About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton

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Overview

"Mann's colorful and detailed narrative, studded with dozens of vivid anecdotes, reveals how ineptly [we] have managed our ties with the world's most populous nation." --The Washington Post Book World

Drawing on hundreds of previously classified documents, scores of interviews, and his own experience, James Mann, former Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief, presents the fascinating inside story of contemporary U.S.-China relations.

President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger began their diplomacy with China in an attempt to find a way out of Vietnam. The remaining Cold War presidents saw China as an ally against the Soviet Union and looked askance at its violations of international principles. With the end of communism and China's continued human rights abuses, the U.S has failed to forge a genuinely new relationship with China. This is the essential story of contemporary U.S./China policy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Revealing and lively--eminently readable, often provocative."--The Wilson Quarterly

"The best book ever written by an American reporter about the strange relation between China and America."--Ross Terrill, author of Mao, China in Our Time, and Madame Mao

"Mann takes us through the dizzying diplomacy and strategic U-turns that have characterized our formal relationship."--The Wall Street Journal

Carroll Bogert
Cogent and authoritative.
Los Angles Times
Michael Ledeen
It's a great sotry and James Mann tells it well.
Wall Street Journal
Washington Post
James Mann is today widely viewed as the leading China hand of the Washington press corps. He has tightened his hold on that reputation with About Face, a simultaneously absorbing and troubling account of U.S.-China relations.
The Washington Post
James Mann is today widely viewed as the leading China hand of the Washington press corps. He has tightened his hold on that reputation with About Face, a simultaneously absorbing and troubling account of U.S.-China relations.
Carroll Bogert
Cogent and authoritative.
Los Angles Times
Michael Ledeen
It's a great sotry and James Mann tells it well.
Wall Street Journal
Anne F. Thurston
...[E]minently readable, often provocative....[Mann] builds the case that policymaking about China has been extraordinarily secret, personalized, and elitist, frequently circumventing the ordinary processes of government...If Mann's book engenders...serious public debate on the nature of the U.S.-China relationship, we may actually learn something from history.
WQ: The Wilson Quarterly
Kirkus Reviews
An engrossing history of US-China relations from the Nixon era to the present day. According to Mann, Richard Nixon's 1972 journey to China brought a more rational approach to U.S. dealings with that nation and also set the stage for America's China policy for the next three decades. In a remarkably short time, China changed from being an implacable foe to a friend. Diplomatic relations were restored; Washington helped arm the People's Liberation Army and held secret strategy sessions with Chinese political and military officials over how best to contain the Soviet Union. The U.S. strongly supported China's economic development. It was assumed that China was stable and would over time become a more open society. Then two things happened in 1989: the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and the Chinese leadership ordered the shooting of its own citizens in Tiananmen Square. With the demise of the Soviet Union the whole rationale for supporting China evaporated, and the shootings deeply angered the U.S. public. Yet Mann, a Los Angeles Times correspondent formerly based in Beijing, argues that post-1989 policy was trapped by the policies that had preceded it. The overly positive image of China portrayed by successive U.S. administrations and the elite, secretive nature of the U.S.-China official dealings before 1989 made Tiananmen that much more bewildering to the public and to Congress. Consensus on what to do about China was thus difficult to build. If after 1989, the U.S. feared the military power of China, it was a power the U.S. had done much to create. If the economic strength of China made it a difficult nation to ignore, the U.S. had done much to develop that strength. And itwas, claims the author, U.S. commercial interests with that country that eventually pushed Clinton toward rapprochement with China. Basing much of what he writes on previously classified documents, Mann's conclusions are most persuasive. A fine history that skillfully unravels the tangled tale of recent U.S. China policy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679768616
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: With a New Afterword
  • Pages: 437
  • Sales rank: 1,198,858
  • Product dimensions: 5.11 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

James Mann lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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Read an Excerpt

About Face

A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton
By James H. Mann

Vintage Books USA

Copyright © 2000 James H. Mann
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0679768610


