by Ross Terrill
I. Chou En-lai
The prelude to a meeting with a Chinese leader is always the same. There is no fixed appointment time, but word is one day given “not to leave the hotel.”Suddenly a phone call comes to say that the man you are to see has just left the compound where the Chinese leadership works. You leave immediately for the Great Hall of the People. The idea is to have the two parties arrive at the same time.
With Chou En-lai, Prime Minister for twenty-two years and (last summer) number-three man in China’s government, the call is likely to come late at night. This war-horse of revolution, “seventy-three years young.” works until 4 A M. or 5 A M., then sleeps until midmorning. Our group (I was with my countryman E. Gough Whitlam. leader of the Australian Labor Party) was advised late on July 5 to stay about the Peking Hotel. There would be an “interesting film” that evening. The Foreign Ministry official did not explain why we were advised to put on suits and ties for the occasion. Just after 9 P.M. a call came: the film was off, Chou En-lai was on.
The Great Hall of the People is really the Great Hall of the Government. Only on highly formal occasions do the masses view its murals and tread its crimson carpets. A stone oblong in semi-Chinese style, it was built in a mere ten months around the time of the Great Leap Forward. Its fawn solidity stands guard over the biggest square in the world, Tien An Men; the Imperial City is to the left, the big museums opposite. The building’s area of 560,000 square feet includes an auditorium for 10,000 people, a room decorated in the style of each of China’s provinces, and sparsely furnished halls such as the East Room, where we found the Prime Minister.
He enters from one door, we from another. A red badge with the Chinese characters “Serve the People” lights up his tunic. He is all in gray except for black socks inside leather sandals and black hair showing strongly through silver fringes. Introduced to him by Ma Yun-chen of the Foreign Ministry (the man who attended James Reston at his hospital bed). I suddenly realized that he is a slim, short man. We talked for a moment of the background to the Whitlam visit: then he asked where I learned Chinese. Told “in America.” he smiled broadly and said, “That is a fine thing, to learn Chinese in America!”
Recalling his amazing career over half a century, I marveled at his freshness. This man has been a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party since 1927 (well before Mao); was forty-five years ago a close colleague of Chiang Kai-shek’s in Canton; played leftist politics in Europe at the time of Lenin; covered the last miles of the Long March through north Shensi in 1935 on a stretcher, gravely ill. Now he reaches across an epoch of China’s modern history to face Richard Nixon in the ping-pong diplomacy of the 1970s.
Though he is like David to Mr. Whitlam’s Goliath (the Australian is 6 feet 4), you quickly forget his height; it is his face and hands which rivet every eye in the room for the next two hours. The expression is tough, even forbidding, yet sometimes it melts into the disarming smile which used to flutter the hearts of foreign ladies in Chungking (Mr. Chou was the Communist representative in Chiang Kai-shek’s capital during World War II). The eyes are steely, but they laugh when he wants them to. The voice, too, has double possibilities. One moment he is nearly whispering, weary and modest. The next he is soaring to contradict his visitor, and the streaky, sensual voice projects across the hall. From a side angle, a rather flat nose takes away all his fierceness. The mouth is low in the face and set forward tautly, giving a grim grandeur to the whole appearance.
The small, fine hands, moving sinuously as if direct from the shoulder, serve his rapidly varying tone and mood. Now they lie meekly on the blue-gray trousers, as he graciously compliments Mr. Whitlam on the Labor Party’s “struggle” to get back to power in Australia. Now they fly like an actor’s in the air, as he denounces Prime Minister Sato of Japan. Now the right hand is extended, its fingers spread-eagled in professorial authority, as he instructs me to study well a recent editorial in the People’s Daily.
Sitting back in a wicker chair, wrists flapping over the chair’s arms, he seems so relaxed as to be without bones, poured into the chair, almost part of it. as persons seem part of their surroundings in old Chinese paintings. Beside this loose-limbed willow of a man, Mr. Whitlam, hunched together in concentration, seems stiff as a pine.
But the conversation is a freewheeling give-andtake. The Australian style, blunt and informal, fits in well with Mr. Chou’s. The evening has a lively, argumentative note rare in talks between politicians of different countries, rarer still when the countries represent different civilizations. When he disagreed—as on how widespread militarism is in Japan—the Prime Minister would interrupt in English: “No, no, no!” Talking of Australian affairs, he twice frankly said he hoped the Labor Party would win the next election in 1972. Occasionally he struck a didactic note. “As you come to China.” he said after suggesting a lesson Australia ought to draw (about the United States) from China’s experience with Russia, “we ask you to take this as a matter for your reference.” Both sides enjoyed themselves making barbs against John Foster Dulles’ policies. The ambience was, in brief, keen and frank.
Mr. Chou’s aides from the Foreign Ministry and the State Council office had prepared him well. He knew, from reports of what his visitors had said to the Chinese Foreign Minister, that on Taiwan and China’s United Nations seat no great problem existed between Peking and the Labor Party. Mr. Whitlam said a Labor government would switch Australia’s diplomatic ties from Taipei to Peking, and vote for Peking’s installation in the China seat at the UN. (Prime Minister McMahon’s Liberal regime supported Washington’s unsuccessful “two Chinas” proposal in October.) So the Prime Minister hardly touched these bilateral issues, but instead pitched a complex argument about the overall problems of Asia. (The efficient briefing continued throughout the week. At the evening’s end, Mr. Whitlam happened to recall that his birthday was near. Five days later in Shanghai, the Australian found his birthday observed with a festive dinner and a large cake—tactfully adorned with a single candle.)
Mr. Chou painted a picture of China threatened by three adversaries: the United States, Russia, and Japan. In one way or another, the Chinese press has given this picture ever since November, 1969, when Japan—following the communique signed by Nixon and Sato—seemed to step up to the status of major enemy in Peking’s eyes. Interesting in the Prime Minister’s remarks was the pattern of relationships he sketched between the three adversaries.
After preliminary talk, Mr. Chou reached for his mug of tea, sipped, swilled with deliberation, then asked a question which turned the conversation where he wanted it to go. He was going to be very direct, he warned. What was meant by saying, as the Australians had said the previous day, that the ANZUS treaty (which binds the United States, Australia, and New Zealand in mutual defense) was designed to meet any restoration of Japanese militarism? “That is a special approach to us, so I would like to ask you to inform us what articles or what points of that treaty are directed toward preventing the restoration of Japanese militarism?” Mr. Chou was fingering the apex of Peking’s triangular anxiety.
The Australian background was explained. After World War II, Australia was much less anxious to sign a peace treaty with Japan than was the United States (and to this day Australians are slower to forget Japanese aggression than are Americans). The United States signed ANZUS (in 1951) in large measure to reassure an Australia (and New Zealand) still fearful of Japan. This perspective on ANZUS “down under” was agreed on by all shades of political opinion. The treaty was a purely defensive arrangement, concerned not with Communist revolutions in Asia, but with Japan—the only country that has ever attacked Australia.
