wide chasm of ideology and isolation separates us. But they were nevertheless willing to paint prospects not only of normalizing relations but moving onward to friendship and cooperation.[Page 7]
Chou En-lai epitomized these qualities. He spoke with an almost matter of fact clarity and eloquence. He was equally at home in philosophic sweeps, historical analysis, tactical probing, light repartee. His command of facts, and in particular his knowledge of American events, was remarkable. He insisted on admitting faults in their society, and protesting that their lavish hospitality was only “what they should do.”
There was little wasted motion, either in his words or his movements. Both reflected the brooding inner tension of a man concerned both with the revolutionary fire of the next generation and the massive daily problem of caring for 750 million people, one who endured the tribulations of the Long March and was now inviting the President of the United States to visit his capital.
Chou was also genial and urbane, with a refreshing sense of humor. He displayed an easy egalitarianism—with his interpreters who had a free though respectful relationship with him, or with all of our party who he consistently ushered into and out of elevators in front of him. And he was considerate in his genuine concern when one of my colleagues wasn’t feeling well, in briefing me just before my departure of events in the world from which I had been insulated, and in making sure that we would continue to use the Yahya channel occasionally because “one should not burn bridges that have been useful.”
In short, Chou En-lai ranks with Charles De Gaulle as the most impressive foreign statesman I have met.
Of course, these people were on their best behavior. These were the cream of their current elite; and it is inconceivable that the next generation there will produce leaders tempered by such experiences. Almost all of the positive qualities we saw are Chinese, not communist, and can be found in Taiwan or Singapore or San Francisco. Much of their ideology is distasteful, and living in China today would be a numbing, depressing experience. They are certainly fanatically tough. They do not wish us well. Their new society has been purchased at a terrible cost—in freedom, spontaneity, color, and family life. But the present generation of leaders understand big conceptions. Our dealings will be difficult, especially as we inaugurate a brand new relationship. The rewards and risks will be great. But if we keep our nerve and are clear about our purposes we can start a new historical course.[Page 8]
The summit emerged as the cause of a major Chinese ambivalence. Even before the meetings started the Chinese were anxious to get confirmation that you were in principle willing to go to China. On the other hand they pretended that they had responded to your request. On substance Chou took an initially hard position that the summit should be in the context of improving Sino-U.S. relations and that the best way to accomplish this was by the establishment of diplomatic relations. He eventually backed away—only after considerable give-and-take by reluctantly acknowledging that recognition was not an “absolute” precondition for a summit, though this direction should be set by it.
This was in the earlier stages of our talks. Later on, Chou again toughened his position by stating that the initiative for a summit had come from you and not from the Chinese. I referred to the actual messages, which I had brought with me, but suggested that if it was so difficult perhaps we should drop the idea of a summit for the time being and go on to substantive matters.
By the second day, the Chinese stand again had softened. On the way to our tour of the Forbidden City, Ambassador Huang referred to Chou’s interest in a statement on a summit. Chou himself raised the subject in our discussions that afternoon and after making no headway with a ploy that a summit should be in a climate of Sino-U.S. friendship to be established by recognition, proposed at about 5:30 in the evening that a drafting committee for a joint summit communique meet that night at about 8:30 p.m. He told me that he had another appointment, but would personally appear about 10:30 p.m.
Having gone this far, Chou was willing to look more deeply into the summit issue. He listened to my thoughts on general principles, and insisted that another high-level meeting between our representatives would be necessary before the summit took place to fix the agenda and details. The U.S. representative, he said, should be either me or someone else of similar stature close to you. I mentioned Ambassador Bruce and in his final statement he said that it should be either Bruce or I. This time, though, the visit should be an open one.
Chou in addition expressed a desire to have your summit with Mao Tse-Tung take place after any similar meetings with the Soviets. Even though he [Page 9] was willing to be flexible when I explained our problems, this was a significant sign (and perhaps the most significant) of the Chinese worries about their confrontation with the USSR.
