home | about | documents | news | publications | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list
Electronic Briefing
Books Main Index
See also:
NEGOTIATING U.S.-CHINESE RAPPROCHEMENT
New American and Chinese Documention Leading Up to Nixon's 1972 Trip
Read the press release
Still photographs of the early stages of Sino-American rapprochement from the Nixon Presidential Materials Project
New Evidence on the Sino-American Opening and the Cold War

The George Washington University Cold War (GWCW) group is sponsored by the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies of the Elliott School of International Affairs.  A generous three-year grant to GWCW from the Henry Luce Foundation is being used to host workshops on new evidence/policy legacies concerning critical events from the Cold War in Asia, to support document translation of new sources from non-American archives, to fund student and faculty research and travel, and to help support the annual GWCW graduate student conference. 

The first GWCW Luce Workshop was held in February 2002 at the Elliott School on “New Evidence on the Sino-American Opening and the Cold War” to help mark the 30th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to the People’s Republic of China. Participants at the GWCW workshop included many of the world’s leading scholars as well as GWU graduate students working with American, Chinese, and other foreign language documents.  In addition to the sessions for workshop participants and other invited guests, a standing-room only crowd from the larger GW and area community, heard three former members of the Nixon-Kissinger National Security Council staff – Winston Lord, William R. Smyser, and Helmut Sonnenfeldt – offer their perspectives on many of the crucial moments from 1969-72 that led to the rapprochement between the United States and China.  Today's posting includes an audio recording of their public discussion of their experience.  The workshop provided a unique opportunity for scholars and former policymakers to discuss the briefing book, the most up-to-date analyses, lessons for today's policymaking on China, and the problems and prospects for research in Chinese, Russian, and East European archives.

GWCW Luce Workshop
Audio Clip: Winston Lord, William R. Smyser, and Helmut Sonnenfeldt on their experience on the Nixon National Security Council Staff

September 1970-July 1971
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 66
Edited by William Burr,
February 27, 2002
Jump to documents
 
Last week, President Bush visited Beijing on the anniversary of Richard Nixon's visit in February 1972, the first presidential trip to China.(1)  To commemorate further the Nixon trip, the National Security Archive and the George Washington University's Cold War Group of the Elliott School of International Affairs are publishing recently declassified U.S. documents on the Sino-American rapprochement.  This material documents Nixon's efforts to make contacts with Beijing during 1970-1971 as the basis for rapprochement after decades of hostility.  Most of the documents, held in the files of the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives, were released in April 2001; they are only the tip of an iceberg of very rich material in the Nixon papers.  The new releases make it possible to publish here for the first time, a nearly-complete record --some pages are still classified--of the historic talks between Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger during the latter's secret trip to China in July 1971.

    This collection opens up with documentation on Nixon's and Kissinger's efforts to establish communication with China in the fall of 1970.  Since the beginning of his presidency in early 1969, and even earlier, Nixon had been interested in changing relations with China, not least to contain a potential nuclear threat but also, by taking advantage of the adversarial Sino-Soviet relationship, to open up another front in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  It took time, however, for Nixon and Kissinger to discover how to carry out a new policy toward Beijing and such complications as the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970 created detours in White House efforts to sustain a dialogue with Beijing.(2)

     Earlier efforts to make contact with China having gone nowhere, in September 1970 Nixon directed Kissinger to renew the effort.  An October 1970 meeting with Pakistan's ruler Yahya Khan (see document 3) had some potential for expediting contacts because Pakistan had provided a channel for earlier Sino-American communication in 1969.(3)  Nevertheless, as the documents show, Kissinger was also trying other channels, such as the Romanian government and an old friend, Jean Sainteny, who had connections at the Chinese embassy in Paris.   The Pakistani channel produced an important message from Zhou in December 1970, which quickly generated a White House response (see documents 5 and 7).  In April 1971, both sides were engaged in important signaling---the Chinese with "Ping Pong diplomacy" and Nixon with public statements of interest in visiting China--while Kissinger was waiting for Beijing's response to the message sent in December.  On 27 April 1971, he was about to make another effort to contact Sainteny when the Pakistani ambassador delivered Zhou Enlai's belated reply (see document 16).  Mao Zedong's and Zhou's interest in receiving a visit from Nixon laid the way for Kissinger's secret trip in July 1971 and the beginning of the U.S.-China effort to discuss the issues that had divided them over the years.