The Chinese leaders leaned forward attentively. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs (Chi P’eng-fei) and Foreign Trade (Pai Hsiang-kuo) were present with senior aides, but the Prime Minister did all the talking. “You know, we too have a defensive treaty, concluded one year before the treaty you have.” He recalled with a grim, ironic smile: “That treaty was called the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Aid. And its first article was that the aim of the treaty is to prevent the resurgence of Japanese militarism!”
But what has happened, the Premier asked rhetorically, his eyes and hands now stirring to life. His answer, in a word, was that both Australia’s ally (the United States) and China’s ally (Russia) have gone back on their pledge to forestall any new danger from Japan. He charged that the Pentagon “is considering whether to give Japan tactical nuclear weapons or even something more powerful.” Does not the fourth Japanese defense plan total $16 billion, one third more than the amount spent on the three previous plans put together? The Nixon Doctrine, he noted, turns Japan into “a vanguard in the Far East” With a shrewd addition to the usual slogan (“using Asians to fight Asians”), designed to make his visitors feel their potential importance, he assailed the doctrine’s motives. “It is in the spirit of using . . . ‘Austro-Asians to fight Austro-Asians.’ ”
Then Mr. Chou weighed the actions of the Soviet Union. He never referred to it by name but by sarcastic indirection. “And what about our so-called ally? What about them? They have very warm relations with the Sato government.” Unveiling China’s vision of the world, the Premier wove in two further themes. The Russians, he observed, are also “engaged in warm discussions with the Nixon government on so-called nuclear disarmament.” Now his point came home: “Meanwhile we, their ally, are being threatened by both [Japan, the United States] together!” He finished with an application to Australia’s situation. “So we feel our “ally’ is not so very reliable. Is your ‘ally’ so very reliable?”
The Premier had a formidable case. He had put it with passion and embroidered it with detail apt for Australian listeners. It was, Whitlam conceded, a “powerful indictment,” and the Australian took a few moments to marshal himself and probe its questionable parts.
• The first theme had been Japanese militarism.
• The second, the failure of Washington and Moscow to resist it.
• The third, the charge that the United States and Russia are in collusion with each other.
• The fourth, a deep skepticism that any country can really be the ally of any other, an assertion that each country is utterly alone in the world, with nothing but its own resources and its “independence” to gird it.
Throughout forty days in China, these four themes met me at high levels and low. In a moment there is more to say of each. But stay now with Mr. Chou, for he had a fifth theme in his analysis of the triangle of menace facing China. It was introduced by another of the curious historical analogies he is fond of deploying.
During the talk Mr, Chou showed a kind of fascination with John Foster Dulles. I remembered with a certain shame what had reportedly happened between these two men at the Geneva Conference in 1954. After lunch one day Dulles walked into the chamber and found only one man there—Chou Enlai. An embarrassing turn of events! Chou held out his hand. Dulles declined it (the Reuters journalist at Geneva told me he murmured “I cannot”), gripped his hands behind his back, and strode out. But this evening Mr. Chou displayed no bitterness, just amusement, at Dulles; and a hearty contempt for his policies. Recalling the circle of defense pacts, multilateral and bilateral, which Dulles made with nations on China’s southeastern borders—and showing accurate knowledge of Dulles’ role as an adviser to the Truman Administration before he became Secretary of State—the Premier mused that it seemed to be an imperative of the “soul” of Dulles to throw a military harness around China. He spoke, I felt, as a man gazing down the corridor of history rather than as one faced with burglars at the door.
Suddenly it became clear that this historical excursion was for the purpose of analogy. He switched to the present. “Now Dulles has a successor,” said Mr. Chou with a laugh that was not a laugh of amusement, “in our Northern neighbor.” The Premier was launched in earnest on his fifth theme. Today’s military encirclement of China is by Russia.
This emphasis—that the Dulleses of the 1970s sit in Moscow—was confirmed when discussion turned to present trends within the United States. Mr. Whitlam said that the “soul of Dulles does not go marching on” in America. American public opinion, he judged, would not again permit its government to practice the interventionism in Asia that resulted from the “destructive zeal” of Dulles. Mr. Chou responded: “I have similar sentiments to you on such a positive appraisal of the American people.” By implication he agreed that Dullesism was now eclipsed in the United States.
Later he spoke admiringly of the strength of antiwar feeling from coast to coast in the United States (“Even military men on active service and veterans have gone to Washington to demonstrate”). He frankly revealed the source of his confidence about the future course of U.S. policy: “The American people will force the American government to change its policies.” Casting around the room, Mr. Chou asked if his visitors had “in the past two years or so” been in the United States. They had. He then summed up with heavy stress “So you realize from your own experience that in these past years the American people have been in the process of change.”
Of course, the Chinese Premier disapproves of particular current U.S. actions in Asia; his words on Indochina made that quite plain. But when he mapped trends, the United States did not seem to loom largest among his concerns. And when he analyzed the dynamics within the triangle of threat, the United States was evidently not the ultimate focus of opposition. He lashed Washington less for its own activities than for its support of Japanese activities and for its collusion with Russian activities.
Caution would be wise in construing what Mr. Chou said. Maybe the three threats to China are so diverse in character that comparing their magnitude is invalid. The Japanese threat is “rising.” The Russian threat is “immediate” in a crude military sense. The U.S. threat may yet be the “biggest” if the three were to be measured objectively against each other at the present moment. A conversation cannot give systematic finality to this caldron of slippery variables. Nevertheless, it was all very different from what Peking was saying in 1964 or even two years ago. Here was a picture of the world that featured power more than ideology, fluid forces more than rigid blocs, emerging problems more than well-worn problems.
Recall that the Premier was talking to Australians, and to Australians whose views on Taiwan did not greatly differ from his own. So the two chief bones of bilateral contention between Peking and Washington—the UN seat, the U.S. military presence in Taiwan—did not even come into the conversation. Maybe Mr. Chou calculated that of the three threats to Chinese security, Japan was the one to stress to these visitors. The Russians are far from Australia. The American tie is intimate, and no Australian leader is about to break it. Japan, however, is both important to Australia and a country about which Australians have ambivalent feelings. Yet it was remarkable that Mr. Chou did not raise—nor did his Foreign Minister the previous day—queries about the substantial and sensitive American bases (some related to nuclear weaponry) that dot Australia. Mr. Whitlam told me he had expected—as I had—that the Chinese would harp upon these bases.