Producing a mutually satisfactory communique proved to be a tense process. Their drafters failed to appear at the stipulated time, and at about 10:45 p.m. we were told that they would not arrive before 9:00 the next morning. I had in the meantime been walking in the grounds of the guest house to discuss with my associates the possible reasons for the delay, and I also had made it plain to their protocol people that I had to leave Peking no later than 1:00 p.m. the next day whatever the state of our discussions. I also said that as the President’s representative they had to give me a precise meeting time and could not keep me on standby. They must have sensed my irritation, for just as we were going to bed we were informed that Chou was coming. He arrived at about 11:15, referred to my departure time, apologized for getting us up, and said that his drafters would appear shortly. He departed after an hour’s friendly conversation dealing with Taiwan, India, the Berlin issue, and the Soviet Union.
I then spent several hours with the Chinese officials going over a draft by their side which would have had the initiative for the visit coming from you, and which would have keyed the summit just to seeking “normalization of relations.” (Tab B). I insisted that the origin of the visit had to be put in terms of mutual interest. They agreed after a while, although there were differences over the exact language. Where they had trouble was over my insistence that the summit meeting should have a broader scope than just the normalization of relations. At about 1:40 a.m., they proposed a 30-minute recess in which they would try to work out language on both points suitable to us, and left the room. We took another brief walk in the grounds and returned to await their arrival; at 3:00 a.m. we learned that they had left the building entirely (they must have gone to Chou En-lai’s office) and would not return until 9:00 a.m.
Ultimately, at 9:40 a.m., on July 11, Chou and the other officials reappeared. At this point there was some confusion; Chou, it seemed, would be strolling outside while the others came in to discuss their draft communique with me. Our first word, however, was that all were to come in together, and the Chinese seemed rather embarrassed at the sudden shift in plan. In their new version of the communique they had gone very far to meet my requirements, and their wording needed only a few minor changes to be fully acceptable. The agreed joint communique (Tab A) suggests a mutual desire for the summit with you accepting their invitation, and its purpose has been broadened to “questions of concern to both sides.”[Page 10]
With agreement reached on the communique, Chou quickly appeared. Presumably for “face” reasons, he had not been prepared to present himself unless or until there was such an agreement. Once in the meeting, he accepted easily all the details for the summit which I then put forward. He made the point that Chairman Mao had personally endorsed the summit meeting, and accepted my proposed date and time for the public release of the joint communique, even though “this may cause us a little trouble.”
I can only account for the fits and starts in the drafting of the joint communique by attributing them to a deep conflict between ideological and practical considerations on the Chinese side. Ideologically, the concept of Chairman Mao sitting down with the leader of what they call the “imperialist camp” must be extremely difficult for some Chinese to accept, despite the prospect of its moving forward their campaign against Taiwan.
On the other hand, I believe they are deeply worried about the Soviet threat to their national integrity, realistically speaking, and see in us a balancing force against the USSR. And, unlikely as it may superficially seem, I sense that they actually do appreciate the balancing role we play in Asia. Nevertheless, it is hard for life-long revolutionaries to act against their own principles, and we must be exceptionally careful not to drive them away.
The Chinese will undoubtedly stress the Taiwan issue as the key to normalization of relations, but we can maintain that all issues of mutual concern will be discussed for the sake of Asian and world peace. On all other issues Chou in effect left all the other basic principles up to you, giving us precisely what you wished:
- — A visit of up to five days.
- — Probably one other city besides Peking. (He mentioned Mao might be outside the capital for more quiet talks with you.)
- — Small official delegation, to include Secretary Rogers, myself and a couple of aides.
- — Agenda will probably look somewhat like the one Chou and I had, with this subject to be pursued by Bruce and/or me.
- — Small press delegation; he said this could mean around ten. They will establish the ground rules after we tell them what they should be.
- — Minimum secret service; I really don’t think security will be any problem. They said security is the responsibility of the host country.
- — The PRC will not invite other U.S. political leaders before your visit. I emphasized that it was important that our new departure in relations start at your level and not be muddied by eager politicians in advance. This would not rule out newsmen and cultural exchanges in the interim.