Chapter One


Opening Moves


After nearly four years of dreaming, scheming and secret diplomacy, Richard Nixon was finally en route to China. On February 18, 1972, stopping in Hawaii on the first leg of his journey across the Pacific, the anxious president tried to relax. He and his wife were housed overnight in the residence of Brigadier General Victor Armstrong, commander of the First Marine Brigade at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. Although he found the commander's residence to be disappointingly drab, Nixon was too preoccupied to leave it, even for a quick drive around the island. For only five minutes, from 2:35 to 2:40 p.m., Nixon stepped out of doors in the gray, rainy weather to tour the grounds of the commander's residence. Otherwise, he sat inside, talking occasionally with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, and with his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger. He ate breakfast and dinner alone with his wife, and had lunch by himself.

He was contemplating his coming meetings with the leaders of China's Communist government, whom America had shunned for more than two decades. Nixon set down his thoughts. His handwritten notes, which are now declassified and in the National Archives, give new insight into the nature of what Nixon sought and how he viewed the diplomatic initiative that altered the course of the Cold War. Trying to reduce to barest essentials what the American and Chinese governments were trying to obtain from one another, he wrote:


What they want:
1. Build up their world credentials.
2. Taiwan.
3. Get U.S. out of Asia.


What we want:
1. Indochina (?)
2. Communists--to restrain Chicom [Chinese Communist]
expansion in Asia.
3. In Future--Reduce threat of a confrontation by Chinese Super
Power.


What we both want:
1. Reduce danger of confrontation and conflict.
2. a more stable Asia.
3. a restraint on U.S.S.R.


Kissinger and other U.S. foreign policy and intelligence officials had attempted to give Nixon some insight into the nature of Mao Tsetung, the revolutionary leader and founding father of the People's Republic of China. No American official had met Mao for nearly a quarter-century. In Hawaii, Nixon jotted down this advice, too:


Treat him (as Emperor)
1. Don't quarrell [sic].
2. Don't praise him (too much).
3. Praise the people--art, ancient.
4. Praise poems.
5. Love of country.


Kissinger had even offered Nixon a way to find common cause with Mao, whose personality and experience were seemingly as different from Nixon's as they could possibly be. "RN and Mao, men of the people," Nixon wrote to himself; both he and Mao had had "problems with intellectuals." As an analogy, it was preposterously flimsy. Nixon couldn't begin to rival Mao as a popular figure in his own country. Moreover, despite Nixon's wellspring of resentments against American intellectuals, he had never subjected them to class struggle or forced them to raise pigs in the countryside, much as he might have liked to. Still, Nixon liked Kissinger's comparison so much that he wrote it down not once but twice.

It was not Mao but the underlying strategy of his China trip that dominated Nixon's thinking. Preparing what he would say to Mao and Premier Chou Enlai, Nixon came up with an idea that would have special resonance in China two decades later, after the end of the Cold War:


Your [China's] interests require two superpowers. Would be dangerous if [there was only] one.

Five days later, Nixon once again wrote down some notes to himself as he sat in the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing preparing for private talks with Chou Enlai. His suggestion was that America was willing to make concessions on Taiwan in exchange for China's help in obtaining a peace settlement in Vietnam:


Taiwan = Vietnam = trade off.
1. Your people expect action on Taiwan.
2. Our people expect action on Vietnam.
Neither can act immediately--But both are inevitable--Let
us not embarrass each other.


The Nixon administration's opening to China has by now come to be taken for granted; it effectively banished from American foreign policy the unreality that had prevailed for the previous two decades, during which the United States pretended that Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist regime on Taiwan was the legal government for the Chinese mainland.

Yet this shift was merely the starting point in Nixon's and Kissinger's multifaceted, often clandestine diplomacy with Beijing. The opening to China was accompanied by a series of bargains, negotiations and what Nixon privately referred to as a trade-off. Other recently declassified materials show that when the leaders of America and China sat down with one another, they began working together to shape the future of the rest of Asia, including Japan, the two Koreas and India. Indeed, the reality was that Nixon and Kissinger, Mao and Chou were not just reopening ties between America and China but were teaming up to determine the course of events elsewhere on the world's largest continent. They did so amid extraordinary secrecy, pledging that what China and the United States said to one another would not be disclosed to anyone else.

