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Getting to Beijing: Henry Kissinger's Secret 1971 Trip

A documentary history of US efforts under Richard Nixon to open discussions with Chinese leaders, an effort that yielded Kissinger's trip forty years ago this month. Photo: Premier Zhou Enlai and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.
July 21, 2011
Premier Zhou Enlai and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger

Originally published in July 2011 and updated in February 2022.

Time, July 26, 1971

As a candidate and in press conferences as president, Richard Nixon argued that the United States and the world would benefit from engaging China. He felt this was intrinsicly important because of China's size and inevitable importance. Nixon also saw China as a useful counterbalance to the Soviet Union. From the first days of his presidency he sought to signal China's leaders that he was willing to talk. The Americans sent private signals through Paris, Warsaw, and via the leaders of Romania and Pakistan. The documents summarized and linked to below detail these efforts which ultimately produced Henry Kissinger's secret trip to Beijing July 9-11, 1971. Kissinger, Nixon's National Security Advisor, flew to Beijing from Pakistan. His meetings there produced an agreement that President Nixon would visit China. Nixon went in February 1972.

These documents are part of the USC U.S.-China Institute's collection of speeches, reports, memos, and images relating to U.S.-China ties. Click here to see other materials. Most of these documents have been declassified over the past decade (click here for National Archives press release). The Kissinger trip was discussed in the institute's Talking Points newsletter.This compilation is by Clayton Dube. Another compilation ("Getting to Know You") covers preparations for the Nixon trip, the trip itself, and follow-up exchanges.

The Aim | Sending Signals | China Accepts | Kissinger-Zhou Meetings | Nixon Announcement

October 1967

Candidate Richard Nixon wrote in Foreign Affairs, "we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates, and threaten its neighbors. There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation."

January 20-21, 1969

During one of his many meetings during his first two days as president, Richard Nixon wrote this note: “Chinese Communists: Short range—no change. Long range—we do not want 800,000,000 living in angry isolation. We want contact ... [want] China—cooperative member of international community and member of Pacific community.” (State Department, Office of the Historian)

February 1, 1969

Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor, 1969-1975 (U.S. State Dept.)

President Nixon wrote to Henry Kissinger, his National Security Advisor. He wrote that Kissinger's report the day before mentioned "interesting comments" on China from a Polish source, Nixon wrote, "I think we should give every encouragement to the attitude that this Administration is 'exploring possibilities of raprochement with the Chinese.' This, of course, should be done privately and should under no circumstances get into the public prints from this direction. However, in contacts with your friends, and particularly in any ways you might have to get to this Polish source, I would continue to plant that idea." (State Department, Office of the Historian)

February 5, 1969

Henry Kissinger notified the State and Defense departments and the Central Intelligence Agency that the National Security Council has been directed to prepare a study on U.S. relations with China, to include alternative approaches and risks. (State Department, Office of the Historian)

August 21, 1969

Presidents Nixon and Khan, Pakistan, August 1969

President Nixon visited Pakistan in July 1969. He met with President Yahya Khan. This memorandum from National Security Council staffers Lindsey Grant and Hal Saunders to Henry Kissinger addresses efforts to reach the Chinese through Pakistan. They passed along word from an American diplomat in Pakistan that, "The Pakistanis are working in the belief that President Nixon told President Yahya that the US wished to seek an accommodation with Communist China and would appreciate the Pakistani's passing this word to Chou En-lai and using their influence to promote this. Yahya is apparently debating whether to call in the Chicom Ambassador to convey the message or whether to wait until he sees Chou Enlai, probably some months hence." Kissinger wrote on the memo, “This is to be strictly WH matter. I want no discussion outside our bldg." (State Dept. memo on Khan's conversation with Zhou Enlai, State Department, Office of the Historian)