This was described by Chou as the basic issue between the U.S. and the PRC, going back to the Korean war, when we “surrounded” Taiwan and declared—in contrast to our previous position—that its status was “undetermined.” Chou maintained that this was still our position, citing as a case in point a recent statement by the State Department press spokesman to the effect that Taiwan status was legally undetermined. (You will recall that you took considerable exception to this statement.) I emphasized that they might have noted that the remarks by the press spokesman had not been repeated. There was considerable laughter on the Chinese side over this, and frequent later references. Chou asked whether we could apply the same method to Laird’s comments about nuclear weapons for Japan. I am sure that they were already aware that you had clamped down but wanted confirmation.
Chou then went on to say that to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC, the U.S. must:
- — Recognize that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and a province of China.
- — Recognize the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China.
- — Withdraw all its armed forces and military installations from the area of Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait within a limited period.
- — Consider that the U.S.-ROC Mutual Defense Treaty is invalid.
I responded that the Chinese were going beyond what they had said to us in their messages and in the two 1970 Warsaw talks, in which they had requested the removal of our military presence only. I said that we had to distinguish between what could be done immediately and what had to be left to historical evolution. With respect to military presence there were two components to our forces on Taiwan—those related to the defense of Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, and those related to the defense of Taiwan. The former could be withdrawn after the end of the war in Vietnam; the latter would depend on the general state of our relations with the PRC.
Chou asked whether I was linking the Taiwan issue to Indochina. When I affirmed it he did not demur but turned to a discussion of Indochina, pointing out only that it was easier for the Chinese who were not at war to take a long view than for the Vietnamese.[Page 13]
On the political future of Taiwan, I said we did not advocate a “two Chinas” or a “one China - one Taiwan” solution but would accept any political evolution agreed to by the parties. We hoped that this evolution would be peaceful, and Chou said the PRC would try to keep it so.
I said that we could not accept recognition as a condition to your visit to Peking. Chou, after much give and take, said that recognition was not a precondition but that the visit should set recognition as the ultimate direction of pur policy. He accepted my position that some time would be required, i.e., well into your second term.
Chou said that if China was to be patient it needed three assurances: first, that the U.S. would not support “two Chinas” or a “one China, one Taiwan” policy; second, that we would not support the indigenous Taiwan independence movement; and third, that we would not permit Japanese troops to move in. I stressed that this would be our policy but noted that some events on Taiwan might be beyond our ability to control. Chou interposed no objection.
Regarding the UN, I said we might support a position where the admission of the PRC would be by a majority vote, but the expulsion of other countries,i.e., Taiwan, would be by a 2/3 vote with the Chinese Security Council seat going to the PRC. As soon as the PRC gained the necessary 2/3, it would be China’s sole representative in the UN.
Chou stated that the PRC did not regard getting into the UN as a particularly urgent matter. It had lived without the UN for 21 years, and could continue to do so. However, if others asked, the PRC would of course maintain its stand that its legitimate rights in the UN must be restored. China would have to oppose the U.S. position which I had described. When I suggested that he mute the rhetoric, he agreed smilingly. Chou added that our proposed stand would cause more difficulty to us than to the PRC. He did not take undue exception to it as long as we would not put it forward ourselves, but would simply support it if proposed by others. (Significantly, discussion of the UN issue came well before agreement on the summit and the joint communique, showing that the one was not an obstacle to the other.)
As a final point on Taiwan, Chou noted that the agreement on your meeting with Chairman Mao would “shake the world.” Afterwards, Chiang Kai-shek might collude with the USSR or Japan, and would demonstrate against you. Chiang would try to operate independently of the U.S. Chou knew this from his previous associations with Chiang, and the U.S. “should beware.”[Page 14]
Chou En-lai was as forthcoming as we could have hoped. His attitude throughout reflected the ambivalance of Peking’s position. For ideological reasons, he clearly had to support Hanoi. On the other hand, it was apparent that he did not wish to jeopardize the chances for an improvement in our relations, especially after I explained the positions we had taken in Paris and warned of the danger of escalation if negotiations failed. He came back to this latter point again and again, without threat or bluster, simply using it as an argument for the desirability of peace.
Thus Chou went back and forth between a formal theoretical defense of Hanoi’s position (though in much lower key than Le Duc Tho at Paris) and concrete questions that sought to discover areas of agreement. He stressed Peking’s support of Hanoi while insisting that there had not been advisers in Indochina nor would there be. He critized American aggression but stressed Chinese interest in an “honorable exit” for the U.S.