It is worth recalling the several ways in which America's foreign policy had been frozen at the time Nixon took office. In Asia, the United States was stuck with a China policy that obliged it to act as though Chiang and the other losers of the Chinese civil war were someday going to retake the mainland. The United States was enmeshed in a war in Vietnam that was costing up to 15,000 lives a year; Nixon had pledged during his presidential campaign to end the war, but had never made clear how he planned to do that. Moreover, America was locked in a Cold War against the Communist governments of the Soviet Union and China. In 1969, Americans perceived China to be the more threatening and hostile of the two; during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, American officials sometimes talked about collaborating with the Soviet Union against China.

Nixon's initiative was aimed at breaking all of these shackles and creating a world in which American foreign policy would have greater flexibility. It was also designed to increase Nixon's own political fortunes. In many ways, Nixon succeeded, but not without also making more compromises than he and Kissinger were eager to admit. He obtained some of the help he sought from China on the Vietnam War, but not nearly so much as he wanted; and it was not sufficient to bring about a lasting Vietnam peace settlement. For its part, China managed to win important concessions from the United States concerning Taiwan, yet these did not go far enough to enable it to regain control of the island.


China's expectations for Richard Nixon at the time he took office in 1969 were best expressed in a protest note it sent to American diplomats less than three weeks after Inauguration Day. With their usual penchant for political vituperation, the Chinese declared that Nixon and his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, were "jackals of the same lair."

China had no particular reason to believe Nixon would be any different from the Democratic presidents who preceded him. John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had occasionally talked about changing American policy toward China but did nothing, in part because of their fear of attack from the political right. Nixon himself had originally been one of the leaders of the conservative wing of his party; in the late 1940s, he depicted the Chinese Communist Party as simply a tool of the Soviet Union.

Since the time of Nixon's opening to China, most of the accounts of his changing views have begun with an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs in the fall of 1967, as he was preparing to run for the Republican nomination for president. Nixon himself had instructed his aides to point journalists to this article at the time of his 1972 trip to China. In Foreign Affairs, he asserted:


Any American policy toward Asia must come urgently to grips with the reality of China.... Taking the long view, 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.... The world cannot be safe until China changes. Thus, our aim, to the extent we can influence events, should be to induce change.


Taken by itself, the article may not be as significant as has often been assumed. Nixon did not advocate any new diplomacy toward China. He did not propose U.S. recognition of Beijing or its admission to the United Nations. He maintained that in the short run, America's policy toward China should be one "of firm restraint, of no reward." Above all, the article could be discounted as merely serving the political needs of a presidential candidate who was, at the time, desperate to show that he had developed some fresh ideas since his earlier, unsuccessful race for the presidency.

However, interviews show that there had indeed been a fundamental and important shift in Nixon's thinking about China, one that emerged from and during his travels in Asia in the mid-1960s. The Foreign Affairs article was not the beginning of Nixon's transformation. Rather, it was the first written evidence of it.

Nixon had traveled through Asia in 1965 and again in 1967, visiting Southeast Asian countries and Vietnam, talking to foreign leaders and American diplomats. The accounts of U.S. officials who talked with him there are strikingly similar. In the midst of the Vietnam War, Nixon was reexamining some of the assumptions underlying American policy in Asia, including its commitment to Chiang Kai-shek and Taiwan.

In 1965, Roger Sullivan was head of the political section at the American embassy in Singapore when Nixon stopped there for a visit. Sullivan, assigned to serve as Nixon's control officer (the embassy official who makes arrangements for a visiting dignitary), recalls having a long conversation with Nixon in an airport VIP room. "He pretty well spelled out how we could reach a normal relationship with China, and said that was what we ought to do," recalls Sullivan, who later became one of the State Department's leading specialists on China.