August 27, 1969

CIA Director Richard Helms told the press that Soviet officials were approaching foreign governments to ask how they would respond to a preemptive strike against China's nuclear forces. In fact, Boris Davydov, Second Secretary at the Soviet Embassy met on August 18 in Washington with William Stearman, a member of the White House National Security Council staff. Stearman reported "Davydov asked point blank what the US would do if, the Soviet Union attacked and destroyed China's nuclear installations... He then rephrased his original question by asking: 'What would the US do if Peking called for US assistance in the event Chinese nuclear installations were attacked by us? Wouldn't the US try to take advantage of this situation?'" (Click here to read Stearman's report.) The threats ultimately caused China to negotiate with Moscow and to continue to look to forge connections to Washington.

August 28, 1969

National Security Council staffer Hal Saunders reported on his meeting with Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S. Agha Hilaly. Saunders wrote to Henry Kissinger that he met Hilaly in order to clarify two points: "a. The President did not have in mind that passing this word was urgent or that it required any immediate or dramatic Pakistani effort. He regards this as important but not as something that needs to be done immediately.... b. What President Nixon had in mind was that President Yahya might at some natural and appropriate time convey this statement of the U.S. position in a low-key factual way." He reported he told Hilaly that Kissinger was to be the point of contact on this matter (meaning there should be no contact with the State Department or others). (State Department, Office of the Historian)

September 9, 1969

Walter Stoessel, U.S. Ambassador to Poland, summarized a meeting he had at the White House with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Stoessel wrote that Nixon asked how he was able to reach out privately to Chinese officials in Warsaw. He noted that Nixon directed him to make contact with a top Chinese representative at a reception somewhere. Stoessel wrote that he was to "say that I had seen the President in Washington and that he was seriously interested in concrete discussions with China." Stoessel had trouble actually meeting the Chinese Chargé until December. (State Department, Office of the Historian)

October 16, 1969

Henry Kissinger reported to President Nixon on a meeting he had with Pakistan's Ambassador Hilaly. Hilaly told him that Pakistani President Yahya Khan would meet with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai early in 1970. Hilaly asked if there was something specific Yahya could tell Zhou. Kissinger wrote that he told Hilaly he needed to check with you, but also "[I]f President Yahya were communicating with the Communist Chinese Ambassador, he might say confidentially that the United States is removing two of its destroyers from the Formosa Straits.(State Department, Office of the Historian)

December 2, 1969

Secretary of State William Rogers wrote to President Nixon to advocate for continued relaxation of measures against China. He thought this might be helpful as a wedge between the Soviet Union and China.Rogers reported that "there have been signs of moderation in Peking's foreign policy stance including—in private encounters—toward the U.S." Rogers listed a number of measures that could be taken to send positive signals to China's leaders. These included loosening economic restrictions, including the purchase of American farm products.Nixon accepted the recommendations and changes were announced on December 19. (State Department, Office of the Historian)

February 20, 1970

National Security Council staffer Alexander Haig wrote on behalf of Henry Kissinger to President Nixon that Chinese representatives at the Warsaw talks said "that if we wished to send a representative of “ministerial rank or a special Presidential envoy to Peking for the further exploration of fundamental principles of relations” between the US and China, they would be prepared to receive him." (State Department, Office of the Historian)

February 23, 1970

Henry Kissinger wrote to President Nixon to report an exchange with Pakistan's President Yahya via Ambassador Hilaly. Yahya told Kissinger that the Chinese were encouraged by U.S. initiatives, but they did not want discussions to signal Chinese weakness or fear. Kissinger told Yahya to tell the Chinese that press and other speculation could be avoided by working directly with the White House, Kissinger wrote, When matters are in formal diplomatic channels, it is not so easy for us to maintain total discretion because too many people see what is happening. We would therefore be prepared to open a direct White House channel to Peking which would not be known outside the White House and on which we could guarantee total security," (State Department, Office of the Historian)