     The documents show that general agreement on the Taiwan problem was the sine qua non for Nixon's trip and diplomatic normalization generally, although Kissinger elided that issue altogether in his memoirs.  Nixon was reluctant to give up too much on Taiwan (see item 32), but he knew that the success of the trip depended on U.S. admission that it did not seek "two Chinas or a "one China, one Taiwan solution." In his talk with Zhou on 9 July, Kissinger did not use Zhou's formulation that "Taiwan was a part of China" but he nevertheless acknowledged it when he declared that "we are not advocating a `two Chinas' solution or a `one China, one Taiwan' solution."(4)  Kissinger's declaration prompted Zhou to say what he had not yet said, that he was optimistic about Sino-American rapprochement: "the prospect for a solution and the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries is hopeful" (see document 33 at p. 13).  As important as this exchange was, in his 1979 memoir Kissinger misleadingly wrote that "Taiwan was mentioned only briefly during the first session."(5)  Yet some 9 pages, nearly 20 percent, of the 46-page record of the first Zhou-Kissinger meeting on 9 July 1971, include discussion of Taiwan, with Kissinger disavowing Taiwanese independence and committing to withdraw two-thirds of U.S. military forces from the island once the Vietnam War ended.  Moreover, Kissinger told Zhou that he expected that Beijing and Washington would "settle the political question" of diplomatic relations "within the earlier part of the President's second term."  Kissinger did not say what that would mean for U.S. diplomatic relations with Taiwan but undoubtedly Zhou expected Washington to break formal ties with Taipei as a condition of Sino-American diplomatic normalization.

    Undoubtedly, Kissinger hoped that the Taiwan problem would gradually fade away, with peaceful "evolution" uniting China and its wayward province, but Taiwan proved resilient and the downgrading of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship remained a sore point for Republican Party conservatives during the 1970s.  Indeed, Nixon's resignation in 1974 and the political weaknesses of his successor, Gerald Ford, made it impossible for Kissinger to complete the U.S.-PRC normalization process.  Ford could not break ties with Taiwan without raising the ire of the Republican right.  Undoubtedly, when Kissinger published his memoir he did not want to provoke the conservatives, much less Taipei, by disclosing what he had said to Zhou about Taiwan.

   The U.S. documentation represents only a partial record of a more complex reality.   While Chinese archival sources are largely unavailable, a growing body of scholarship in China and the United States draws upon Chinese language sources to show that Beijing was just as energetic as Washington in trying to signal interest in a new relationship.  For example, in his recent book, Mao's China and the Cold War, University of Virginia historian Chen Jian discusses in fascinating detail the internal deliberations in Beijing during the late 1960s and early 70s.(6)  One intriguing episode in Chen's account is the story of the four marshals whom Mao instructed in 1969 to report on trends in world politics, especially U.S-Soviet, Sino-Soviet, and Sino-American relations.  Worried about a dangerous confrontation with Moscow, two of the marshals, Chen Yi and Ye Jianying, proposed that Beijing play "the card of the United States" to provide leverage with Moscow.  During the last decades of the Cold War, top U.S. officials would sometimes recommend playing the "China card," but it is a rare policymaker who understands that the United States may also be the object of other nations' card playing.(7)

   As useful as the new Chinese materials are in elucidating the story of the rapprochement, for the most part Bejing's archives are closed to all but party insiders.  It may be too optimistic to hope that the availability of U.S documentation from the highest levels of the Nixon administration will induce Chinese authorities to disclose their record of these historic developments.  Whether archival openness will depend on other steps toward a more politically open society remains to be seen, but until a new archival regime emerges in Beijing, both American and Chinese historians will have to rely on an incomplete U.S. record.

Note: unless otherwise indicated, the documents that follow are from the National Security Council Files among the records of the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives.  Therefore, to identify the archival source of these documents, only the box number and file location are indicated below.



Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

A. Looking for a Channel to Beijing
Document 1
Kissinger to Nixon, "Contact with the Chinese," circa 12 September 1970, with excerpt from "Daily Brief" attached, Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: 1032, [Fortune] Cookies II [Chronology of Exchanges with PRC Feb. 1969 - April 1971]

 
Document 2
Memcon, Kissinger and Jean Sainteny, 27 September 1970, Top Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

Document 3
Memcon, "Meeting Between the President and Pakistan President Yahya," 25 October 1970, Top Secret/Sensitive
Source: box 1032, Cookies II (Chronology of Exchanges with PRC Feb. 1969-April 1971

 
Document 4
Kissinger to Nixon, "My Conversation with President Ceausescu, Tuesday, October 27", with memcon attached, 31 October 1970, Top Secret/Sensitive
Source: box 1032, Cookies II (Chronology of Exchanges with PRC Feb. 1969-April 1971)

Document 5
W. R. Smyser, National Security Council Staff, to Kissinger, "Letter from Your Friend in Paris, and Other Chinese Miscellania," 7 November 1970, Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only
Source: box 1032, [Fortune] Cookies II [Chronology of Exchanges with PRC Feb. 1969 - April 1971]
 
B.  Success of the Pakistani Channel
Document 6
Kissinger to Nixon, "Chinese Communist Initiative," c. 10 December 1970, enclosing draft Note Verbal and message from Zhou Enlai, as conveyed by Hilaly, with comments by Yahya, Top Secret/Sensitive
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

Document 7
Memo by Hilaly, Record of a Discussion with Mr. Henry Kissinger On [sic] the White House on 16th December 1970
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 8
Memo of Record by Col. Richard T. Kennedy, 16 December 1970, enclosing response to PRC via Hilaly and Yahya, Top Secret/Sensitive, delivered in Beijing on 5 January 1971
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 9
Kissinger to Nixon, "Conversation with Ambassador Bogdan, Map Room, January 11, 1971, " 12 January 1971, Top Secret/Sensitive, with Nixon's handwritten comments
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 10
Memcon by David Halperin, National Security Council Staff, Bogdan-Kissinger meeting, 29 January 1971, Top Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only, excerpt
Source: box 1033, Miscellaneous Memoranda Relating to HAK Trip to PRC, July 1971

 
Document 11
Smyser to Kissinger, "Message from Sainteny," 18 January 1971, with Kissinger's 
hand-written comments, Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only
Source: box 1032, [Fortune] Cookies II [Chronology of Exchanges with PRC Feb. 1969 - April 1971]

 
Document 12
Smyser to Kissinger, "Message from Sainteny," 29 January 1971, Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only
Source: box 1032, [Fortune] Cookies II [Chronology of Exchanges with PRC Feb. 1969 - April 1971]

 
Document 13
Ray Cline to Acting Secretary Irwin, Intelligence Brief, "Communist-China/US: Peking's People's Diplomacy: A `New Page' in Sino-American Relations," 14 April 1971. Secret/No Foreign Dissem
Source: RG 59, State Department Records, Subject Numeric Files 1970-73, CUL 16 US

 
Document 14
Statement by Nixon on Travel and Trade with PRC, 14 April 1971
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 15
Statement by Nixon to American Society of Newspaper Editors, 16 April 1971
Source: box 1031, China - Public and Private Moves Toward Pres. Visit
 

C. Agreement on a High-Level Mission to Beijing

Document 16
Letter from Haig to Walters, with letter to Sainteny and message to PRC, 27 April 1971, Top Secret/Sensitive; text of message annotated by Kissinger
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 17
Message from Zhou Enlai to Nixon, 21 April 1971, rec'd 27 April 1971, responding to Nixon's 16 December 1970 message 
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 18
Record of Nixon-Kissinger Telephone Conversation Discussing Zhou's Message and Possible Envoys to China, 27 April 1971
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 19
Nixon Press Conference, 29 April 1971
Source: box 1031, China - Public and Private Moves Toward Pres. Visit

 
Document 20
Haig, Extract of Memcon dated May 5, 1971, Top Secret/Sensitive
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (2)

 
Document 21
Haig to Nixon, "China," 5 May 1971, Top Secret / Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)
D. Planning Kissinger's Trip
Document 22
Kissinger to Nixon, "Meeting with Ambassador Farland, May 7, 1971," 15 May 1971, Top Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 23
Message from Nixon to Zhou, via Hilaly, 10 May 1971
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 24
Message from Kissinger to Farland, enclosing message to PRC on SALT announcement, 20 May 1971, Top Secret / Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: box 1031, China - Public and Private Moves Toward Pres. Visit

