John Paton

Wu Ningkun




INT: Can you take us through how you came to be involved in the Nixon rapprochement with China?

MG: Well, my initial involvement with Nixon was when he was my house guest when I was ambassador in Indonesia, and he came out there for two days. This was in the aftermath of the bloody (Clears throat) frustrated communist coup in Indonesia. It turned around 180 degrees in foreign policy, and had made a great impact upon Nixon, and he was very interested in knowing how it happened and all the rest of it, so we discussed that. And then we got on to other things, particularly China, and we talked about it at some length. I might say that when I learned that he was coming to Jakarta - this occurred in April 1967 - I was really quite upset, because my recollection of Nixon was that he was an ultra-right communist-baiting so and so of that earlier era. And when he arrived, we started talking about these things. First of all, when I introduced him to Suharto and also to Malek, who was the foreign minister, I was very interested in Nixon's performance, because he didn't try to lord it over them in any way: he asked them questions, he was very attentive, and he took down notes on yellow foolscap on all the things they said, and that was very flattering to them, to think that here was a former Vice-President who people talked about might be the next President, who was actually soliciting their views. Now I've always been impressed with that, because the more you listen to a person, the wiser that person thinks you are, because now you're seen as a repository of this imparted wisdom. And so Nixon, I thought, was a very shrewd diplomat in that case. Now when we talked to him... I talked to him that evening... we gave a dinner party, and the foreign minister was the guest and Nixon was the number two, and they flanked my wife at the end of the table; I have a nice picture of that in my book... After that dinner, and the guests had gone home, I talked with Nixon for three hours about everything, including China, and I found in him a man who had a totally realistic, strategic vision of the world; and by that, of course, I meant he agreed with me. (Laughs) But he saw the things exactly the way I saw them. And here was a man that I had so misjudged because of his earlier performance, and here was a man about to enter the political arena again, who had this extraordinary understanding especially of the triangular struggle we've been talking about. So I remember in the course of our conversation - and of course I talked to him many times after that - I found that his views about the Sino-Soviet were very much along the lines we've been talking about now, and that obviously the rising threat to China from the Soviet Union was something on which we could clearly take advantage in improving our relationship with China. Now at that time, and subsequently, our Soviet specialists were dead set against that kind of equating of the two, or sidinwith China against the Soviet Union or whatever; they thought that that would imperil our total relationship with the Soviet Union. Tommy Thompson, who had been our ambassador, who was now our special adviser on the Soviet Union, he used to talk that way when I played golf with him (at the Chevy Chase?). I took a totally contrary view, as indeed I did when I did with Nixon, when we met in April of 1967. Because in that conversation, the thrust of it was then, and especially in subsequent conversations I had with Nixon, was that... the road to Moscow led thPeking, was the way I put it. In other words, by having a better relationship with China, the Soviet Union would be put in the position of having to compete with that and have a better relationship with us. Now our Soviet specialists saw it the other way round: (..?..) a worse relationship with them; and that was an issue where I totally agreed with Nixon, or he agreed with me - anyway, we had a meeting of the minds. Now the interesting thing here was, what he then said. "But," he said, holding up a kind of admonitory finger in my fa

INT: Can I stop you - there's just something under there... (A bit of non-i/v talk) We'll go on to the time when Nixon had actually come to power. How did you then get involved with his and Kissinger's plans to make a rapprochement?

MG: (Overlap) Make a rapprochement with China. It came about in a rather strange way - and we're talking about his trip to China and the antecedents, the immediate antecedents to that.

INT: Well, the antecedents, I suppose, were Kissinger's trips, weren't they?

