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Tuesday, February 23

Any more bright ideas, Dr Kissinger?

Quite a number of governments including the American are now alarmed about China's idea of peaceful rising, the latest cause for concern satellite imagery that seems to show radar facilities being installed on some artificial islands the PLA has built in the Spratleys. Actually radar is a good idea because it can spot killer shrimps stalking unsuspecting Filipino fishermen.

It's a little late in day to be alarmed about China but the eerie part about its unsettling rise is that every treachery in its foreign relations its rulers copied from the way post-WW2 American administrations conducted their own foreign relations. 

There is one American tactic they never copied, though. They don't give away the store, which is what Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger did.     

Here (thanks to Madhu) a short walk down the memory lane called Nightmare.             
New American and Chinese Documention Leading Up to Nixon's 1972 Trip
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 70

William Burr, editor,
with Sharon Chamberlain (George Washington University),
Gao Bei, and Zhao Han (University of Virginia)
May 22, 2002


The collection opens up with State Department documents illustrating one of the adverse consequences of Kissinger's secret visit in July 1971.  In their quest for rapprochement with Beijing, Nixon and Kissinger had taken Japan by surprise--there had been no attempt at advance notice, despite previous understandings that Washington and Tokyo would coordinate any decisions on innovations in China policy.  With the U.S. devaluation of the dollar and import surcharges of August 1971, the U.S. China initiative was one of the "Nixon Shokku" that soured U.S-Japan relations for years to come.  

Other documents from the weeks that follow show the establishment of a new secret Sino-American channel of communications in Paris, largely supplanting the vitally important Pakistan channel of 1969-1971.  Through the talks held in Paris, Kissinger and his Chinese interlocutors discussed details of the presidential visit, Kissinger's forthcoming (October) trip, as well as the developing India-Pakistan crisis over East Pakistan (Bangladesh). 

In addition, Kissinger kept Chinese diplomats informed of a variety of other issues, thinking that the Chinese had an appetite for tidbits of information that would "give them an additional stake in nurturing our new relationship." In the meantime, the Soviets were nurturing their own suspicions of the new Sino-American relationship; a record of Kissinger's talk with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobryin on 17 August shows the latter's suspicions that Washington was providing the Chinese with intelligence information on Soviet forces.  

Kissinger would later provide such briefings to the Chinese, but tried to dispel Dobrynin's suspicions with the assurance that he would never do anything so "amateurish."

Before Kissinger made his second visit, in October 1971, Nixon had to deal with a delicate problem.  Kissinger's visit would coincide with the United Nations General Assembly's annual debate over the Peoples Republic of China's membership in the UN. Ambassador George H. W. Bush, who led the U.S. delegation to the UN, diligently lobbied to preserve Taiwan's seat, but believed that Kissinger's travel schedule would undermine that purpose.

As Sharon Chamberlain's transcripts of the tapes disclose, Bush requested Nixon to change Kissinger's schedule, arguing "I think this thing [Kissinger's trip] -- to be candid as I've told Henry --will not be helpful at all" (see document 6), a striking contrast to Kissinger's later recollection that neither he or Bush thought that "the UN vote would be decisively affected."(1)  

Nixon was well aware that Taiwan enjoyed important support in the United States---"there's a lot of people that don't want to see us  ... let Taiwan go down the drain"--but he could only advise Bush to "fight hard."   For Nixon, however, rapprochement with Beijing had priority over Taiwan's UN status and Kissinger's schedule was left unchanged. With the PRC's widespread support among Third World delegations, Bush's efforts to save Taiwan's seats were to no avail.  On 25 October 1971, while Kissinger was returning from China, the General Assembly, by the vote of a substantial majority, admitted the People's Republic of China to the UN and expelled the Republic of China.(2)
The largely complete record of Kissinger's October 1971 trip covers his twenty-five hours of meetings with Zhou Enlai.(3)  They discussed a number of issues, including Japanese defense policy, the future of Taiwan, the ongoing South Asian conflict over Bangladesh, the Vietnam War, and details of Nixon's trip.  With respect to the latter, they pinned down the date of Nixon's visit and the size of the presidential party. 