 
Document 25
Message from Farland to Kissinger, 22 May 1971, Top Secret / Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 26
Message from Zhou to Nixon, 29 May 1971, with commentary, conveyed by Hilaly to White House
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 27
Assessment and summary of Zhou message, conveyed to Nixon on 31 May 1971
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 28
Message to the Government of the People's Republic of China, from Nixon to Zhou, given to Hilaly on 4 June 1971
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 29
Letter from Hilaly to Kissinger, 19 June 1971, with message from Yahya on Kissinger travel arrangements
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 30
Lord to Kissinger, "Your Meeting with Ambassador Hilaly," 21 June 1971, Top Secret /Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 31
Message from Kissinger to Farland, 22 June 1971, Top Secret / Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

Document 32
Message from Kissinger to Farland, late June 1971, on travel arrangements, Top Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only [sent through CIA channel with transmittal information cut off archival copy]
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

Document 33
Memorandum for the President's Files, "Meeting Between President, Dr. Kissinger, and General Haig, Thursday, July 1, Oval Office," 1 July 1971, Top Secret / Sensitive / Excusively Eyes Only 
Source: box 1036, China-General July-October 1971
E. The Secret Trip
Document 34
Memcon, Kissinger and Zhou, 9 July1971, 4:35-11:20 PM, Top Secret / Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only, with cover memo by Lord, 29 July 1971
Source: box 1033, China HAK Memcons July 1971 [file location for all documents in this section unless otherwise noted]

 
Document 35
Memcon, Kissinger and Zhou, 10 July 1971, Afternoon (12:10 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.), Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only, with cover memo by Lord, 6 August 1971

 
Document 36
Memcon, Kissinger and Zhou, 10 July 1971, Evening (11:20 - 11:50 p.m.), Top Secret /Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only, with cover memo by Lord, 12 August 1971

 
Document 37
Memcon, Kissinger and Ye Jianying, 11 July 1971, Early Morning and Morning (12:00 midnight - 1:40 a.m.; 9:50 a.m. - 10:35 a.m.), Top Secret / Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only

 
Document 38
Memcon, Kissinger and Zhou, 11 July 1971, 10:35 a.m. - 11:55 a.m., Top Secret / Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only

 
Document 39
Message from Kissinger to Haig, 11 July 1971, on progress of talks
Source: box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)

 
Document 40
Kissinger to Nixon, "My Talks with Chou En-lai," 14 July 1971, Top Secret / Sensitive / Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: box 1033, Miscellaneous Memoranda Relating to HAK Trip to PRC, July 1971

 
Document 41
Memorandum for the President's Files, "Briefing of the White House Staff on the July 15 Announcement of the President's Trip to Peking," 19 July 1971
Source: box 1036, China-General July-Oct 1971
 
Notes

1.  The declassified record of Nixon's talks with the Chinese leadership has already been published on the National SecurityArchive's web page.  See http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/publications/DOC_readers/kissinger/nixzhou/

2.  Henry Kissinger's memoir of the first Nixon administration, White House Years (Boston, Little Brown, 1979), remains an important primary source on the rapprochement, but it stands corrected by declassified material as well as important secondary sources as Raymond L. Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1994), at pp. 227-278, Jim Mann, About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China from Nixon to Clinton (New York, Alfred Knopf, 1999), and Patrick Tyler, A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China: An Investigative History (New York, PublicAffairs, 1999).  For developments in U.S-China relations after Nixon's trip through early 1977, see William Burr, ed., The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top Secret Talks with Beijing and Moscow (New York, The New Press, 1999)

3.  For a fascinating account of Pakistani role in facilitating the rapprochement, and the first publication of the relevant documents, see F. S. Aijazuddin, From a Head, Through A Head, To a Head: the Secret Channel Between the US and China through Pakistan (Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, 2000).

4.  Nixon and Kissinger, of course, explicitly acknowledged Zhou's formulation when they signed off on the Shanghai Communiqué, during Nixon's February visit.  See  Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States Richard Nixon 1972 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1974), p. 378.

5.  Kissinger, White House Years, at 749.

6.  Besides Chen Jian's book, published in 2001 by the University of North Carolina Press, see also Qiang Zhai's study, China & the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2000).  For an early exploration of the rapprochement drawing on Chinese sources and interviews with U.S. officials, see Robert S. Ross, Negotiating Confrontation: The United States and China, 1969-1989 (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1995)

7.  Chen Jian, Mao's China, at 248.  For the "China card" in 1978, see Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation, pp. 758-785.
 

Contents of this website Copyright 1995-2011 National Security Archive. All rights reserved.
Terms and conditions for use of materials found on this website.