John Paton

Wu Ningkun




INT: ... Was Mao involved in any of the meetings in the '71 secret trip?

WL: No.

INT: No...

WL: The first time we saw Mao was on Nixon's trip. The Chinese like to keep you off-balance, and Mao of course was the equivalent of the Chinese Emperor granting an audience, and so we were not even absolutely sure that Nixon would see Mao when he went; it wasn't confirmed, although we made it clear we expected that to happen. An hour after we arrived in the guesthouse, suddenly Zhou Enlai came back and said, "The Chairman would like to see the President right now." So the President got Kissinger; Kissinger asked me to go along, for a couple of reasons: one, I had been his chief support along with one or two others on this whole enterprise, and so it was a reward at an historical moment. Secondly, I'm sure he didn't want to have to take notes, so he'd get someone else to do it. I mention this only because the history books at the time record only Nixon and Kissinger being in this meeting and not myself; and the reason for that is, at the end of the meeting, the Chinese brought out photographs and a communiqué showing me and mentioning my name as well as the others, and Nixon and Kissinger thought that it was so awkward that the Secretary of State had not been there that it would be even more awkward if the national security adviser had been there, and one of his people, as opposed to the Secretary of State, so they cut me out of the pictures, cut me out of the communiqué. Two or three years later, the Chinese gave me a picture to prove that I was there, and in the first meeting that with Mao that Kissinger saw on his own, the Chinese said that Chairman Mao wants to see Kissinger and Lord, which is nonsense: Chairman Mao wouldn't know who Lord was - or maybe he would, but he did that because the rest of our delegation at that time... everybody else was higher-ranking than me, and if Kissinger could only take one person, he couldn't reach down to me. The Chinese, knowing that Kissinger wanted me to go, knowing I'd been in the first secret meeting - nobody knew about it - pretended that Mao had asked to see me along with Kissinger and therefore gave Kissinger an easy way to take me with him when he went to see the Chairman.

INT: Subtle, isn't it? Who interpreted the meetings? Because presumably neither yourself nor Kissinger...

WL: (Overlap) Yeah, there were... either Nancy Tang or Chi Chow Zhu were the interpreters.

INT: Right.

WL: And we had to rely on them, of course, but we had no reason to see why they would have any incentive to distort anything. But we didn't have Chinese speakers there anywhere near their level.

INT: Yes. How did you find her? Because she's supposedly... I've read that she was very good at interpreting the nuance of everything that was said, and if Nixon made a joke she'd make clear it was a joke and so on.

WL: That's true. Of course, you had to be a little careful when you said, "Boy, she's a terrific interpreter" when you don't speak her language. (Laughter) I mean, I'm taking a little bit on faith. But those who have sat in on meetings with her, who do understand Chinese, and my own observation, make it clear she was terrific, and she wouldn't have been in that job, any more than Chi Chow Zhu would have been in that job, if they hadn't been good. Furthermore, Zhou Enlai at least understood a lot of English, and several of the Chinese on their side fully understood English, so there was always a safety net in case ... in the rare instances when Nancy Tang might get... or Chi Chow Zhu might get a nuance wrong.

INT: In that first meeting with Mao that was sort of sprung on Nixon at quite short notice, what do you remember, what happened? Was it a meeting about policy or simply about proto... was it...?