These memcons (and the others in this collection) are uniquely representative of the Chinese position because they are based on the Chinese, not the United States, interpretation of the discussion; fearing leaks outside the White House, Kissinger refused to use State Department translators. 

A key issue in Kissinger and Zhou's deliberations, one that took nearly ten hours of conversation over seven drafts, was the preparation of what became known as the "Shanghai Communiqué," issued at the end of Nixon's February visit.  Initially, the two sides had widely divergent views, with Kissinger more interested in a statement that emphasized areas of agreement and "glided over" disagreements, while Zhou sought one that was honest on policy differences and avoided "banality" and "untruthful appearance" characteristic of Soviet-style communiqués.  Zhou's attitude impressed an already admiring Kissinger, who would treat it as an exemplar of Beijing's "principled" leadership that was "free of the pettiness and elbowing we have experienced with the Russians."(4)

One element of Kissinger's talks with Zhou was an effort to build up the perceived Soviet threat to China in order to reinforce Beijing's interest in rapprochement with Washington.  For example, on 22 October Kissinger observed that Moscow was pushing for detente with the West because of its "great desire to free itself in Europe so it can concentrate on other areas," namely China.  Alexander Haig, during his January 1972 visit, continued to press this theme when meeting with Zhou.  Pointing to Soviet policy during the recent South Asian war, Haig argued that Moscow was trying to "encircle the PRC with unfriendly states." 

Restating the old policy, dating back to Secretary of State John Hay, of U.S. support for China's territorial integrity, Haig argued that Soviet policy was a danger because "the future viability of the PRC was of the greatest interest to us and a matter of our own national interest."  Once Moscow had "neutralized" Beijing, he declared, it would "then turn on us."  

To strengthen Beijing's position, Haig offered to provide the Chinese with strategic and tactical intelligence on Soviet forces arrayed against China.  Zhou must have taken up the offer because Kissinger probably briefed the Chinese on Soviet forces during the February 1972 visit, but the premier did not care for Haig's phraseology and subjected him to what Kissinger later called a "withering blast": China would never depend on "external forces" to maintain independence and viability because that would make it a "protectorate or colony" (see documents 24 and 25).(5)

Documents on Kissinger's secret talks with the Chinese during the South Asian crisis over Bangladesh illuminate Kissinger's and Haig's perceptions of Soviet policy.  Convinced that Moscow was behind New Delhi and that Indian policy aimed at destroying Pakistan, Kissinger covertly tilted U.S. policy against India and toward Pakistan, a state that was close to China and had been helpful in arranging communications with Beijing. 

Doggedly viewing the South Asian conflict through the lenses of superpower conflict, Kissinger believed it was imperative to side with Pakistan, for example, by secretly providing military aid and by sending naval forces to the Indian Ocean. Such actions, he further believed, would bolter rapprochement with China by demonstrating U.S. resolve to contain Soviet influence in the region.   

Over the objections of CIA and State Department officials, Kissinger carried out the "tilt" policy in secret but it soon leaked to the press, to the dismay of Congress and public opinion, which leaned toward India and Bangladesh.(6)

This collection closes with a Kissinger briefing paper to help Nixon prepare for his  "encounter with the Chinese" by acquainting him with the "flavor of their style."  While acknowledging that the PRC leadership was "fanatic" and "totally disagree[s] with us where the world is going," Kissinger's overall appraisal was positive. Mao and Zhou were "pragmatic", "firm on principle" but "flexible on details."  Unlike the Soviets, they "won't constantly press you for petty gains," haggle over details, or implement an agreement grudgingly.

In brief portraits of Zhou and Mao, Kissinger observed that Zhou was truly impressive, a man with whom "one can have a dialogue," who shows that he has "done his homework", and who can be "extremely -- and suddenly -- tough."   Kissinger had yet to meet Mao but Zhou had "made clear that Mao was the boss," and from all accounts could "be even more impressive" than Zhou.

"They will make a truly imposing and formidable pair."(7) 



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