March 7, 1970

Henry Kissinger reported that Taiwan President Chiang Kai-shek had written to President Nixon to oppose the approach the U.S. had taken towards China in the Warsaw talks. (Click here for Kissinger's report.) Nixon's March 27 response to Chiang's letter began, "... I know of your deep distrust of Communist China's motives. In my own evaluation of Communist China, I do not ignore the legacy of the past, nor do I ignore the threat which the Chinese Communist regime may pose in the future." At the same time, Nixon told Chiang, "I would be remiss in my duty to the American people if I did not attempt to discover whether a basis may not exist for reducing the risk of a conflict between the United States and Communist China...." (State Department, Office of the Historian) In April, Chiang's son, Chiang Ching-kuo met with Kissinger and others to discuss the situation. Chiang Ching-kuo was at the time Taiwan's vice-premier.The Warsaw talks sputtered out due to scheduling problems, issues related to the Vietnam War, and the opening of other channels of communication (via Paris and Pakistan).

July 9, 1970

Henry Kissinger reported to President Nixon that the Chinese military tried to intercept an American aircraft gathering intelligence 100 miles off the China coast. This, Kissinger noted, came as a surprise. He wrote, "Had they succeeded, they would have finished off the slight movement toward a Sino-U.S. thaw. In doing so, they would have nullified the 'U.S. option' which they have been developing since their confrontation with the U.S.S.R. began." Kissinger speculated that someone in the Chinese leadership did want to damage the nascent relationship. He wrote that intelligence efforts should continue or the Chinese would learn that "a hard line works best with us." (State Department, Office of the Historian) On July 31, Kissinger was told there were ongoing struggles within the Chinese leadership and that it was unclear who was rising or falling. (State Department, Office of the Historian)

Ca. September 12, 1970

This is a memorandum from Henry Kissinger to President Nixon responding to comments President Nixon made on a September 9 memo. Nixon asked Kissinger to try again to reach Chinese officials. Kissinger confirmed that in June 1970 the U.S. had prepared an offer to meet with Chinese officials. He wrote, though, that while General Vernon Walters had told Chinese contacts that he had a message to convey, he had not yet been able to actually convey the message. The document includes the September 9 briefing with Nixon's handwritten comments. Click here to read the document.





October 1, 1970

Edgar Snow, interpreter Ji Chaozhu 冀朝铸 and Chairman Mao Zedong, Oct. 1, 1970 (published in December)

American journalist Edgar Snow and his wife joined Chairman Mao Zedong atop Tiananmen during the National Day parade. Snow had interviewed Mao in Shaanxi in 1936 and published what Mao told him about himself and the Communist Party's aims in Red Star Over China in 1937. Snow had reported on 1960, 1964 and 1965 as well (click here to see a clip of him speaking with Zhou Enlai about U.S.-China relations).

October 25, 1970

Henry Kissinger summarized of a meeting between President Nixon and President Yahya Khan of Pakistan. Nixon asked about Yahya's plans to visit Beijing. He told Yahya that he was willing to send a representative to some third party capital to open communications with Beijing. Click here to read the document.

October 31, 1970

Henry Kissinger reported to President Nixon on a meeting he had with Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu in Washington. Kissinger said he told Ceausescu that the U.S. wanted to open communications with China and that the U.S. government did not believe it had "long-term clashing interests." Ceausescu said he would pass this along to the Chinese. Click here to read the document.

December 10, 1970

Henry Kissinger provided President Nixon with a summary of the status of "Chinese Communist Initiative." It included a report from the Pakistani ambassador that Pakistan's president had conveyed Nixon's message during his visit to China. It said that Zhou told Yahya that his response had the support of Chairman Mao and Vice Chairman Lin Biao. Zhou told Yahya that the Taiwan question was central and that no progress had been made in resolving it. He said China's leaders welcomed Nixon's envoy to Beijing to discuss the removal of U.S. troops from Taiwan. Kissinger included a draft response that would be given verbally. It proposed a high-level meeting in Beijing to discuss a variety of issues, including Taiwan. It notes that the U.S. planned to gradually reduce its military presence in East Asia as regional tensions are diminished. Kissinger reported that the message. Click here to read the document.

