marshal received Top Secret intelligence briefing from Kissinger
in 1972, member of four marshals who told Mao "play the American
card" in 1969
Declassified: Nixon in China" premieres December 21, 2004,
10 p.m. EST, on Discovery Times Channel (digital cable by Discovery
and the New York Times)
ABC News Productions based show on National Security Archive documents,
Interviewed Kissinger, Haig, Lord, Smyser, and China Experts
Washington D.C., Tuesday, December 21, 2004 - The first
TV documentary based on the fully declassified record of President
Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972 premieres tonight on the
Discovery Times Channel at 10 p.m. EST. Titled "History Declassified:
Nixon in China," the show combines previously secret U.S.
documents gathered by the National Security Archive with newly
available evidence from Chinese files to reveal details of the
dramatic diplomacy that remained hidden for 30 years.
on television for the first time are the secret initiatives on
the Chinese side that began as early as 1969, when a group of
four marshals recommended that Chairman Mao "play the American
card" against the Soviet threat and even undertake high-level
talks with the U.S.
One of the four marshals then sat across from national security
advisor Henry Kissinger during the most secret single meeting
of the 1972 Nixon trip, when Kissinger briefed the Chinese in
detail on Soviet troop movements - details so sensitive even the
U.S. intelligence community was kept out of the loop. The transcript
only emerged in 2003 after appeals by the National Security Archive.
"My jaw dropped when I saw what these discussions had covered,"
says Tom Jarriel, who reported on Nixon's trip for ABC News, in
Produced by ABC News Productions for the Discovery Times Channel
(the digital cable venture of Discovery Channel and the New
York Times), the documentary features interviews with key
players and eyewitnesses Henry Kissinger, Winston Lord, Dick Smyser,
Alexander Haig, James Lilley, and Jarriel, together with commentary
from China experts such as University of Virginia professor Chen
Jian and Georgetown University professor Nancy Tucker, along with
National Security Archive director Thomas Blanton.
"The new documents are rewriting the history of that amazing
breakthrough, of what we thought we knew," comments Blanton
on screen in the program. "But the new evidence also serves
as a reminder of the use and abuse of government secrecy."
The Archive today posted ten of the documents cited in "History
Declassified: Nixon in China," including an excerpt from
the four marshals' report, transcripts of telephone calls (telcons)
between Nixon and Kissinger, a front page photograph in the People's
Daily intended by Mao as a signal to the Americans (which
they missed), and the transcript of Kissinger's 1972 intelligence
briefing to Marshal Ye Jianying.
Note: Many of the following documents are in PDF
You will need to download and install the free Adobe
Acrobat Reader to view.
1: Front page of People's Daily, translation of Richard
Nixon's inaugural address, 28 January 1969
Source: Library of Congress
On the orders of Mao Zedong, People's Daily published
a translation of the full text of Nixon's inaugural address. In
the address, Nixon said, "Let all nations know that during
this administration our lines of communication will be open. We
seek an open world--open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods
and people--a world in which no people, great or small, will live
in angry isolation." Nixon may have intended this as a signal
to Beijing because in a Foreign Affairs article in 1967
discussing the need to normalize relations with China, he had
written "There is no place on this planet for a billion of
its potentially able people to live in angry isolation."
By publishing the inaugural address in Chinese, Mao was returning
the signal, although it remains to be seen if anyone at the White
House noticed it.
2: Memorandum of conversation between Ambassador Agha Hilaly and
Harold H. Saunders, 28 August 1969
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project.
National Security Council Files. Box 1032. Cookies II (Chronology
of Exchanges with PRC Feb. 1969- April 1971)
This is a record of NSC staffer Harold Saunders' discussion with
Ambassador Hilaly of Nixon's meeting with Pakistani President
Yahya Khan during Nixon's trip to Asia on 1 August 1969. So far
no U.S. account of the meeting has surfaced but Ambassador Hilaly
debriefed Harold Saunders on the discussions several weeks later.
Hilaly's account of the meeting showed Nixon asking President
Yahya to "convey his feelings to the Chinese at the highest
level" that he believed that 1) "Asia can not move forward
if a nation as large as China remains isolated," and 2) the
United States would not be "party to any arrangements designed
to isolate China." With this conversation, Nixon had taken
the first step toward opening a secret channel through Pakistan
that would later prove decisive.