It was easy to see that Japan was in the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind. Whichever country came up, he linked it somehow with Japan. He quoted the Japan Socialist Party to buttress his point of view. Broaching the subject of nuclear weapons, he seemed more worried by potential Japanese weapons than by existing massive American and Russian stockpiles. Discussing the Australian Labor Party’s international connections, he wondered in particular if it was close to the Japanese socialists. Should not Mr. Whitlam, when he left China for Japan—Mr. Chou had somehow unearthed this unpublicized fact of Mr. Whitlam’s itinerary—make a point of having serious talks with the Japanese socialist leaders as well as with Mr. Sato? The Komeitō (“Clean Government”) Party especially kept popping up. Mr. Chou had met with its leaders the previous week (I had traveled into China in their compartment and watched them photograph each other, the train, and the countryside all the way from Hong Kong to Canton). Was it not “quite something for a Japanese, Buddhist, pacifist party” to make the shift it has this year (to a rather proPeking position)? Musing on the Labor Party’s prospects of winning power in Australia next year, the Prime Minister again brought in the Komeitō Party, and made a comparison with it. But seeing its inaptness, he diplomatically qualified himself: “Of course it’s different; your party is very near to power.”
II. Behind the Kissinger Trip
Let us leave Mr. Chou there, broaden the canvas a little, and consider more of his remarks as they come into the story. As to diplomacy, I found Peking in a springtime mood of growth and hope. Some Western ambassadors, glazed by long years of boredom in Peking, flexed their muscles like invalids just out of bed. New ambassadors were arriving every few weeks, as the list of countries which had recently recognized the People’s Republic of China lengthened: Canada, Equatorial Guinea, Italy, Nigeria, Chile, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Iran, Cameroon, Austria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Turkey. The Chinese Foreign Ministry, severely short of personnel since the time of the Cultural Revolution, resembled a marketplace bursting with products but short of salesmen.
A bevy of ambassadors accredited to Peking had just returned from a “diplomatic tour” of South China. Nothing like this had occurred for years—for some it was their first sight of a Chinese city other than Peking—and they were accompanied in cordial fashion on the trip by a Vice Foreign Minister. Contacts between foreign diplomats and Chinese officials have this year increased manyfold. The French Ambassador remarked over dinner that his last guest had been Ch’iao Kuan-hua, Vice Foreign Minister and perhaps the leading architect of China’s policy toward the West. (Ch’iao arrived in New York in November to head China’s UN delegation.) The Indian and British chargés, so long in the doghouse, still glowed from getting a warm smile and pleasant words from Chairman Mao at the last May I festivity. It was all like rain after a long drought.
But the most poignant element was the contrasting stance of the Russians and the Americans. The whole situation had put the men from Moscow in a foul mood.
The pinnacle of the summer’s excitement—it was salt in Russia’s wounds—was the Sino-American meeting in Peking in the second week of July and the announcement that Nixon himself had arranged to visit the Middle Kingdom. During my first week in China, I spent a morning at the Peking Arts and Crafts Factory, where delicate work is done in jade and ivory carving, lacquer, and the incredible nei-hua (painting a picture on a tiny bottle from the inside). Here were superb things—one piece just done was going on the market at 100,000 yuan ($40,000)—and several craftsmen, exponents of nei-hua and designers of gaudy birds, were ripe with fifty years’ experience. But the factory’s star project, now in the design stage, was an intricate ivory-carved memorial—paddles, balls, Glenn Cowan’s long hair and all—of the visit to China by the American ping-pong players! No wonder the Russians gnash their teeth.
In the Chinese capital, during June, there were occasions to glimpse the unfolding of an apparently new America policy. It is a story of caution, uncertainty. yet basic consistency from the Chinese side. On Saturday morning, June 19, two Chinese diplomats invited me for a talk in a faded lounge of the International Club. Beer and cakes were served—ambitious fare for nine thirty on a Peking summer morning. I expected a tour d’horizon of Chinese foreign policy, and some exchange on ChineseAustralian relations.
But these two officials had other fish to fry. America was their interest, and I was hard put to get any questions in on other matters that concerned me. We went into the various positions within the U.S. Administration and among Democratic senators on China policy. We considered how McGovern differed from Kennedy on “one China" and “two Chinas.” Why the Pentagon seemed tougher on Taiwan than certain elements in the White House. What the nuances of Harvard Professor John Fairbank’s “cuituralistic” approach to the Taiwan issue are, in contrast to his colleague Professor Jerome Cohen’s “legalistic” approach. The center of gravity of their interest was entirely concrete and practical. Impossible to miss the difference from talking on equivalent topics to Americans. In America the thrust of the questioning of a foreigner is often “What do you think of us?” But these Chinese officials, caring little what the foreigner thought of China, were concerned instead with the question “How can China get what it wants?”
The second issue was the 1972 election. It was a thing of wonder to hear these officials of the most secretive foreign policy establishment on earth discuss the foreign policy angles of an American election. The cast of mind was like a blend of Jeane Dixon and the most ambitious kind of social science. They expected a statement, free of any ifs or buts, of who was going to win. It dawned on me that Peking might prefer to deal with a monolithic, dictatorial Washington rather than with the cacophonic pluralism of voices which democratic America is.
Like terriers to a favorite bone, they seemed to come back always to one issue. It boiled down to this. Which was the better prospect: the reasonable China policy of certain Democratic senators—with the uncertain chance of its becoming U.S. policy; or the less reasonable but evolving China policy of Nixon—with the certainty that here was a real live government you could do business with? I later learned that this was perhaps the crucial question on America policy facing Peking in the late spring and early summer.
The third issue was Henry Kissinger. How much power does he have over U.S. policy? Is it true that he is more “open-minded" toward China than key officials in the Pentagon and the State Department who also advise Mr. Nixon? Kissinger’s alleged hostility to the Soviet Union struck them as one of his most positive attributes. I added that I knew that Kissinger finds Moscow’s methods baffling: he sees decisions suddenly reversed, as if there were a “government A” and a “government B” tugging away in different directions. One of the Chinese said that that was exactly Peking’s impression of Moscow. It reminded him of a saying dating from the fluid Warring States period (fourth century B.C.): “Ch’ao Ch’in Mu Ch’u” ("In the morning for Ch’in, in the evening for Ch’u”). “The Russians are just like that.” he said; “you never know where you stand with them.”
Struck by the interest in Kissinger’s mind and writings, I did not yet know how immediate these matters were for Peking officials. But two features of the conversation at the International Club stuck in my mind: the apparent pragmatism of the analysis of American trends, and the isolation of two policies— Taiwan and the UN seat-to a degree that they seemed erected into absolute goals in themselves, not to be qualified by other goals.
Over the next few days I went to talk with more Chinese officials and with five European ambassadors (or chargés, in the case of countries which do not have full-fledged embassies in Peking) about Peking’s America policy. Three points of note emerged concerning the genesis of the Sino-American flirtation.