During that same trip, Nixon also stopped in Taipei, where he talked in his room at the Grand Hotel with Arthur W. Hummel Jr., deputy chief of mission at the American embassy. To Hummel's considerable surprise, Nixon asserted that Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist regime would never achieve its dream of returning to the mainland. Therefore, he said, America's relations with the People's Republic of China would have to be improved. "He said that in the hotel room, with all the microphones in it," recalls Hummel, remembering that Taiwan's intelligence service was probably monitoring the conversation and reporting it back to Chiang.

These reminiscences during the 1990s may conceivably have been colored by an awareness of Nixon's opening to Beijing. Yet there is also contemporaneous evidence of Nixon's quiet transformation, written by an American official who had no knowledge of what Nixon would later do. During a visit to India in 1967, Nixon talked with Ambassador Chester Bowles, questioning the underpinnings of American policy and strategy in the Cold War. Bowles quickly cabled back to Secretary of State Dean Rusk the substance of the conversation:


The one somewhat offbeat concept which seemed to be on [Nixon's] mind involved our relationships with the Soviet Union and China. In his opinion we should "stop falling all over ourselves" to improve our relationships with Russia since this would "make better relationships with China impossible."
On several occasions, he almost suggested that good relationships with China were more important than good relations with the Soviet Union. I disagreed with him strongly on this point, pointing out that the door to Moscow was ajar while the door to Peking was locked and bolted.


While Nixon's evolving views ran contrary to the dogma of the American foreign policy establishment, they hardly qualified as thinking the unthinkable. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had held hearings in 1966 on the need for a new China policy. During the 1968 campaign, Nixon's rival for the Republican nomination, Nelson Rockefeller, called for more "contact and communication" with China. The Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, proposed "the building of bridges to the people of mainland China" and also advocated a partial lifting of the American trade embargo against China.

Outflanking the Democratic opposition, and getting to China before the Democrats did, became one of the driving forces behind Nixon's initiative to Beijing. Politics and political credit were never far from his mind, and they constituted an even greater part of his secret diplomacy with China than has been realized.

At the same time, Nixon was also willing to take political risks, patiently and carefully nursing along the right wing of the Republican Party at each step. His contribution lay not merely in his recognition of the need for change, but in the political skill with which he developed and executed his new policy.


At the outset of the new administration, it was by all accounts Nixon, not Kissinger, who seized the initiative on China. It was one of the subjects on his mind even during the transition period before he arrived in the White House. Vernon Walters, who was then serving as the army attache at the American embassy in Paris, called on Nixon at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. According to Walters's memoirs, Nixon told him then that "among the various things he hoped to do in office was to manage to open the door to the Chinese Communist.... He felt it was not good for the world to have the most populous nation on earth completely without contact with the most powerful nation on earth." In his own memoirs, Nixon says that at the time he interviewed Kissinger for his job as national security advisor, he asked Kissinger to read the Foreign Affairs article and spoke to him of the need to reevaluate America's China policy.

In the earliest days of the Nixon White House, Kissinger wasn't thinking about China much, if at all. Alexander Haig, Kissinger's deputy at the National Security Council, recalls one telling episode a few weeks after the new administration took office in which Kissinger came back from a conversation with Nixon and confided, sarcastically, that the president wanted to normalize relations with China:


[Kissinger] was the picture of a man taken unawares.... "Our Leader has taken leave of reality" he intoned in mock despair. "He thinks this is the moment to establish normal relations with Communist China. He has just ordered me to make this flight of fancy come true." He grasped his head in his hands. "China!"


Kissinger himself gives somewhat grudging credit to Nixon in his memoirs: "He had thought up the China initiative (even though I had reached the same conclusion independently)."