At a press conference the same day, Nixon said, "[W]e are going to continue the initiative that I have begun, an initiative of relaxing trade restrictions and travel restrictions and attempting to open channels of communication with Communist China, having in mind the fact that looking long toward the future we must have some communication and eventually relations with Communist China."

December 25, 1970

People's Daily published a front page photo (see above) of Chairman Mao Zedong standing with Edgar Snow atop Tiananmen during the October 1, 1970 national day parade. On December 18, 1970, Snow interviewed Mao. Mao said, "if Nixon wished to come, I was willing to talk to him. It does not matter whether the talks go smoothly or not; he could come either as a tourist or as the president." Snow's interview was not published until April 1971 when the American table tennis team was invited to China. Click here to see the front page.

January 12, 1971

Memoradum on a meeting Henry Kissinger had with Corneliu Bogdan, the Romanian ambassador to Washington. Prepared by Kissinger for President Nixon. Kissinger reported that Romanian President Ceausecu had sent his vice-premier to Beijing. Chinese Premier Zhou gave the Romanian a note saying the key issue with the U.S. was the American "occupation of Taiwan." Zhou said the U.S. President would be welcome to discuss this issue in Beijing. Nixon wrote on the memo that he worried the U.S. appeared "too eager" to meet with the Chinese. Click here to read the document.

January 18, 1971

W. Richard Smyser, a member of Henry Kissinger's National Security Council staff, reported to him on a letter he had received from Jean Sainteny, a former French official who facilitated Kissinger's secret talks in 1969 with North Vietnamese officials. Sainteny was one of the conduits by which the U.S. was reaching out to China, via China's ambassador to France. A handwritten note on the document indicates that Kissinger wanted such information right away, as he put it, "It is as important as anything we might do." Click here to read the document.

February 25, 1971

Nixon released his second annual report on foreign policy to the U.S. Congress and discussed it in a radio address. He noted that "We have relaxed trade and travel restrictions to underline our readiness for greater contact with Communist China" and said,

"We will search for consecutive discussions with Communist China while maintaining our defense commitment to Taiwan. When the Government of the People's Republic of China is ready to engage in talks, it will find us receptive to agreements that further the legitimate national interests of China and its neighbors." Click here for the full radio address.

March 4, 1971

Asked at a press conference about how efforts to improve relations with China could affect Taiwan, Nixon replied, "I understand the apprehension in Taiwan, but I believe that that apprehension, insofar as Taiwan's continued existence and as its continued membership in the United Nations, is not justified.... I said that we stood by our defense commitments to Taiwan; that Taiwan, which has a larger population than two-thirds of all of the United Nations, could not and would not be expelled from the United Nations as long as we had anything to say about it; and that as far as our attitude toward Communist China was concerned that that would be governed by Communist China's attitude toward us."

Nixon went on to signal that he was waiting to hear from China: "[W]e would like to normalize relations with all nations in the world. There has, however, been no receptivity on the part of Communist China. But under no circumstances will we proceed with a policy of normalizing relations with Communist China if the cost of that policy is to expel Taiwan from the family of nations."

April 12, 1971

Amb. Chow Shu-kai 周書楷, 1968 interview at Ball State University

Nixon and Kissinger met with the new Republic of China (Taiwan) Foreign Minister Chow Shu-kai 周書楷. Chow had been serving as ambassador to the U.S. since 1965. They discussed the challenges of keeping Taiwan in the United Nations, including the possibility of having separate representation for Taiwan and for China. Nixon told Chow that he would be sending Amb. Robert Murphey as his personal emissary to Taipei to meet with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to discuss the situation. Click here to read the summary of the meeting and the memorandum Kissinger prepared authorizing the Murphey trip.