A basis was laid in 1969, when Nixon saw De Gaulle and De Gaulle reported the talk to the Chinese. for an American move toward China which made it a little less difficult, two years later, for Peking to bring itself to believe that the U.S. President meant business. It is no secret that Nixon admired De Gaulle (this at least he has in common with Mr. Mao). He seemed moved to talk to the French President about some of his long-term goals. From the man whom De Gaulle chose to relay the points to Peking, I heard of Nixon’s words and of what the Chinese thought of them. Nixon declared to De Gaulle—in his third month in office—that he was going to withdraw from Vietnam come what may, and that he was going, step by step, to normalize relations with China. Peking was impressed with the first point, and as events unrolled and U.S. troops came back from Saigon, began to realize that Nixon had meant what he told De Gaulle.
On the second point—normalizing relations with China—Peking was more cautious. Could this traveling salesman in the lurid merchandise of anti-Communism really bury the past on China policy? But at least an intriguing seed had been planted in the back of Peking’s mind. Subsequent events—including Nixon’s zigzag steps along the path of Vietnam withdrawal-suggested to the Chinese that the gap between words and deeds might be less in Nixon’s case than it had been with Johnson. If he was doing what he said he would on Vietnam, perhaps he would on China also? This background—as European go-betweens testify—steadied Peking’s hand during the Sino-Ameriean flirtation that swelled in the spring of 1971.
The second point is a double one about Laos. The “incursion” into southern Laos last February deeply alarmed China. One of the highest officials in the State Department cynically styled the attack a “widening down" of the war. Peking was more struck by the “widening” aspect than the “down” aspect. I had known last January—through friends of China’s whom Peking consulted on the matter—that China was concerned at the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in conjunction with the buildup on the southern Laos border (and the evacuation of South Vietnam’s northern provinces). When the “incursion” began, Peking was anxious lest the government of Souvanna-Phouma cave in under the pressure and fall to a rightist coup. Concerned also about northern Laos—Hanoi’s chief concern, of course, was the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos—China had some thirty divisions alerted in its bordering province of Yunnan.
But did Washington not assure Peking that the aims in Laos were “limited”? A Northern European ambassador discussed this with Ch’iao Kuan-hua, Vice Foreign Minister of China. “We can never be sure,” observed Mr. Ch’iao. He recalled the self-unleashing of Genera! MacArthur on the ChineseKorean border while Truman protested the “limited” nature of the United States’s Korean operation. “We were fairly confident of Nixon’s limited intentions in Laos, but not sure some general wouldn’t take it into his head to provoke China, or cover failure with a drastic escalation.” This Chinese view of events, said Mr. Ch’iao, can be discerned between the lines of the speech that Chou En-lai made during his March visit to Hanoi.
When the U.S.-backed incursion by Saigon into Laos failed, bringing none of the military and political complications that Peking earlier thought possible, Peking was buoyed. If anything, Chinese optimism about Indochina was now higher than it had been before the Laos operation began. Saigon had “picked up a stone to throw against the people’s forces only to drop it on its own feet.” It had merely given fresh evidence of its military and political weakness. Peking’s conviction that effective U.S. force in Asia is in a large and long decline also deepened. For Washington did nothing drastic to salvage the Laos incursion. In fact, the flirtation with the United States would not have unfolded if the U.S.Saigon thrust into Laos had gone well (or greatly widened the war). Yet its lack of success provided all the more reason—given the logic which underlies Peking’s whole America policy—to put aside doubts and press on with the flirtation.
The third point concerned tactics, and hinged on Peking’s reading of the American domestic political scene. In the early spring, Peking had reached the point of being ready to permit one or more leading Democratic senators to visit China. It was part of the ping-pong package: there would be opposition politicians, as well as sportsmen, journalists, and scholars. But before the decision could be implemented, the mutual coaxing between the Nixon government and Peking accelerated. Hesitations about the Democratic senators occurred. The option was the one that the two diplomats had suggested to me at the International Club: to coax Nixon further, or to cultivate the Democratic opposition? The Chinese were not sure they could do both. For the time being, at least, they (evidently) resolved to keep the line open with Nixon and see where it would lead. Exchanges continued between Washington and Peking. Neither McGovern nor Kennedy came to China in June, though at one stage it had seemed certain that they would.
On July 2, I spent four hours with an eloquent spokesman of the Chinese government in a suite at the Peking Hotel. “Mr. Y” I called him in Part I (The Atlantic, November, 1971), in quoting his low opinion of Chinese propaganda; he, too, came to New York in November as a member of China’s UN delegation. Though we planned to talk mainly of social developments and political thought, America (where he once lived) was also much on Mr. Y’s mind.
This strategist and “ideas man” has for many years dealt with international matters. He was like a ship in full sail when explaining the new phase in China’s foreign outlook. It clearly pleased him. He had argued for it; he knew its rationale. He made several points which are crucial to understanding why Peking is going down the path of detente with Nixon.
“The opening up is going to go far,” he told me; “it’s a big thing.” He added sharply: “And it’s about time we did it, too.” But why has it now become possible? We spoke of the Taiwan problem, on which he gave the long-standing Chinese position and said that “everything” in Sino-American relations depends upon the removal of this bone in the national throat of China. But why, I asked, had China started people-to-people diplomacy with the United States at a time when Washington’s policy on Taiwan was just as it had always been? Nothing on the Taiwan question, it seemed, could account for the genesis of the ping-pong diplomacy. Mr. Y had quite a different reason to give. “Yes, you are right. The U.S. government made no change on Taiwan. We did it because of the new attitudes among the American people.”
Unfortunately, he did not enlarge on that, but swept on to his central point. America no longer has the capacity to work its will in Asia. Now he was onto broad historical themes: the loquacious Cantonese swelled in him. The gist lay in the distinction between military power and political goals. Washington has the first, but is muddled about the second. Hardly new to those who have lived through the “Vietnam years” in America.
But to hear it in Peking is to hear it in quite a fresh tone. Mr. Y is not bent on a theoretical discussion of options. This is not a “dissenting" quibble from within the camp. The hour is long past when Washington missed its chance to grasp the fact that military power from outside Asia is unlikely to attain political goals within Asia. Now I was listening to a Chinese official coolly describe the consequences in Asia of Lyndon Johnson’s failure to grasp the point. An abstract truth at home had become concrete truth here in Peking. At home one debates the point dialectically—still hoping that wisdom may prevail. From a Chinese in 1971, the point somehow strikes home with a more final logic, if only because it comes from outside you, and with the weight behind it of Asia’s most influential government.
There was therefore a curious authority to Mr. Y’s analysis. A point I had made in the wilderness of theory and dissent since 1965 now stared me in the face as a cold, hard fact of international politics. The Far East is now the way it is because people like Mr. Y saw, and Johnson did not, the political limits of alien military force. I realized, as Mr. Y discoursed, to what effect the Chinese, with their long memories and their infinite patience, had waited and watched through the “Vietnam years” while America bloodied its head against a wall of its own making.