3: Xiong Xianghui, "The Prelude to the Opening of Sino-American
Relations," Zhonggong dangshi ziliao [CCP History
Materials] No. 42 (June 1992), excerpts
In the early 1990s, Xiong Xianghui published the first historical
account, along with documents, of a special study group tasked
by Chairman Mao in 1969 to review China's strategic policy. Xiong,
formerly an aide to Zhou Enlai, had been the secretary to this
group, which consisted of four marshals, senior military figures
who had been sent to inspect factories during the Cultural Revolution.
The four marshals first focused on relations with Moscow just
as the Sino-Soviet border clashes were breaking out; although
they saw the Soviets as dangerous, they doubted that Moscow intended
to launch war against China. After Lin Biao gave a speech harshly
attacking U.S. and Soviet imperialism, Mao asked the marshals
to think outside the box about U.S. and Soviet policy. The four
marshals initially doubted that the Soviets and the Americans
would act against China either separately or jointly. When the
border fighting intensified in August 1969, marshals Chen Yi and
Ye Jianying worried about a confrontation with Moscow and proposed
playing the "card of the United States." In a separate
report, Chen proposed high-level talks with the U.S. in order
to solve basic problems in the relationship. The fourth line of
the third page reproduced here includes the text about playing
the American card. (Note 1)
4: Front page of People's Daily, 25 December 1970, showing
from left, Edgar Snow, interpreter Ji Chaozhu, Mao Zedong, and
Lin Biao, at a reviewing stand facing Tiananmen Square on 1 October
Source: Library of Congress
In another attempt to signal to the U.S. government but also
a domestic audience about the need for a new relationship with
the United States, on 1 October 1970 (National Day), Mao had journalist
Edgar Snow stand by him at the Gate of Heavenly Peace during the
parade. Several months later, Snow met with Mao for five hours
of talks on 18 December 1970 during which the Chairman said the
[T]he foreign ministry was studying the matter of admitting
Americans from the left, middle, and right to visit China. Should
rightists like Nixon, who represented the monopoly capitalists,
be permitted to come? He should be welcomed because, Mao explained
at present the problems between China and the US would have
to be solved with Nixon. Mao would be happy to talk with him,
either as a tourist or as President.
A week later, perhaps to reaffirm that something was afoot with
Sino-American relations, People's Daily published a picture
of Mao and Snow from the National Day event. While the China expert
Allen Whiting proposed going to Switzerland to debrief Snow about
his trip to China and meetings with the leadership, John Holdridge,
the China expert on Kissinger's staff, advised against that on
the grounds that Snow was a leftist. Had the debriefing gone ahead,
Nixon could have learned that Mao had invited him to China, months
before Snow made it public in Life magazine at the end
of April 1971. (Note 2)
5: Record of Nixon and Kissinger Telephone Conversation (Telcon),
April 14, 1971. With Hand-written annotation, "April 18?"
[April 14 date is accurate because it is consistent with
the events of the day]
Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts (Telcons),
Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Archives II, College
Park, MD., box 29.
On April 14, 1971, only days after the visit of the U.S. ping
pong team to China, Nixon announced measures to liberalize trade
and travel restrictions affecting China. In this conversation,
Nixon and Kissinger discussed the press reaction to the initiative
as well as the possible impact of a new China policy on U.S. relations
with Chiang Kai-shek's Taiwan. While Nixon regretted that the
United States would have to let Taiwan down by developing a relationship
with China, he opined that "it better take place when they've
got a friend here rather than when they've got an enemy here."
As Kissinger put it, "we have to be cold about it."
6: Message from Zhou Enlai to Nixon, 21 April 1971, rec'd 27 April
1971, responding to Nixon's 16 December 1970 message
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National
Security Council files, box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK
Trip to China - December 1969-July 1971 (1)
Conveyed through the Pakistani channel, this message from Zhou
Enlai affirms the "willingness" of the Chinese government
to "receive publicly … a special envoy of the President
of the U.S. (for instance, Mr. Kissinger)" to make possible
the "high-level" talks needed to restore U.S.-China
7: Record of Nixon-Kissinger Telephone Conversation, 27 April
1971 8:18 p.m.
Source: Record Group 59, Department of State Records.