From the outset, I linked the Indochina conflict and our relations with Peking:
- — I pointed out that two-thirds of our forces in Taiwan were linked to the war and their removal would depend on an end of the conflict.
- — I also pointed out that an end to the war would accelerate the improvement in our relationship.
In addition, I reviewed the current situation in Paris and pointed out that the talks were blocked because of Hanoi’s insistence on the overthrow of Thieu and its refusal to agree to a ceasefire. I warned that a breakdown in the negotiations would mean continuation of the war, with incalculable consequences.
Chou addressed Indochina several times during the first two days of our talks.
On the first day he asked a number of questions about our position, generally in an intelligent and sympathetic manner. These were:
- — Were we really ready to pull out?
- — Would we close all our bases?
- — Why would we wish to leave a “tail,” such as some advisers and/or the Thieu Government?
- — Would we be prepared to accept having the Indochinese people determine their own future?
- — Why did we wish a cease-fire?
- — Would we wish to continue giving aid to the present government?
It was clear that he understood the linkage between Taiwan and Vietnam and did not object to it. He also was extremely concerned about the possibility of escalation. In addition, he made the following points:
- — He revealed that he had not been informed about the secret meetings we have had with the North Vietnamese in Paris recently.
- — He said that China only had two objectives with regard to a Vietnam settlement:
- — There must be a withdrawal of U.S. and Allied forces.
- — The peoples of the three Indochinese countries must be left to decide their own future.
- — He insisted that China would keep hands off after a settlement.
On the second day Chou took a harder line. As part of a generally tough presentation, he attacked the Thieu and Lon Nol Governments and he charged us with having committed “aggression” in Indochina since World War II. He warned that we should pull out completely and not leave a “tail” behind in the form of advisers since these would be the entering wedge for a new involvement.
He warned about the dangers of escalation but also made clear that China would not intervene. He explained several times that Chinese assistance to Hanoi had never included combat forces—there had only been some bridgebuilding and road repair crews during the bombing.
He stressed that there were no Chinese advisors in Indochina nor would there be.
The morning of our departure, without prompting, Chou returned to Indochina in an astonishingly sympathetic and open manner. He made the following points:
- — He hoped our negotiations in Paris would be successful and he wished me luck.
- — He would talk to Hanoi after the announcement of the. President’s visit to Peking had been made.
- — Peking supports Mme. Binh’s seven point proposal but they were negotiable.
- — He hopes our withdrawal will be complete, thorough and honorable.
- — He thought that we would find Hanoi more generous than we believed.
This means he will talk to the North Vietnamese and may be able to exert some influence. The mere fact of his talking to them is likely to compound the shock of your announced visit to Peking. In any case, he knows that the very fact that we and Peking are moving closer will have an impact in Hanoi.[Page 17]
Chou repeatedly expressed concern about the revival of Japanese militarism, and I have no doubt that the PRC relationship with Japan is in fact a serious matter for the Chinese. Chou maintained that the rapid development of Japanese economic power would inevitably carry rearmament in its wake. In this, he said that Japan’s economic expansion would lead to political expansionism. He pointed to the great budgetary increase of Japan’s Fourth Defense Plan over its predecessors as a case in point. He quoted Sato as mentioning that Japan’s rapid economic growth would permit this plan to be completed in two to three years rather than the five originally contemplated.
He noted also that Sato had now spoken of the defense of Taiwan, Okinawa, and Korea being essential to the defense of Japan, and took Sato’s mention of this in our 1969 Joint Communique with him as an indication that the U.S. was supporting Japan’s rearmament. Japanese troops might even go to Taiwan. At one point he mentioned the possibility of Japan colluding with the U.S. and the USSR to carve up China, and cited Secretary Laird’s speech in Japan as a sign of U.S. interest in Japan’s developing nuclear weapons. He doubted that the return of Okinawa would be without nuclear weapons. Chou plainly was holding us responsible for trends in Japanese policy which appeared to threaten China.