April 14, 1971

Zhuang Zedong with Glenn Cowan, Nagoya, Japan, April 4, 1971 (Xinhua)

During the table tennis championships in Japan, American Glenn Cowan accidentally boarded the Chinese team bus. Three-time world champion Zhuang Zedong 庄则栋 presented him with a gift and the two were photographed when the bus reached the hotel. Two days later, the U.S. team was formally invited to visit China following the championships. In 2007, Zhuang visited USC and spoke about what is now known as "ping pong diplomacy" (click here to watch his talk).

Time, April 26, 1971  

During the team's visit to China, President Nixon announced that Chinese could get visas to the US and that currency controls would be relaxed so that China could more readily use dollars. Imports from China would be permitted as well as exports. Click here to read the document.

That evening, Nixon spoke with Kissinger by phone. They discuss reaction to Nixon's announcement. Nixon told Kissinger, "Now on the China thing that we have to realize, Henry, is that in terms of the American public opinion, it is still against Communist China..." They also discussed reactions in Taiwan. Kissinger said, "[I]t's a tragedy that it has to happen to Chiang at the end of his life but we have to be cold about it." Nixon responded, "We have to do what's best for us." Kissinger made a re-election related comment, and Nixon agreed, saying that Chiang would have "an Administration [here] that is not going to just stand by and let Taiwan go down the drain..." Click here to read the document.

April 16, 1971

During a meeting with representatives from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, President Nixon addressed questions about policies toward China. He asserted that "The long-range goal of this administration and of the next one, whatever it may be, must be two things: one, a normalization of the relations between the Government of the United States and the Government of the People's Republic of China, and two, the ending of the isolation of Mainland China from the world community." He indicated that his administration had relaxed travel and trade restrictions and "[n]ow it's up to them. If they want to have trade in these many areas that we have opened up, we are ready. If they want to have Chinese come to the United States, we are ready. We are also ready for Americans to go there, Americans in all walks of life."

And then Nixon explained, "[b]ut it takes two, of course. We have taken several steps. They have taken one [inviting the ping pong team to China]."

April 21, 1971

Pakistani President Yahya conveyed a response from Premier Zhou Enlai to President Nixon. It was received by Kissinger on April 27. Zhou said that China's government would welcome publicly Nixon or Nixon's envoy to advance discussions between the two governments. Click here to read the document.

April 27, 1971

Record of a phone conversation Henry Kissinger had with President Nixon regarding who should be sent to meet with the Chinese. Nixon mentioned New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. Bush, and U.S. Ambassador to France David Bruce as possibilities. Nixon regreted that Thomas Dewey, the former New York governor and Republican presidential candidate had passed away and couldn't be sent. The two concluded that Bush was not "tough" enough for the task. Kissinger tells Nixon, "[I]f we get this thing working, we will end Vietnam this year." Nixon has a press conference coming up and tells Kissinger he's not going to say anything about China. Nixon tells Kissinger to tell the Chinese not to invite any other American politicians to China.  Click here to see the document.

April 29, 1971

Asked about China at a press conference, President Nixon said, “I hope and, as a matter of fact, I expect to visit Mainland China sometime in some capacity – I don’t know what capacity. But that indicates what I hope for the long term." He also said, that the U.S. "is seeking to in a very measured way, while maintaining our treaty commitments to Taiwan – we are seeking a more normal relationship with the People’s Republic of China." He also responded to a question about the views expressed by Vice President Spiro Agnew. Nixon said Agnew thought he was off-the-record in making those comments and that he expected Agnew to support whatever decisions end up being made with regard to China.

May 29, 1971

Premier Zhou Enlai wrote to President Nixon. He told Nixon that Chairman Mao looked forward to having Nixon visit and that either side could raise whatever issues it wanted. Zhou wrote that removing U.S. forces from Taiwan was the first question to address. Zhou welcomed Kissinger's secret visit to prepare for the eventual Nixon visit. He mentioned that it might be better to make the visit a public one, but that if secrecy was desired the Chinese side would maintain it. Click here to read Zhou's note in Chinese. Click here to read Pakistani Ambassador Hilaly's version.