Subject Files of the Office of People's Republic of China and
Mongolian Affairs, 1969-78. Box 4. 1969-71: Chinese Initiative
- Third Party Messages
Only a few hours after the Pakistanis delivered Zhou's message,
Nixon and Kissinger discussed possible candidates for the "special
envoy." Although Zhou had suggested Kissinger (as well as
Secretary of State Rogers and Nixon himself), Nixon mentioned
a number of candidates: Nelson Rockefeller, George H. W. Bush,
and Alexander Haig, among others -- but not Kissinger. It was
not until the next day that Nixon told Kissinger that he would
be going to China. Besides assessing candidates for special envoy,
Nixon and Kissinger also discussed the implications of the China
initiative for Vietnam. "We will end Vietnam this year,"
8A and B:
A: Message from Zhou Enlai to
Nixon, 29 May 1971 (copy of original in Zhou's handwriting)
B: Message from Zhou to Nixon,
29 May 1971, with commentary, as transmitted and copied by Ambassador
Hilaly for the White House
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, NSC
files, box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China - December
1969-July 1971 (1)
The possibility of a U.S. envoy arriving in Beijing became more
tangible with this message suggesting possible dates and means
of transportation, either Pakistani or Chinese aircraft. Zhou
was not convinced about the necessity for secrecy but offered
to keep the visit secret "if secrecy is still desired."
Whatever the circumstances were, Zhou wanted Nixon and Kissinger
to know that he "warmly looks forward to the meeting with
Dr. Kissinger in Beijing in the near future." (Note
9: Memorandum of conversation between Kissinger and Zhou, 9 July
1971, 4:35-11:20 PM, with cover memo to Kissinger, from Winston
Lord, 29 July 1971
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, NSC
files, box 1033, China HAK Memcons July 1971
Upon their arrival in Beijing, Kissinger and his party were whisked
away from the airport and taken to the Great Hall of the People
for a series of intensive meetings. The first one was decisive
because Kissinger made the assurances on Taiwan that the Chinese
saw as a precondition for normalization. During earlier discussions
with Kissinger, Nixon had been reluctant to give up too much ground
on Taiwan 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 this conversation,
Kissinger did not accept Zhou's formulation that "Taiwan
was a part of China" but he nevertheless tilted toward it
by declaring that "we are not advocating a 'two Chinas' solution
or a 'one China, one Taiwan' solution." Kissinger also stated
that "as a student of history, one's prediction would have
to be that the political evolution is likely to be in the direction
which Premier Zhou Enlai indicated to me," that is, the restoration
of Taiwan to China. Kissinger's declaration on Taiwan 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."
10: Memorandum of conversation, 23 February 1972, 9:35 a.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, NSC
Files, HAK Office Files, box 92, Dr. Kissinger's Meetings in the
PRC During the Presidential Visit February 1972
The possibility of a Nixon trip to China had been reaffirmed
during Kissinger's secret visit. During the months between the
secret visit and Nixon's February 1972 trip, Kissinger tilted
U.S. policy closer and closer to China in order to strengthen
the U.S. posture toward the Soviet Union. As a sign that the United
States was committed to friendly relations with Beijing, during
the Nixon visit, Kissinger provided Marshal Ye Jianying, one of
the four marshals (see document 3)
with a top secret intelligence briefing on Soviet force deployments
at the Chinese border. As Kissinger pointed out, the briefing
was so secret that not even senior U.S. intelligence officials
knew about it. (Note 4)
1. Chen Jian, Mao's China and the Cold War
(Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 245-249.
The first English-language publication of the four marshals' story
was in Chen Jian and David Wilson, "All Under the Heavens
is Great Chaos': Beijing, the Sino-Soviet Border Clashes, and
the Turn Toward Sino-American Rapprochement," Bulletin
of the Cold War International History Project
11 (Winter 1998): 155-175.
2. Chen Jian, Mao's China, 254-259;
Raymond Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet
Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, D.C., Brookings
Institution, 1994), 254-255.
3. For discussion of Zhou's letter, see Chen
Jian, Mao's China, 265.
4. For more information on the briefing and the
Nixon visit to China, see National Security Archive, "Nixon's
Trip to China," posted 11 December 2003, <http://www.nsarchive.org/NSAEBB/NSAEBB106/index.htm>.