MG: I think I must say here that Kissinger and Nixon were going to run their policy without the interference of the State Department. It was very clear that the State Department was to play a very secondary role. I've been sort of (out front and center?) on China policy, and it was very difficult for me to take, but that was the policy, and of course we had to abide by what the President wanted. We had the talks going on in Warsaw between the Chinese ambassador there and the American ambassador there, and through these talks we did manage to do a number of things, especially to get back some American prisoners who had been captured in China. We also were able to continually caution against stirring up things in the Taiwan Straits again. We were also able to prove that we had probably a closer official contact with the Chinese officials there than even countries like yours had in Peking with the Chinese authorities there. Now the Chinese, through those talks in the fall of 1969, indicated that they would like to have a high-level emissary to Peking, and this is referred to in Henry Kissinger's White House Years, but he makes it out that I was an obstacle to their sending such a mission to Peking. The reason that I was cautious at that time was that I felt that the Chinese were merely going to make a show of it, that we were sending a high-level American delegation there to use it against the Soviet Union as a warning to the Soviet Union, and it would not achieve what we really wanted, which is a better relationship with China; we would simply be a cat's paw. The second thing is that, by having this high-level mission, we created all kinds of problems with our allies, of changing our policy, and we had to think of that. You can't just think in the context of one country: it's all the countries with whom we had relationships. And so I suggested that this thing should be arranged secretly... it shouldn't be done in this... Now, that Kissinger should have criticized me in his book, when in fact that's just what he did... And meanwhile, he launched... he and the President, against the advice of the State Department, launched this so-called incursion against Cambodia in 1970, shortly after these events, which undoubtedly postponed any possibility of a meeting between high-level Americans and high-level Chinese. Whether that was true or not, I don't know, but in any case, the rapprochement came about through secrecy. Now this raises the whole question of secrecy in diplomacy. Nixon was very secretive by nature. Kissinger was a maneuver, an operator by nature. They both greatly enjoyed this kind of an operation, of going through back doors and back channels, and setting up some kind of a secret meeting that would make certain kinds of secret arrangements that were done behind the State Department's back, behind the back of everybody, and then be able to surprise the world with this announcement. That was great theatre. Now, on top of all that, of course, Nixon had a very serious (Clears throat) and sincere desire to improve relations between the world's most powerful nation and the world's most populous nation, so he had good reason. But he also had a public relations reason - that is, that the war in Vietnam was dragging on, becoming increasingly unpopular. This rapprochement of Peking (Coughs) would take the headlines away from Vietnam and put them on China with a great triumph, and it would be especially a triumph in the minds of the scholars and the press that were so critical about Vietnam. So these were all the reasons behind the way he did it, and it was done very successfully. But I argue (Clears throat) in that book, and I do in a book coming out, that it was a kind of a policy that risked an awful lot and it was very dangerous, and it would have been far better to have kept it secret, the way it was, but to at least informed people like Alex Johnson and myself, because we could have prevented

INT: How did Kissinger and Nixon get their information? Did you brief them, did others brief them about China?

MG: Oh, yes, they got all the information from all the different sources: from the State Department, the CIA, ambassadors and all that. They had access to all the information. But the problem was that rather than just confining them to setting up broad policies, drawing upon information, especially information that came from the real experts down the line, they were doing it with their own staff in the White House; that was their source principally, which in turn was getting information from all these different sources, but it was being filtered through Henry Kissinger's staff, (Clears throat) and therefore the President was getting an insistent signal along certain lines; he wasn't getting the benefit ... I don't think Secretary Rodgers had much of a say, quite frankly, in the policies that I'm talking about. He did with regard to the Middle East, but not here. And so that I didn't feel that the President was always getting the full measure of advice and information that he should have, and there was a tendency for him to draw on sources that he knew were sympathetic to his gung-ho views, especially people like General Abrams in Vietnam, and Ambassador Bunker, and people like that, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Moore. These people were hawkish. To say that we were dovish in the State Department is wrong; we couldn't be characterized by any single adjective, except possibly the word "reasonable". But (Clears throat) we did have experts in the State Department who had exhaustive information on lots of these thin, from which the White House would have benefited. (Clears throat)