The beginnings were undramatic. Nixon, before taking office, approved a resumption of the talks with China in Warsaw, the only channel of diplomatic communication between Washington and Beijing. The Warsaw talks had opened in 1955 as the vehicle for obtaining the release of American prisoners who were being held in China; they had occasionally attempted to settle other, larger issues, but without success. In the autumn of 1968, China, responding to an American overture, said it would be willing to resume the talks, probably because of its growing concern about the Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia that summer. But in the first weeks of Nixon's presidency, the Chinese called off the meeting to protest America's supposed role in the defection of a Chinese diplomat. Officials at the State Department weren't surprised; that was, for China, typical behavior.

On February 1, 1969, Nixon told Kissinger in a written memo: "I think we should give every encouragement to the attitude that this Administration is 'exploring possibilities of raprochement [sic] with the Chinese.'" As Kissinger later noted, the memo didn't require him to do anything with China, merely to create an impression of doing so. Nevertheless, prompted by Nixon, Kissinger ordered an internal review of America's policy toward China.


Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to Washington, wasn't given to the sort of rhetoric that had prompted China to call Nixon and Johnson "jackals of the same lair." Nevertheless, when it came to American policy toward China, Dobrynin, too, clearly believed the new Republican president would carry on the fundamental policies and strategies of the Johnson administration. During his early years in Washington, Dobrynin had come to expect that one of the few subjects on which the United States and the Soviet Union could find common ground was the danger from China.

The Johnson administration's viewpoint was best expressed in its handling of China's development of nuclear weapons. In 1964, in the final weeks before China's first nuclear test, Washington convened a series of top-level talks to decide whether to take unilateral military action to destroy China's nuclear installations. According to a memorandum by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, Johnson met in the Cabinet room of the White House on September 15, 1964, with Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and decided against any preemptive strike against the Chinese nuclear facilities. Nevertheless, Bundy's memo continued:


We believe that there are many possibilities for joint action with the Soviet Government if that Government is interested.... We therefore agreed that it would be most desirable for the Secretary of State to explore this matter very privately with Ambassador Dobrynin as soon as possible.


Nothing came of the initiative; the Soviet leadership was, at the time, preoccupied with the internal power struggle that led to the overthrow of Nikita Khrushchev. Nevertheless, it exemplified American policy toward China in the years before Nixon took office. Moscow had been trained by prior experience to believe that in any conflict between the Soviet Union and China, Washington would side with the Soviets. That would prove to be a fundamental misreading of the new Nixon administration.

In March 1969, after the first in a series of border skirmishes broke out between Soviet and Chinese forces along the Ussuri River, Dobrynin raised the subject of the clashes with Kissinger, who repeated the conversation to Nixon, suggesting that the United States might gain in strategic terms from the Sino-Soviet conflict.

Shortly thereafter, the CIA reported another border clash, this one involving armor and artillery. "The results of the battle were apparent to our satellites," recalled former CIA Director Robert M. Gates in his memoirs. "One photo interpreter told us that after the battle, the Chinese side of the [Ussuri] river was so pockmarked by Soviet artillery that it looked like a 'moonscape.'" Afterward, Dobrynin sounded out Kissinger again. The Soviet ambassador "suggested that there was still time for the two superpowers to order events, but they might not have this power much longer," Kissinger later recalled.

Dobrynin, apparently acting on orders from Moscow, thus inadvertently succeeded in attracting Kissinger's attention to China. (In his memoirs, written in 1995 with a quarter-century of hindsight, Dobrynin mourned: "Personally, I believed that we were making a mistake from the start by displaying our anxiety over China to the new administration") As the Sino-Soviet clashes intensified through the spring and summer, Kissinger became increasingly worried about the possibility that the Soviets would invade, defeat or intimidate China.

In August 1969, at Nixon's summer home in San Clemente, California, Nixon was briefed by Allen S. Whiting, a University of Michigan professor and former State Department intelligence specialist on China. Whiting highlighted the importance of U.S. intelligence reports that the Soviet Union was constructing airfields in Mongolia, redeploying bombers from Eastern Europe to bases in Central Asia and practicing air raids against Chinese targets. There was also a large buildup of Soviet forces in progress near China's borders.