“The U.S.A. put a million men around China.” Mr. Y did not say “in Vietnam,” “off Japan,” “in Thailand.” and so on, but “around China.” And to what avail? “It simply has not worked.” There was not a trace of moralism; he was like history’s physician. “You can’t do that for long. First, you have to pay for them while they are out there, far from home. You have to feed them, supply them, and this takes taxes which the American people will not sustain.”
Some of his remarks came in Marxist dress, and the reasons he gave for the subsidence of U.S. power in Asia could be questioned. But his summaries conveyed a gut assessment of America’s failure to prevail in Vietnam and of why China is now ready to sit down and talk with the United States.
He came to a second problem that Washington has faced. “You have the troops there; you start a war. fought with no clear aims; but how do you end it? It is so easy to start these kinds of wars, but not so easy to wind them up.” Finally he spoke of the various forms of power. “The third problem was that spreading all those troops around China did not even increase the bargaining power of the U.S.”
Do nuclear weapons increase a country’s bargaining power? “Only if the other country fears them.” he replied. “If the other country does not fear them, then nuclear weapons are not a deterrent, much less a decisive force in international struggles.” Mr. Y was making an assumption that seemed basic to his view of the United States—that the United States almost certainly would not use nuclear weapons. Here was one more sign of its flagging will. He is less confident that the Russians lack the will to use nuclear weapons.
But Mr. Y did not merely mean that nuclear weapons are without power because they are unlikely to be used. He meant that they are literally without any power to change the world! For a country cannot be “captured”—occupied and ruled—by the use of nuclear weapons; only physically laid waste. And the importance of nuclear weapons short of their actual use—their deterrent effect—exists only if the potential victim fears them.
Mr. Y gave a picture of a China less pressured than in the past. More buoyant about its options. Possessing more room to maneuver. I sensed a link between the enhanced international security and the readiness to be selfcritical. Mr. Y tells me about the overselling of national historical monuments. “We have had so much escalating rhetoric here,” he confessed. “Once I even went to two tombs in different places, each of which claimed to contain the same Han Dynasty emperor!” The next moment he rather confidently dissects the troubles within the United States. It seemed that America’s troubles were a kind of encouragement to this Chinese official (who does not hide from himself how great China’s own troubles are).
And America’s troubles, Mr. Y felt, meant that America would now give China less trouble. Having lived for so long in a world they never made, encircled by those one million Americans under arms, the Chinese are starting to think that they may take a share in shaping at least Asia’s future patterns. Like the two diplomats at the International Club, Mr. Y put greatest policy emphasis on Taiwan and the UN seat. He believed—and events so far have certainly not shown him wrong—that there was a better chance now than in the past of China’s getting an acceptable arrangement with the United States on these two long-standing goals.
Mr. Y was not blind to the sweetness, from China’s point of view, of the displeasure caused in Moscow by the Sino-American flirtation. With his eagle-eyed watch on the U.S. scene, he had noticed things I had written. I recalled to him that in 1968 I had published (in Motive magazine) the prediction: “There will come eventually one small sign that Washington has accepted the Chinese present as a chapter in world history: the readiness of officials ... to refer to ‘Communist China’ by its name, the ‘People’s Republic of China.’ the way they brought themselves to refer to ‘Communist Russia’ by its name, the ‘Soviet Union.’” Mr. Y had heard about the first occasion on which Mr. Nixon had publicly used the phrase “People’s Republic of China”—when the Rumanian President visited Washington. He had also heard that the Soviet Ambassador in Washington. Anatoly Dobrynin, phoned Henry Kissinger in agitation the same evening to find out the meaning of this outrageous verbal accuracy. The incident made him chuckle. Pleasant that China, which Mr. Y was old enough to remember as the hopelessly “sick man of Asia,” could without lifting a finger cause a ruffle between the “superpowers.” It seemed to me, however, that he saw the frustration of Moscow as a by-product of the Chinese-American détente, not as a major Chinese goal in the pursuit of that détente.
That week in Peking, Kissinger’s name cropped up with a frequency that puzzled me at the time. On the morning that Mr. Y mused on Kissinger’s readiness to disregard Russian sensibilities if the science of power required it, Hsinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported Kissinger’s arrival in Saigon. I did not know—no foreigner in Peking did, and precious few Chinese, since the Politburo kept the Chinese Foreign Ministry even more in the dark about the trip than Mr. Nixon kept the American State Department—that a later stop on the same journey would be Peking. But three days later, on July 6, the professor was again brought into the conversation, by Kuo Mo-jo, Vice President of the Congress. Amidst an interview about intellectual life in China, he interpolated musings about Kissinger’s trip to Asia. Not again. I thought with a sinking feeling, for I wanted to draw the Chinese leader out more on cultural matters. But Mr. Kuo would make statements about Kissinger that sat in the air inviting response. “We don’t know enough about the thinking of this man . . .”
There were others in Peking who would have liked to know more about the “thinking of this man.” On July 10, Kissinger’s main day of talks with Chinese leaders, I found myself at the North Vietnamese Embassy. The Hanoi official didn’t know of Kissinger’s presence—he would not have talked to me at length that day if he had—but he smelled a rat in Sino-American relations. His informality—putting a hand on my knee, drinking despite the morning hour—did not hide but rather underlined his anxiety at some of the developments of the spring which we talked about.
Of course, Hanoi was pleased that Peking stressed so much, and so unusually, the seven-point peace proposal that Madame Binh of the Viet Cong made in Paris on July I. But Nixon had launched “sinister schemes,” said the Vietnamese diplomat. He grew more explicit. “We know that the ending of the U.S. trade embargo against China was designed to produce a response from China which might pose problems for our struggle.” Hanoi’s nightmare, I gathered from other sources, was that a “linking” might somehow be effected between Indochina issues and the Taiwan issue. Knowing that some people in Washington have toyed with this idea. I now asked directly if North Vietnam had any fear that Peking might under some circumstances agree to such a linking. The answer was nonexistent but eloquent. The man from Hanoi alternately smiled and furrowed his brow. He leaned forward and put his hand on my knee. “What have the Chinese comrades indicated to you about this?”
III. Issues: The UN, Taiwan
Six days later I arrived by train from Nanking at the lakeside resort of Wusih (the town’s name means “No Tin.” In the Han Dynasty, 2000 years ago, the district exhausted its tin mines). Driving to a hotel in the midday heat. I heard the radio announcement of Kissinger’s visit and Nixon’s impending visit to China. Unadorned by commentary, it was identical with the seven-line story in the next day’s People’s Daily. There was no follow-up coverage, much less an orgy of speculation, as in the American press. The Chinese government closed up like a clam on informal talk with visitors about foreign affairs. Rich conversations of previous weeks were not repeated after July 16. Nor was I able, despite earnest requests, to go back immediately to Peking.