June 4, 1971

President Nixon responded to Premier Zhou's invitation to visit China and as a preliminary step to send Henry Kissinger to Beijing. Nixon told Zhou that Kissinger was authorized to discuss all issues pertaining to Nixon's own visit. Nixon told Zhou that strict secrecy was essential. He wrote that Kissinger would be able to discuss a joint communique about the Nixon visit. Click here to read the document.

June 30, 1971

President Nixon spoke by phone with Walter McConaughy, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Taiwan. Nixon told McConaughy to, "Just say that we, that our—as far as the Republic of China is concerned that we have—we know who our friends are. And we are continuing to continue our close, friendly relations with them." Nixon explained that the U.S. would not support throwing Taiwan out of the United Nations, but he said there was no way to prevent Taiwan from losing the Security Council seat. At the same time, Nixon stressed, "But we must have in mind, and they must be prepared for the fact, that there will continue to be a step-by-step, a more normal relationship with the other—the Chinese mainland. Because our interests require it. Not because we love them, but because they're there." Nixon noted the Taiwan government had just sent a nice wedding gift for his daughter. He said that if he were in their situation, he wouldn't worry about staying in the UN: "I would just say the hell with the UN. What is it anyway? It's a damn debating society. What good does it do?" Nixon went on to say that the Chinese, if they had a decent system of government, would be an economic powerhouse. (State Department, Office of the Historian)

July 1, 1971

President Nixon met with Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig to go over plans for Kissinger's meetings with Chinese leaders. Nixon told Kissinger to be stronger and "not to indicate a willingness to abandon much of our support for Taiwan until it was necessary to do so." Nixon said that "discussions with the Chinese cannot look like a sellout of Taiwan." Nixon wanted Kissinger to convey the utility of the U.S. remaining in Japan and Asia. He wanted Kissinger to emphasize the Soviet threat more. Nixon listed some "accomplishments" should be agreed prior to his going to China. Finally, Nixon said Kissinger must make it clear to the Chinese that they should not meet with other U.S. political figures before meeting with him.  Click here to read the document.

Records of the actual meetings

Winston Lord, one of Henry Kissinger's aides, worked with other aides to prepare these reports on the meetings with Chinese leaders. Lord later became U.S. Ambassador to China (1985-89) and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia (1993-97). Click here to see an interview he gave the USC U.S.-China Institute in November 2010.

Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord, aboard a plane in 1973 (White House photo)

Several Chinese arrived in Pakistan and were waiting on the Pakistani plane for Kissinger's group. They included Huang Hua (黄华 who had translated for Edgar Snow when he interviewed Mao Zedong in Yan'an in 1936, in 1971 he was ambassador to Canada, he would later be China's foreign minister), Ji Chaozhu (冀朝铸 a high level interpreter who later served in Washington and as ambassador to the United Kingdom), Zhang Wenjin (章文晉 later an ambassador to the U.S.), and Tang Wenshang (唐闻生 Nancy Tang, who was born in New York and went to China with her mother in 1953, translated for high level meetings throughout this period, she later served in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference).