Privately, Kissinger ordered the Defense Department, CIA and State Department to figure out what the United States should do if the Soviet Union attacked China. In public, the Nixon administration, increasingly nervous, sent out word that it was strongly opposed to any Soviet military action against China. Undersecretary of State Elliot Richardson, appearing before the American Political Science Association in New York on September 5, asserted that


In the case of Communist China, longrun improvement in our relations is in our own national interest.... We could not fail to be deeply concerned with an escalation of this quarrel into a massive breach of international peace and security.


By now the United States was, for the first time, beginning to side with China in its conflict with the Soviet Union. The stage was being set for Nixon's China initiative.

Even in these early days, Nixon was fully aware both of how an American overture to China would unsettle the Soviets, and also of the domestic politics involved in changing China policy. The archives of the Nixon administration show that, far more than has been realized, he was coordinating his earliest moves toward Beijing with the leaders of the old China lobby for Chiang Kai-shek, such as Representative Walter Judd of Minnesota and Senator Karl Mundt of South Dakota, and even with representatives of Chiang's Nationalist government. In a memo to Kissinger on September 22, 1969, Nixon wrote:


I think that while [Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei] Gromyko is in the country would be a very good time to have another subtle move toward China made. I would suggest that when it is convenient you discuss the matter with Mundt and see whether he would be willing to have another move in that direction. On the same subject, I would like for you to see Walter Judd if he calls and asks for an appointment. Also, I want you to call in the Chinese Nationalist Ambassador and give him a little background.


Nixon's memo was written at a time when the United States had not yet communicated once, even indirectly, with the Communist government in Beijing; it is a striking demonstration of how careful he was in cultivating the right wing even as he was beginning to undercut the old China policy it had fostered and was determined to preserve.

At the outset, Nixon and Kissinger were working with and through the State Department on China policy; Richardson's speech was one example of this. On overseas trips, Nixon left messages with other world leaders about his eagerness to talk to Chinese leaders, first with French President Charles DeGaulle in March and then, over the summer, with Pakistani President Yahya Khan and Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu. There were no immediate responses.

During the fall of 1969 and the early winter of 1970, the administration made its first serious attempt to establish direct talks with China. Nixon and Kissinger decided to reopen the long-frozen Warsaw talks. In September 1969, they ordered Walter Stoessel, the American ambassador in Poland, to contact his Chinese counterpart and ask for a new meeting.

To Kissinger's mounting irritation, Stoessel took nearly three months. Finally, on December 3, Stoessel saw Chinese Charge d'Affaires Lei Yang and his interpreter in the unlikely setting of a Yugoslav fashion show at Warsaw's Palace of Culture and followed them outside the building after the show. Lei Yang did not even turn around or acknowledge his presence. Speaking in Polish, Stoessel introduced himself to Lei's interpreter as the American ambassador and told him: "I was recently in Washington and saw President Nixon. He told me he would like to have serious, concrete talks with the Chinese." The Chinese interpreter listened, expressionless, and replied: "Good. I will report that." This brief, almost comical exchange was the first direct contact between the two governments since Nixon had come to the White House.

What followed was the little-recognized first step in the Nixon opening to China. On January 20 and February 20, 1970, Stoessel and other State Department officials sat down with Lei Yang and his aides in Warsaw. These extraordinarily significant meetings enabled the United States and China to show one another that they were eager for change in the hostile relationship of the past. The United States made plain to China that it was willing to back away from two decades of policy concerning Taiwan and Chiang Kai-shek's government. At the same time, these Warsaw talks effectively ended the State Department's role in China policy; they paved the way for what became Kissinger's personalized diplomacy.

In January, Stoessel opened the talks by declaring, "It is my government's hope that today will mark a new beginning in our relationship." He offered a series of assurances designed to appeal to Beijing. Despite the ongoing war in Vietnam, he pledged that the Nixon administration's goal was "a reduced American military presence in Southeast Asia, which we recognize is near the southern borders of China."