I declared flatly that we were not encouraging, and indeed opposed, any revival of Japanese expansionism. I agreed on the military implications of Japan’s economic growth and said that the U.S. and PRC interests coincided in trying to keep this growth under control. All the U.S. supported was Japan’s ability to defend itself. Paradoxically, the presence of U.S. troops on Japan helped to restrain the Japanese rather than the reverse. We would never collude with other countries in carving China up.
I strongly denied that what Secretary Laird had allegedly said was Administration policy, and pointed out that once Okinawa reverted to Japan our bases would be under the same restrictions as now exist for those in Japan. Chou accepted this, and later personally called attention to the State Department spokesman’s comments on Secretary Laird’s speech.
Although Chou had started off with a very rigid position on Japan, I believe that he understands the restraining role which we play with respect to the Japanese. This came through toward the end of our meetings, when he asked that we see to it that, as U.S. troops are withdrawn from Taiwan, Japanese troops are not moved in to replace them. I said that this would be done.[Page 18]
Korea was cited by Chou as another area of “turmoil under heaven.” This arose first from the fact that there was no peace treaty there despite China’s efforts in 1954 to extend the Geneva Agreements to Korea. Chou had proposed this to get something better than a ceasefire in Korea, and Anthony Eden, in the chair, had gone along until Walter Bedell Smith had “waved his arms” and caused Eden to reject the move on procedural grounds. Presumably, Chou was suggesting that China wanted an arrangement in Korea which had legal status.
Chou went on to say that there was constant conflict along the DMZ; U.S. forces were still present; and ROK troops were in Vietnam. There was now a joint U.S.-South Korean army in which Thailand was also represented. Park Chong-Hee was as aggressive as Syngman Rhee. Therefore, the DPRK—and China—had a right to be concerned.
I said that what happened in Korea depended very much on the general relationships in the area. If the war in Indochina ended and U.S.-PRC relations developed, the ROK troops in Vietnam would return, and it was conceivable that before the end of your next term most of the U.S. troops in Korea would be withdrawn. Chou himself suggested that in those terms the process had already begun with our removal of 20,000 men, and I agreed. On Chou’s other points, I said I knew of no Thai troops in the ROK. The joint U.S.-ROK military command was not a new policy; it was intended to make our withdrawal easier and was not a new commitment.
Chou’s remarks on alleged ROK aggressiveness gave me an opportunity to highlight North Korean actions. I said that the PRC was opposed to ROK military aggression against the North Koreans, but North Korea for its part was very harsh in its military meassures against both the U.S. and the ROK. We believed it would be very helpful to Asian peace if the PRC could restrain North Korea in the use of force against the U.S. and the ROK. Chou did not reply, but I think that his silence may be taken as a form of assent—he could hardly admit that an ally of the PRC was behaving aggressively.[Page 19]
Chou described the South Asian subcontinent as a prime area of “turmoil under heaven.” This was because India had long ago under Nehru adopted an expansionist philosophy, not only committing aggression against Pakistan but against China as well.
Chou went into great detail to outline the development of the hostile relationship between China and India. This began, he said, when the Indians became aware in 1959 that the Chinese had built a road across Indian-claimed territory between Sinkiang and the Ali region of Tibet—but how could this have been Indian territory when the Indians weren’t even aware when the road was built?
The Indians had then attacked a Chinese military post in this region, but had lost heavily because the Chinese position was uphill from where the Indians were and was strongly fortified. But world opinion (including Khrushchev) felt that the Chinese must have started hostilities because of the heavy Indian losses. The Indians had also used force against the Chinese in other areas. The culmination was the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
Chou made the following points:
- — India was responsible for the present turmoil in East Pakistan. It was supporting Bangla Desh and had allowed a Bangla Desh “headquarters” to be set up on Indian territory.
- — In the light of Indian expansionist ambitions, India would use any military aid—such as that given by the USSR—for aggressive purposes. Chou acknowledged that we were not giving military assistance to India, but said that one had to keep the consequences of any aid in mind.
- — China would stand by Pakistan in the present crisis. This position began to develop with a rather low-key remark at dinner the first night that China “could not but take some interest in the situation,” and ended with a request to me at the end to convey assurances of Chinese support to President Yahya Khan.
I told Chou that we were trying very hard to discourage an Indo-Pak war.