My hosts in Wusih, like workers in the city’s factories, showed interest in the announcement, but were reticent about commenting on it. The Foreign Ministry official traveling with me, however, did not hide his satisfaction. The U.S. President was coming to China; this he stressed. Nixon said he wanted to come; Peking graciously agreed; the meetings would take place on Chinese soil.
Into policy matters the official did not venture. This was not merely because the phone call he had just received from Peking briefed him only in outline. He seemed totally confident that China’s policies (touching Sino-American relations) had not changed and would not need to change. He spoke as if China were a fixed point in a fluid world. The United States was rethinking matters. That is interesting. and can only be for the better. China is always ready to talk should America drop its hostility toward China.
Such blandness lay also, it seems to me. behind the lack of public attention in China to the turn of events. Of course, foreign policy options are not debated out loud in China as in the United States. Still, you cannot overlook the almost offhand confidence of Peking’s approach to the flirtation with Washington. The Chinese want certain things from the United States. But they have waited a long time for them. They can wait longer. Especially since they see American opinion stirring unilaterally in rejection of rigid and expansionist policies of the past.
It is Nixon who is committing himself most. It is he who is under pressure to deliver the goods. So the Chinese attitude is, in a certain measure, to sit back and see what Nixon will bring to Peking. Peking has worked out an eight-point agenda of items to discuss with the U.S. President. On these items the Chinese position has not noticeably softened. But the Chinese think that Nixon will have to soften his positions on some items, if his requested trip to Peking is to prove a boon to him and not a liability.
The Chinese feel that they gain more than they risk from détente with the United States. They have been seated in the UN. Equally important, the international status of the government of Taiwan slides quickly downward. A wedge, too. is inserted between Taipei and Washington. As a result of these developments, Peking’s desired solution to the Taiwan issue becomes more likely. Russia will be stung. Not least, Peking gets a dose of generalized prestige from the fact that President Nixon visits China, at his own request, before he visits Moscow or Tokyo. (Indeed, Pekins will be ahead of Moscow and Tokyo in having any U.S. President visit it.) On the side of cost, there is a possible loss of credibility with various anti-imperialists. But Hanoi’s anxiety—now less deep than last summer—is the only serious problem here.
A barometer of the atmosphere at the KissingerChou talks is the UN issue (though it has never been the most important issue in Sino-American relations). I do not believe that Kissinger and Chou set the UN issue “aside” when they met last July—as was often said in the press. Nor that Peking was ready to go ahead with détente regardless of what happened in the UN. I believe the issue was set aside, after July, because the two sides knew what was going to happen in the UN. Fragments of information available to me about the July parleys add up to a picture of delicate diplomacy-at-a-tangent. During the many hours of rather tough talks, the two sides gave each other a statement of intention on the UN issue. Since the talk dealt with votes and agendas in an international organization, each side could state what it would seek, but not guarantee what it would attain.
The distinction was crucial. It permitted two statements of intention to seem—to a beholder who wanted to see it that way-like an agreement on what would result. The Chinese were satisfied with what they concluded from this diplomacy by indirection. No sign exists that the United States was deeply dissatisfied.
First, it seems, the Americans indicated that they would support the seating of Peking in the China seat at the UN this year—which means a Security Council seat, as one of the permanent five members wielding a veto. Second, the visitors served notice that, should Taipei fight to keep some sort of UN place for itself, the United States must support this attempt. This place would be, at most, membership in the General Assembly. Third—here we enter the twilight land of signals—the U.S. side said it “did not know” whether the attempt to keep Taipei in the UN would succeed or not.
The Chinese responded also in three parts. They took note with undemonstrative approval of Washington’s decision to back the installation of the People’s Republic of China in the China seat. Second, they warned that should the effort to retain the Kuomintang regime in some UN role be mounted, Peking would vigorously fight against it. Finally, the Chinese gave their own signal with all its overtones: the government of China was confident that the effort to salvage a role for Taipei would fail.
Given the context—that the mutual coaxing during the spring had gone well enough to bring Kissinger over the Himalayas to Peking, and that Nixon wanted to come to China within a year—the U.S. position in these talks could be interpreted as having an element of shadowboxing about it. Secretary of State William Rogers’ subsequent statement of August 2 did not mean quite what it said on the printed page. Yes, the United States will fight to keep a UN place for Chiang Kai-shek. But it the U.S. “does not know” whether this will succeed, and China is sure it won’t, the two sides are not as far apart as they seem. Peking was not as outraged by Rogers’ statement as its press made out. Though enticed to do so by journalists, no Peking official said Rogers’ statement meant Washington had gone back on anything Kissinger conveyed to Chou. Yes, the Chinese called the Rogers formulation “absurd.” But they did not say that the United States had deceived China or broken a promise.
In Washington a certain backpedaling began. Mr. Rogers confessed, with more sorrow than anger, that the United States had found through international consultations that “there is a good deal of support for assigning the China seat in the Security Council to Peking rather than Taipei. He added: “We haven’t made a decision about our own policy.”Two weeks later, Mr. Nixon decided-in Peking’s favor. Washington then came out with a double proposal for the UN debate: Peking to have the China seat; a separate, lower place to be salvaged for Taipei in the Assembly.
Meanwhile. U.S. spokesmen underlined that though every effort was being made, success for this position could not be guaranteed. By the time Foreign Minister Fukuda of Japan came to Washington in early September, it smelled as if Mr. Rogers were foreshadowing failure and looking around for others to share whatever blame failure might trigger. If Japan did not cosponsor the U.S. resolution, he warned, this would have “a detrimental effect” on the resolution’s chance of success. Japan did cosponsor, but the resolution failed.
The grief in Washington was not searing. Mr. Nixon seemed more upset by the “manners” of the voters than by the vote itself. Mr. Rogers cried out “We tried hard” more relentlessly than sincerity would seem to have required. George Bush, American Ambassador to the UN, was not unhappy with his image as a mighty arm-twister. (People have wondered why Mr. Bush fought so hard for Taiwan if the Nixon Administration was in fact reconciled to losing the fight. First, after Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinner’s words, on and off the record, about the danger of a right-wing rampage in America in the event of calamity for U.S. fortunes in Asia, no one should be surprised that Bush was assigned the role of making an elaborate effort to hold a General Assembly seat for Taiwan. Second, the newspaper photographs of Kissinger conferring in Peking as the UN voted were more eloquent than anything Bush said or did in New York.)
