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16. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • Nixon and Kissinger Memcons with Mao and Chou, 1971–73: A Preliminary Assessment

All memcons of conversations between NixonKissinger and Mao–Chou—the verbatim transcripts exceed 1,000 pages—are being digested by my staff.2 But an interim report is possible.

We have not located a formal, secret agreement. Probably none exists.

However, in the course of the remarkably frank, wide-ranging conversations, each side made many statements about their policies and expectations. The Chinese made no promises. On our side, however, Nixon–HAK carefully repeated five points on several occasions. Stated first before the Nixon trip, these so-called “Five Points” constitute a SECRET PLEDGE:

—There is one China and Taiwan is part of it. We will not assert the status of Taiwan is undetermined.3

—We will not support any Taiwan independence movement.

—We will use our influence to discourage Japan from moving into Taiwan as our presence diminishes.

—We will support any peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue that can be worked out.

—We seek normalization. (Nixon–HAK suggested the process would be completed by 1976.)

Nixon–HAK made two other pledges as well:

—We will not participate in arrangements that affect Chinese interests without prior consultation.4

—We will reduce our military forces on Taiwan as progress is made toward normalization.

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Secret actions gave meaning to the Sino-American relationship as well. We gave extensive intelligence on Soviet troop deployments until 1973, after which Peking spurned our briefings. We sought—the record does not indicate how—to deter a Soviet attack in the event of Chinese involvement in the late 1971 Indo-Pakistani war.

The record raises several profound questions we now must address: (1) Should the secret pledges remain in force?5 Without these commitments, the Sino-American relationship could not have evolved to their present state. To retract them would destroy the “spirit” behind the Shanghai Communique. (2) Should the pledges be kept secret?6 If they are made public prior to normalization, the Taiwan lobby would raise a political storm. (3) If the pledges and actions are to be kept secret, how many people can safely see the record and become full partners in the making of China policy? Given the danger of leakage, should the circle remain tight?7

Finally, the transcripts reveal the opening to China succeeded because of the U.S. flexibility on the Taiwan issue. The “five points” enabled our two countries to pursue our parallel strategic interests vis-a-vis the USSR. What leverage will we surrender over the Soviets should we fail to demonstrate continued movement on the Taiwan issue?8

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 47, Chron: 3/77. Top Secret; Eyes Only; Nodis. Brzezinski later sent another memorandum to Carter revising the views he expressed here. See Document 20.
  2. The records of all the meetings between Nixon and Kissinger and their Chinese counterparts are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVII, China, 1969–1972, and vol. XVIII, China, 1973–1976.
  3. Carter made a checkmark in the margin next to each of these five points.
  4. Carter made a checkmark in the margin next to both of these points.
  5. Carter underlined the last five words of this sentence and in the margin wrote, “Yes.”
  6. Carter underlined this sentence and in the margin wrote, “Yes.”
  7. Carter underlined the last five words of this sentence and in the margin wrote, “Yes.”
  8. In the margin next to this final question, Carter wrote a question mark. He initialed “J.C.” at the bottom of the page.