July 29, 1971

Memorandum regarding a draft transcript of the July 9, 1971 meetings between Henry Kissinger and Premier Zhou Enlai. The memo includes a note that from 1940 to 1948, the U.S. provided China with more than $48 billion in lend-lease support. Zhou began the meeting by discovering the Americans were non-smokers. Zhou reasserted that Chairman Mao had said they'd welcome Nixon as President or as a private person. Kissinger told Zhou, "It is the conviction of President Nixon that a strong and developing People's Republic of China poses no threat to any essential U.S. interest. It is no accident that our two countries have had such a long history of friendship." Nixon, Kissinger said, would make no major move that would affect China's interests without discussing it with China's leaders ahead of time. Kissinger noted that China was a mysterious land. Zhou said that as Kissinger became more familiar with Chinese he would not find China so mysterious.Zhou complained that for years the American representatives have wanted to focus on small questions first and save fundatmental ones for later. Zhou was happy that Nixon was ready to talk about fundamental questions. Zhou focused on Taiwan, noting that a State Department official had said that the status of Taiwan was still undetermined. Kissinger quickly replied, "He hasn't repeated it!" Kissinger said that without the Korean War, Taiwan would probably have been brought under Beijing's control. Zhou insisted that U.S. recognition of Taiwan as a part of China was a precondition for normalization of relations. Kissinger said that China needed to recognize U.S. necessities, namely that the U.S. would not publicly state that eventually Taiwan would be under Beijing's authority. Kissinger told Zhou that he'd made a secret trip to Paris to meet North Vietnamese representatives and that the U.S. was prepared to withdraw from Vietnam. Zhou mentioned that two Vietnamese women had led resistance to a Chinese invasion 2,000 years before. Kissinger joked that "Women in politics can be ferocious." Kissinger articulated Nixon's view that the U.S. would not reflexively fight communism but would deal with communist states on a case by case basis. Zhou claimed that while China supported North Vietnam, it had not sent soldiers to fight there. Kissinger explained that including Japan under the U.S. defense umbrella meant that Japan did not feel it needed to build up its own defense capabilities.He said that this was in both American and Chinese interests. Click here to read the document.

August 6, 1971

Memorandum regarding a draft transcript of the July 10, 1971 afternoon meetings between Henry Kissinger and Premier Zhou Enlai and others.The group had spent the morning touring the Imperial Palace. Again, the focus was on Taiwan. Zhou asked that if the Nixon visit were set, there should be progress in resolving Taiwan questions ahead of his arrival, though he said such progress was not a precondition for the visit. He said that if the Americans only removed forces from Taiwan and did not extend diplomatic recognition, that it was an incomplete effort. Zhou also said they worried that as the U.S. withdraws forces from Taiwan and elsewhere, that Japanese forces would move in. Kissinger said that since the Chinese leaders first offered the idea of the Nixon visit, it was up to them to suggest a time. He further said that in making public references to the People's Republic of China, the U.S. was signalling its intentions, namely to normalize relations with China.Kissinger said that a visit by Nixon would have "symbolic significance because it would make clear that normal relations were inevitable." Kissinger said the U.S. did not support Taiwan independence or one China, one Taiwan or two Chinas.Diplomatic recognition, Kissinger said, would have to wait until Nixon's second term.The U.S., Kissinger said, would not block China's entry into the United Nations. Kissinger warned Zhou that only Nixon could establish relations with China. Others "would be destroyed by what is called the China lobby" (pro-Taiwan). Kissinger asked that Zhou not repeat this to the New York Times correspondent James Reston when he visited. Zhou told him that many American politicians had asked for invitations to visit. Nixon was happy, Kissinger said, that Zhou had not obliged any of them.Kissinger further said that it was important that the Chinese continue to work with him rather than through other channels (meaning the State Department). Zhou concluded by running through a list of former CCP leaders who tried to steer the party astray (Chen Duxiu, Wang Ming, Zhang Guotao, and Liu Shaoqi) and explaining that Mao was continuing to lead China with strength. They agreed to aim for the spring of 1971 for Nixon's visit. Click here to read the document.

August 12, 1971

Memorandum regarding a draft transcript of the final meeting Kissinger had with Zhou Enlai and others on the late night meeting on July 10, 1971. The memo highlights themes from all the discussions. The transcript shows Zhou and Kissinger focused on Taiwan, on ongoing US-Soviet Union talks, and on China-India and China-Soviet Union disputes. Click here to read the document.