The gap between “seek” and “attain” had richly served Sino-American relations. Nixon lost a battle on October 25, but salvaged a campaign (perhaps two campaigns). The Pakistani delegate at the UN aptly said just after the vote that one big reason for the outcome was Nixon’s new China policy. Nixon’s new China policy, in turn, will ultimately benefit from the UN vote, as may Nixon’s prospects for reelection, Meanwhile, Peking took it all so calmly that not a single Chinese newspaperman was sent to the UN to cover a drama climaxing twenty-two years of struggle in which China was the key party involved.
Within China, the UN issue seems a bagatelle compared with the Taiwan issue. At the Museum of the Peasant Institute in Canton, a vast wall map gives details of the Revolutionary Committee of each province. When you press a button, a light flashes on with the date on which the Committee was established. I pressed Taiwan (Taiwan is invariably included on any map of China within China). A red light flashed with the characters: “We shall certainly liberate Taiwan!” The phrase is a theme song all over China.
In the beautiful hills near Sian lies the craggy cliff where Chiang Kai-shek was captured in 1936 by one of his own disgruntled generals—the famous Sian Incident. The place is now a lush and tranquil hotspring resort. Emperors of the Han and Sui dynasties had summer palaces here, and the Communist government has built superb pavilions in traditional style to fit the history-laden ambience. My companions laughed and joked as we inspected the room from which Chiang fled—leaving his dentures behind—when shots pierced his windows.
We climbed the hill where Chiang had clambered in his nightdress. At the place of his capture stands a handsome portico. But it was built not by the Communists, to mark this spot of personal and political humiliation of Chiang, but by Chiang’s own government, in 1946, apparently to try and blot out with glory an ugly memory! After 1949 the new government left the portico intact. Beside it, in red paint on the cliff face, they have simply added: “We shall certainly liberate Taiwan!” As if to suggest that, just as Chiang was nabbed here, so in the fullness of time he will be nabbed in Taiwan.
No issue seems more important than Taiwan when you talk with Chinese, official or nonofficial, about international affairs. It is pointed out that in 1950 the U.S. government reversed itself on Taiwan. Until that time, Washington considered Taiwan part of China, and planned no support for Chiang Kaishek’s bid to set up an alternative China. Came the Korean War. As part of its military encirclement of China, the United States, it is recalled, then backtracked and began the long, increasingly ludicrous sponsorship of Chiang and his dreams. Ignoring that Chiang had lost out to a stronger and more popular force, the United States from then to this day has (officially) considered his remnants the government of China.
But now the movement at the UN has unfrozen the Taiwan issue. As Peking envisaged, the displacement of Taipei from a UN seat begins a “softening up” of the Taipei regime’s front of bravado.
The signs are that they expect a political bargaining process to take place eventually, in which Peking will make—at least for a transitional period—concessions to whatever elements in Taiwan are able to demonstrate political strength.
But this political bargaining cannot begin in earnest until Taiwan is fully defused as an international issue. The UN developments have done this to a degree; the big next step will be military withdrawal by the U.S. from Taiwan. I understand that in July, 1971, Kissinger talked to the Chinese about this matter. Before the Chinese agreed to invite Nixon, the U.S. side intimated that by the time Nixon reached Peking, further reductions in the U.S. military presence on Taiwan would have taken place.
In the Chinese view, there are two parts to the Taiwan problem. One is the U.S. military presence on the island. The other is the political gulf between Peking and Taipei, and the methods of bridging it. Only the first part, say the Chinese, concerns the United States (or any other nation). Washington is not being asked to “hand over” Taiwan to Pekingonly to stop regarding its government as the government of China, and to take its bases away. This leaves the door open to give-and-take between the two sets of Chinese, and to a process of reabsorption that could stretch out over decades.
In his talk with me, the nimbleminded Mr. Y observed: “There’s an easy way out for the U.S. on Taiwan. Simply announce a return to the position Truman stated in 1949-1950: that the U.S. is not going to interfere in the destiny of Taiwan.”
IV. How China Runs Its Foreign Policy
Lights burn late in the new cream-brick monolith which houses China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After the Cultural Revolution, the number of personnel at the Ministry was slashed by almost one half. Those who remain must work fantastic hours to cope with a swelling volume of business. Some work who are too tired and ill to work, like Vice Minister Ch’iao Kuan-hua this past summer. Some who speak a Western tongue fluently must punctuate policy work with translating tasks. “Peking wives”—it occurred to me—must have even more to put up with than “Washington wives” (I say “wife.” but in fact the Chinese no longer use the established word for wife, “t’-ai-t’ai”; they use “ai-jen, ” “lover,” for spouse or amorous friend alike.
Yet morale is high. Officials are naturally encouraged that their Ministry has become as much a focus of attention as any foreign ministry in the world. The more so because it firmly relegates to an unlamented past the period of 1966-1967 when the Chinese foreign policy establishment was very nearly derailed by a hot avalanche of ultraleftism. Ch’en Yi, the Foreign Minister at that time, was harassed and “supervised” so unrelentingly by Red Guards that Mao eventually declared: “How can Ch’en be struck down? He has been with us forty years and has so many achievements. He has lost twenty-seven pounds in weight. I cannot show him to foreign guests in this condition.”
Ch’en Yi no longer works on foreign policy, but I do not believe he has been purged. A senior Chinese military man. when it was remarked to him by a European ambassador that Ch’en’s going was a “loss,” replied with a broad smile: “Your loss is our gain.” One of China’s true military experts, Ch’en Yi, ill as he has certainly been, is probably now working on high military matters. He resurfaced last summer as a vice chairman of the top Military Affairs Committee. Of other high officials in the Ministry, it is remarkable how few were blown away by the storms of the Cultural Revolution. In 1967, the two Vice Ministers most assailed by the zealots were Chi P’eng-fei and Ch’iao Kuan-hua. Yet how little the huffing and puffing availed. Today, Chi is Acting Foreign Minister, and Ch’iao is the Vice Minister in charge of Western affairs and top man at the UN.
At one point in the struggle of the Cultural Revolution, ninety-one senior men in the Ministry put up a manifesto backing Ch’en Yi against those who reviled him as “poison” and classified him as “bourgeois.” Almost every responsible man one meets in the Ministry today is one of the ninety-one, as are most of the ambassadors who have been flying out to occupy new posts and dust down old ones. I often talked with one official, of middle age, as much a scholar as a diplomat. Like his wife, he is a graduate of Yenching University. His home is as well furnished with books as his mind is with ideas. I asked if the zealots (in conversation they were always called “chi-tso fen-tzu, ” “ultraleftists”) had tried to get at his books. For there was a bit of “book burning” in 1967. Self-appointed maestros passed the wand of ideology over certain works, and pronounced even gold to be dross. “No,” he answered with an expression that gave nothing away. And if they had come? “If they had quoted Chairman Mao to me, I would have quoted other parts of Chairman Mao to them—and I would have won.”