WL: No, it was a very... The first meeting between Chairman Mao and Nixon, of course, was a dramatic moment, and it wasn't quite what I expected or Kissinger expected. First of all, it lasted about an hour, which is I guess about what we would have expected. Our first reaction was one of some disappointment. Mao seemed to be rather casual in his discussion of topics, going from one issue to another in a seemingly random fashion. Very impressive in his physical presence, in terms of exuding power and toughness, but we thought his actual words were rather disappointing. Having been used to, by now, Zhou Enlai's elegant constructions and Mandarin approach, Mao was more peasant-like as well as a tough revolutionary, and he spoke just in short brush-strokes; he could be semi-crude in body, and didn't seem that he had a clear structure to what he was saying, let alone any elegance like Zhou Enlai. So our first reaction was of some disappointment, despite the drama of the moment. But as the trip went on several more days, and as we negotiated and discussed generally issues with Zhou Enlai, and as we went back over the transcript of the meeting with Mao, we realized just how subtle and how impressive he had been. Obviously, we barbarians didn't catch it at first, but we could see in retrospect that he had a purpose, that he covered the main substance of issues in the course of the conversation, segueing very seamlessly from one to another, and that he had set forth the basic strands of Chinese policy, which Zhou Enlai then elaborated and fleshed out over the coming days. So we reassessed the importance of the meeting, which of course was very important in terms of its historic and political significance. This signaled to the world that he was putting his stamp as the Great Leader on the rapprochement between China and the United States. So in that sense, it was a very unusual meeting, in marked contrast of style between Mao and Zhou, but in his own way extremely impressive. Now, among the issues that were discussed were the Russians and his clear distrust and unabashed talking about how we and China could balance off the "polar bear", as he would put it. The Taiwan issue came up. Basically what he said there, though - and again this was important for our negotiations that were still outstanding on this aspect of the Shanghai communiqué - was that they had patience on this issue, and I don't remember his exact formulation, but they could wait 100 years or something. Now, of course, they no longer have that view. So you had the major geo-strategic reason we came together - the Russians - and you had the major bilateral irritant, the Taiwan issue, and he covered both of those, as well as some comments on what was happening in China and some other issues - I'm sure probably Vietnam came up and others; I don't recall right now.

INT: But it's an extraordinary idea to me still, as I'm listening to you, that here was the leader of the free world, the Western world, and somebody who'd been clearly identified as an anti-Communist, meeting someone who had been really an enemy, you know, the leader of communist China, and apparently getting on perfectly well.

WL: Well, they got on well because they both avoided any sentimentality or false notes of diplomacy. In effect - and this is not verbatim words, but both Mao and Nixon said, "Look, we can help each other geopolitically. We have no illusions that we have disagreements on ideology and even national interests, but we can be useful to each other." "And I, Nixon, I'm here not for aromantic purpose: I'm here in a hard-headed American national interest," and this appealed to Mao, as opposed to some sacramental diplomatic "We want to get to know you better and we want to have friendship between our peoples" kind of a presentation.

INT: And in Cold War terms, the Chinese, from being an ally of the Soviet Union, part of the Soviet bloc, all of sudden had become almost part of either a triangular arrangement or possibly the United States bloc. Is that ... I mean...?

WL: (Overlap) The Chinese clearly had fear and suspicion of the Soviet Union, and that was one of their incentives to opening up with the United States. It would be a mistake, of course, to suggest that it went so far as to be an ally or even a partner. We had parallel policies; we both felt it would give us useful leverage vis-à-vis Moscow to be opening up with each other. But we wanted good relations with Moscow, or at least better relations, as well as with China, so we didn't carry this to the point of trying to forge some de facto alliance with China directed at Russia: we wanted Russia to be sufficiently attentive to our new relations with their border enemy, that Russia itself would get more flexible. And indeed, this worked beautifully. Nixon went to China in February 1972. At that point, with the Russians we had a mixed relationship. We had offered, for example, a summit meeting with the Russians, and they were dragging their feet on a response. We were engaged in negotiations over the future of Berlin, we were engaged in arms control matters, and we were generally trying to move our relationship along. There'd been some tensions: the Cuban crisis, there'd been the Middle East crisis, but we were trying to move the relationship ahead. But it was sort of mixed, somewhat stalled. And then we announced the trip to China even before Nixon went, when we announced it in July after the Kissinger secret trip in July 1971. On the announcement in July '71, over the next few months the following happened: the Russians immediately accepted a summit meeting with Nixon; but by now they were too late: they had to get in line, so the China one went ahead first. They missed their chance. We even checked on that on the way to China, and they still were holding out on the dates. We negotiated quite quickly a Berlin agreement, which they made concessions on. We began to move on arms control, moving towards some of the arms control agreements that took place at the Nixon summit, and the whole general tone moved ahead. And there's no question that it was a result of the opening with China.