Kissinger Reports

July 11, 1971

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on the South Lawn of the White House, August 10, 1971.(White House photo)

Henry Kissinger sent a brief cable to Alexander Haig at the White House. He reported that he'd gotten what President Nixon wanted - a big welcome. Kissinger told Haig to tell Nixon that nothing should be said to anyone prior to his return. He wrote that even a minor leak would offend the Chinese. Click here to read the document.

July 14, 1971

Henry Kissinger reports on his talks with Zhou Enlai. He begins by writing that the talks were "the most searching, sweeping and significant discussions I have ever had in government." He stressed that dealing with the Chinese required nuance and style and said a grasp of the "intangibles" was crucial if the U.S. was to "deal effectively with these tough, idealistic, fanatical, single-minded and remarkable people and thus transform the very framework of global relationships." Kissinger felt that the Chinese were struggling with philosophic contradictions, by dealing with "arch capitalists." "The moral ambivalence of this encounter for them was relected in a certain brooding quality, in the occasional schizophrenia of Chou's presentations....," he wrote. Kissinger was quite taken with Zhou, ranking him with Charles De Gualle as the most impressive statesman he'd met. Kissinger wrote that the Chinese "pretended that they had responded to your [Nixon's] request" to go to China. He noted that extensive discussions were necessary in determining the text of the announcement of the Nixon visit. The Chinese wanted to have seeking normalization of relations as the purpose, Kissinger insisted on discussions of mutual interest. Both are in the final announcement. Kissinger told Nixon he'd gotten "precisely what you wished." Those wishes included a pledge that the Chinese would not host other American political figures before Nixon's arrival. Zhou's requirements for diplomatic relations were listed. Kissinger said he told Zhou he hoped that the polticial evolution between Beijing and Taipei would be peaceful. Kissinger reported that to advance negotiations on the summit details and other matters that he and Zhou had agreed to work through their respective representatives in Paris (General Vernon Walters and the Chinese ambassador). Kissinger said that at the end of their talks, he brought up the matter of four Americans held in Chinese jails. He said that the U.S. would not requesting their release but would consider such a release as an act of mercy. Kissinger concluded by writing, "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." Beyond this he noted, "the process we have now started will send enormous shock waves around the world." The joint announcement is appended to the document. Click here to read the document.

The Announcement: July 15, 1971

President Nixon announced that he'd sent Henry Kissinger to China and that the result of these meetings was an agreement for a presidential trip to China. The announcement finessed the desire by both sides to signal the other initiated the move. Kissinger reported earlier on discussions regarding the announcement and shared the draft announcement. The joint announcement begins, "Knowing of President Nixon's expressed desire to visit the People's Republic of China, Premier Chou En-lai, on behalf of the Government of the People's Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972." Nixon said the visit was not intended to harm the interests of others. He concluded, "I have taken this action because of my profound conviction that all nations will gain from a reduction of tensions and a better relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China. Click here to read the statement. Video of the announcement is available on the USC U.S.-China Institute's YouTube channel.

Nixon and Kissinger to the White House staff: July 19, 1971

The President and Dr. Kissinger spoke to the White House staff about their China initiative. Nixon began, "Let me put it in the context of the secrecy problem: Without secrecy, there would have been no invitation or acceptance to visit China. Without secrecy, there is no chance of success in it." He emphasized this point, saying "The China meeting will abort if there is not total secrecy." We have to deal with China, Nixon said. "They're not a military power now but 25 years from now they will be decisive. For us not to do now what what we can do to end this total isolation would leave things very dangerous." Kissinger echoed the need for secrecy, beginning, "The most impressive thing we can do as far as the Chinese are concerned is to shut up." Click here to read the document.

Now for the Nixon Trip
The Nixon White House soon began preparing for the President's trip. You can watch Nixon aides Dwight Chapin, Larry Higby, and Jack Brennan discuss these preparations at the USC U.S.-China Institute website or at our YouTube channel.

UPDATED: July 7, 2021