I assured Chou that we were bringing all the influence we could to bear on India to try to prevent a war from developing. Chou said that this was a good thing, but he inferred that we might not be able to do too much because we [Page 20] were 10,000 miles away. China, however, was much closer. Chou recalled the Chinese defeat of India in 1962 and hinted rather broadly that the same thing could happen again.
The Chinese detestation of the Indians came through loud and clear. Conversely, China’s warm friendship for Pakistan as a firm and reliable friend was made very plain. The lesson that Chou may have been trying to make here was that those who stand by China and keep their word will be treated in kind.[Page 21]
I explained that it was essential for our two governments to be able to communicate rapidly, reliably and secretly—without the intervention of third parties, however friendly. This had two aspects—how to get in touch with each other and whom to deal with in the government. I suggested three levels of contact:
- — A hot line between Washington and Peking for urgent messages.
- — A secure direct channel between the Chinese leaders and yourself which would not be vulnerable to the bureaucracies or developments in a third country. This would be used for important and sensitive matters, to agree on basic principles and to clarify misunderstandings. It would be kept free of the bureaucracy to prevent both leaks and formalism. I mentioned Paris, London or Ottawa as possible contact points.
- — A diplomatic contact such as Warsaw for more technical issues and implementation of agreements reached through the secure channel.
Chou’s first reaction was rather cool, with a suggestion that it might be premature. On the second day Chou returned to the subject to say that he would let me know the next morning at our final session.
On Sunday morning he never mentioned the hot line proposal and stated that revival of the Warsaw Talks would be a waste of time. They took more of everybody’s effort in preparing instructions then they were worth. He agreed that we did need a secure White House/Peking channel and chose the Chinese embassy in Paris, saying that their Ambassador there was a member of the Central Committee and that Ottawa would be too much in the limelight. I said that General Walters would be our contact in Paris and would be in touch on July 19. We shall communicate either by sealed envelopes or through messages to be transmitted by their Ambassador. Chou added that we should continue to pass some non-substantive notes through President Yahya who had been a good friend.[Page 22]
Great Power Relations
Chou professed apprehension over the possibility that the U.S., USSR, Japan and even India might collaborate to carve up China. He showed deep bitterness against the Soviets and contempt for their petty tactics. The Soviets, he said, were proceeding down the U.S. road in “spreading their hands out too far.” While he was confident they would be ultimately defeated, he inferred that difficult times might be expected before this came about. Fear of revived Japanese militarism was a major theme throughout our discussions. Japan’s economic growth was to him equated with expansionism, and he felt that rearmament to back it was already taking place. In addition, China’s historical distrust of the Indians came through strongly.
I emphasized that the U.S. would never collude with other powers against China and that this would be shortsighted since the U.S. and China had no real conflicting interests. Indeed, in the area of relations among large countries our interests were very comparable. With respect to Japan, we were interested in its having the ability to defend itself, but would oppose Japanese militarism. While the objective consequences of U.S. actions might sometimes look like collusion, we would strive consciously to avoid this. I assured Chou on the following:
- — that you were prepared to inform them in advance of major decisions we have with other great powers that might affect them.
- — that you would take their views into account.
- — that we would consult on items of interest to them and try to reflect their concerns. I offered to explain to him our approach on other negotiations we were conducting, such as SALT. Except for a general question on Berlin issues, he did not take this suggestion up.