The most important part of Stoessel's message, which had been carefully worked out with the White House, concerned Taiwan. Since 1949, the United States had steadfastly maintained that Chiang's regime was the legitimate government for all of China. Now, in these secret talks, the United States spoke of a possible settlement between Communists and Nationalists. Stoessel explained that while America would honor its commitments to defend Taiwan, "the United States position in this regard is without prejudice to any future peaceful settlement between your Government and the Government in Taipei." Moreover, Stoessel went on, "it is our hope" to reduce U.S. military deployments and installations on Taiwan "as peace and stability in Asia grow." A link was being drawn between the American presence on Taiwan and the Vietnam War; for the first time, the United States was suggesting that it might withdraw some of its forces from Taiwan in exchange for help in getting out of Vietnam.

Stoessel offered the Chinese another olive branch. The Nixon administration, he said, would consider sending an emissary to Beijing or receiving a Chinese representative in Washington for "more thorough" talks. That seemingly innocuous offer was, at the time, also a startling proposal; for two decades, American and Chinese officials had met rarely, and only in Warsaw or international conferences like Geneva, where John Foster Dulles had famously refused to shake the hand of Chou Enlai.

At another Warsaw session in February, China embraced the Nixon administration's proposal--or, at least, the part of the proposal China liked the most. "If the U.S. Government wishes to send a representative of ministerial rank or a special envoy of the United States President to Peking ... the Chinese Government will be willing to receive him" Lei told Stoessel. The alternative proposal of talks in Washington was dropped. You come to us, China was saying.

Thus was established for the first time the pattern that would be repeated for decades. China was willing to talk or negotiate, but on its own turf; and America, persuading itself that the setting didn't matter so much, was usually willing to accommodate China's desires.

At the February talks, the Nixon administration also took a small step further by changing the wording concerning Taiwan. A month earlier, Stoessel had said the United States "hoped" to draw down its forces there as tensions in Asia abated; this time, he declared that it was the Nixon administration's "intention" to do so.

By this time, the State Department was becoming nervous about how fast things were moving. Led by Marshall Green, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, State argued that nothing would come of higher-level talks, except that Taiwan and American allies from Japan to Australia would be unsettled. "The likelihood of success in achieving a genuine improvement in Sino-U.S. relations is small; the probability that the Chinese are interested in talks primarily for their impact on the Soviets is great; and the unsettling and potentially damaging impact on some of our friends and allies and their assessment of our China policy is substantial," the State Department told the White House in one memo.

As a result, the Nixon administration dithered. The Warsaw talks were twice postponed. Preparing for the next meeting, State Department officials went to work drafting new language that could smooth over America's differences with China over Taiwan. As it turned out, however, their efforts were too early: There would be no further Warsaw meetings. On May 1 Nixon ended all prospects for immediate talks with China by sending American troops into Cambodia, an action that the State Department also opposed.

The die was now cast: Henceforth, Nixon and Kissinger would pursue their China policy on their own, clandestinely, treating the State Department as their adversary. They were establishing a pattern that was to be repeated in administration after administration: Dealing with China was special, kept apart from normal diplomatic and institutional processes.

Kissinger had already opened up covert channels to the Chinese through American intelligence, using CIA stations in Pakistan and Romania. Other secret avenues were pursued through the American consulate in Hong Kong, the Pakistani and Romanian ambassadors in Washington, and Norway's ambassador in China, who happened to be a friend of Henry Cabot Lodge. "The feelers were out, a whole series of them," recalls James R. Lilley, then a CIA operative, later American ambassador to China. After the invasion of Cambodia in May 1970, Nixon and Kissinger sent a message to China through another channel: Vernon Walters, the military attache in Paris, who had already been conducting secret talks with the North Vietnamese. Despite the Cambodian invasion, the Chinese were told, the United States had no aggresive intentions in Indochina. If the Chinese were interested, the issues could be discussed, secretly, with Henry Kissinger.

Continues...


Excerpted from About Face by James H. Mann Copyright © 2000 by James H. Mann.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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