Chou several times emphasized that China lacked the economic base to be considered a great power, but had no desire to be considered one, and indeed wished to avoid the kind of great power rivalry existing between the Soviet Union and the U.S. Chou alleged that even after China’s economy became developed it would still not act as a great power. The Chinese clearly like to picture themselves as free from the vice of great power ambitions which have only served to stir turmoil in the world and brought problems for the [Page 23] powers themselves. They prefer to be cast in the role of championing the less powerful and fortunate countries of the world. Their attitude toward great powers now is a mix of hostility, suspicions and fear. This may be rather disingenuous, however, for while they profess not to envy those who are undisputably great powers, they may be making a virtue out of a necessity. And their very interest in a U.S.-Chinese summit has them playing a great power game.[Page 24]
I asked for their views on the Soviet proposal on a five power nuclear conference, reminding him that you had held up our response so as to get Chinese views. They flatly rejected the idea as a Soviet attempt to lasso them. I said we would be slow in our response; that other countries’ pressures might force us to go along; and that if such a conference were held we would seek to make sure that China was not put at a disadvantage. On SALT I assured them we would conclude no agreement directed against them, and that we recognized that limiting their embryonic strategic program at this time would be discriminatory. I said we were willing to discuss accidental war agreements with them such as we were discussing with the Russians; Chou replied that we could raise this with them whenever we wished. I added that we were prepared to consider a renunciation of force agreement such as Chou had proposed in 1955. He responded in low key that Taiwan was linked to this issue and immediately went on to say he hoped my Paris Talks with the North Vietnamese would bear fruit.[Page 25]
Americans Detained in China
At the very end I said that we would be grateful for a pardon of all or some of the four Americans still held in China when the PRC thought conditions were ripe. We were not making a request and recognized it was China’s matter to decide, but we would consider their release a voluntary act of mercy. Chou said that their law allowed shortened sentences for good behavior and they Would continue to study the matter. (This could well mean they might make a gesture.)[Page 26]
I am frank to say that this visit was a very moving experience. The historic aspects of the occasion; the warmth and dignity of the Chinese; the splendor of the Forbidden City, Chinese history and culture; the heroic stature of Chou En-lai; and the intensity and sweep of our talks combined to make an indelible impression on me and my colleagues.
These forty-eight hours, and my extensive discussions with Chou in particular, had all the flavor, texture, variety and delicacy of a Chinese banquet. Prepared from the long sweep of tradition and culture, meticulously cooked by hands of experience, and served in splendidly simple surroundings, our feast consisted of many courses, some sweet and some sour, all interrelated and forming a coherent whole. It was a total experience, and one went away, as after all good Chinese meals, very satisfied but not at all satiated.
We have laid the groundwork for you and Mao to turn a page in history. But we should have no illusions about the future. Profound differences and years of isolation yawn between us and the Chinese. They will be tough before and during the summit on the question of Taiwan and other major issues. And they will prove implacable foes if our relations turn sour. My assessment of these people is that they are deeply ideological, close to fanatic in the intensity of their beliefs. At the same time they display an inward security that allows them, within the framework of their principles, to be meticulous and reliable in dealing with others.
Furthermore, the process we have now started will send enormous shock waves around the world. It may panic the Soviet Union into sharp hostility. It could shake Japan loose from its heavily American moorings. It will cause a violent upheaval in Taiwan. It will have major impact on our other Asian allies, such as Korea and Thailand. It will increase the already substantial hostility in India. Some quarters may seek to sabotage the summit over the coming months.
However, we were well aware of these risks when we embarked on this course. We were aware too that the alternative was unacceptable—continued isolation from one-quarter of the world’s most talented people and a country rich in past achievements and future potential.
And even the risks can be managed and turned to our advantage if we maintain steady nerves and pursue our policies responsibly. With the [Page 27] Soviet Union we will have to make clear the continued priorities we attach to our concrete negotiations with them. Just as we will not collude with them against China, so we have no intention of colluding with China against them. If carefully managed, our new China policy could have a longer term beneficial impact on Moscow.
With Japan our task will be to make clear that we are not shifting our allegiance in Asia from her to China. On Taiwan we can hope for little more than damage limitation by reaffirming our diplomatic relations and mutual defense treaty even while it becomes evident that we foresee a political evolution over the coming years. With our other Asian allies we will need to stress both our continued bonds and our hope that reconciliation between us and the Chinese will serve the cause of regional peace. And in India, after the initial shock, our China moves might produce a more healthy relationship.
For Asia and for the world we need to demonstrate that we are enlarging the scope of our diplomacy in a way that, far from harming the interests of other countries, should instead prove helpful to them.
Our dealings, both with the Chinese and others, will require reliability, precision, finesse. If we can master this process, we will have made a revolution.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1032, Files for the President-China Material, Polo I Record, July 1971 HAK Visit to PRC. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Tabs A and B were attached but not published.↩
- Kissinger summarized his 2-day talks with Chinese Premier Chou En-lai.↩