We find continuities in the history of new China’s foreign policy community that rival Andrei Gromyko and J. Edgar Hoover. There have been only two regular Foreign Ministers in the regime’s twenty-two years. Most of China’s senior diplomats come from a small circle of negotiators and propagandists who cut their teeth on four diplomatic operations prior to Liberation. First, a liaison group headed by Chou En-lai at the Nationalist capital of Hankow (and after Hankow fell to the Japanese, at Chungking); second, a branch outfit at Kweilin which put out a news service. A third knot worked out of Hong Kong; Ch’iao Kuan-hua distinguished himself there. Fourth, the Chinese Communist Party was represented on the “truce teams” which the Marshall Mission operated in North China and Manchuria. Huang Hua, the present ambassador to the UN, was an active part of the Marshall Mission machinery. He ran the information work at the Mission’s Executive Headquarters in Peking. So many of China’s senior diplomats are Averell Harrimans of the East, their resilient careers interlaced with decades of their country’s (or Party’s) foreign policy.
What does the Chinese foreign policy machine consist of? It is small by U.S. standards—the Foreign Ministry has no more than 1000 people—but not simple. Chou En-lai as Premier heads the State Council. It is a kind of cabinet at the pinnacle of the state administration. Its well-staffed corridors include a Staff Office for Foreign Affairs. The Foreign Minister feeds to this office—for the benefit of Chou and his staff—papers from his Ministry. Into the Staff Office also goes material from the “international liaison” section of the Party Secretariat of the Chinese Communist Party. This section may well be extremely important, especially for relations with Communist countries, but the visitor learns nothing about it.
The Ministry itself seems in some ways a very conventional place. You cannot altogether wonder that the zealots of 1966-1967 considered it a “bourgeois” island cut adrift from the seething Maoist mainland. Diplomatic procedures are much as in a European foreign ministry. There are ambassadors, and there are third secretaries; commercial counselors and military attachés. Very few become ambassadors who have not been career diplomats for many years. Secret files exist. Zealots briefly challenged this practice in 1967, one crying out as he rifled the files on May 13: “What’s so terrific about secrets? To hell with them.” Yet the attempt in the middle of the Cultural Revolution to transform the style of Chinese foreign policy in the end went little further than frills like what clothes to wear and how many courses to serve at diplomatic dinners.
One important change in organization did occur (beyond the cutting down in size). A Revolutionary Committee now runs the Ministry, and several sources style it a most effective example of this new kind of organ. It is chaired by Chi P’eng-fei, top man among the Vice Ministers, and Acting Foreign Minister. But the second and third figures in the Revolutionary Committee are not Vice Ministers. They are People’s Liberation Army men. At a banquet given late in June by the diplomatic corps, to thank the Ministry for the recent diplomatic tour of various provinces, it was made clear in the ways the Chinese make these things clear that the two PLA men ranked above Ch’iao Kuan-hua and other Vice Ministers. So the Army has found its way to the highest levels of the Foreign Ministry. What looks like genuine collective leadership has been set up in the Revolutionary Committee. It is quite different from the days when Ch’en Yi ran the Ministry with brusque authority. PLA men and Vice Ministers work things out together. The amiable and somewhat reticent Chi is no strong man. Having set this new pattern and found it good, China may not appoint a full-fledged successor to Ch’en Yi for some time.
Outside Peking are officials who work in the “foreign affairs section” of each province’s Revolutionary Committee. These people, twenty or thirty strong in the provinces I visited, deferred on all nonlocal points to the Foreign Ministry people who traveled with me from Peking. They have no policy role, and concentrate on receiving foreign visitors with charm and informed conversation. One in Canton had dug up a fact about Australia that few Australians know. “Oh, you are from Melbourne.” he remarked the morning he met me at the Canton train station. “It is, of course, the former capital, in the days before Canberra was built.” There is little point in talking about foreign affairs to most of these provincial foreign affairs officials. They seem to specialize in what might be called the “kangaroo” or “fauna and flora” aspects of foreign lands. (“China has never had a Prime Minister drown in the sea, as your Prime Minister did in 1967.”) But they can give the visitor data about their province.
Officially separate from the Foreign Ministry are a number of “people’s organizations” essential to the conduct of Chinese foreign policy. Their personnel circulate like satellites in the outer orbit of the Ministry. One of these bodies is the People’s Institute for Foreign Affairs. It was for years a mysterious body until it surfaced last summer. It receives ex-statesmen, such as Clement Attlee in 1954 or the ex-President of Mexico some years later, and it receives people “who are not governmental but too distinguished to come to China in an ordinary way.” Its former research function has in recent years been “neglected.” Only a dozen people work full time at its offices now. Its directors are mostly former ambassadors or distinguished professors, many of them extremely able, most of them fairly old.
The chairman of the Institute, Chang Hsi-jo, is a former Minister of Education and one of China’s most prominent non-Party intellectuals. Chatting with him at banquets and receptions. I found myself in yesterday’s spacious, languid world. The patrician head of well-groomed white hair, the silk clothes, the polished walking stick which he wields with authority suggest an Oriental aristocrat from the pages of Somerset Maugham. Here is a man who participated in the 1911 revolution and went soon after to study in London, yet who is part of Mao’s foreign policy establishment in the post-Red Guard era. The elegance and cultivation are matched by a certain strength reserved for occasions of need. During the Hundred Flowers period in the spring of 1957. Professor Chang assailed the Chinese Communist Party for having “contempt for the past” and a “blind belief in the future. He is still capable of caustic comment on bureaucrats, and gentle irony about ideologists who talk as if they had history’s agenda tucked in an inside pocket.
We discussed political science, which he studied at Columbia University and the London School of Economics, and taught for many years at Tsinghua and other leading Chinese universities. This meant neither the Thought of Mao nor computerized social science. In the warm Peking afternoon, banners of Mao’s quotations above us, we talked about the ideas of Harold Laski, Graham Wallas, and A. L. Lowell! Required by the occasion one evening to allude to Australia. Professor Chang managed to recall two famous Australian tennis players he had once watched play in New York. It was “people’s diplomacy” of a casual and catholic kind. You could mistake Chang for a retired professor presiding over a lawn tennis association, rather than a retired professor presiding over Chinese Communist semi-official diplomacy.
Of the training of new diplomats the visitor discovers little except that it is done not by a single method but by many. A few have a background in the Institute of International Relations of the Academy of Sciences. But this has been suspended since the Cultural Revolution. Its members have gone off to communes to exchange the care of nations for the care of pigs. The Foreign Language Institutes are an important source. They began the path back to regular work late in 1971 (with even more emphasis than before on Western tongues). There used to be an Institute of International Relations in Peking, which taught at the graduate-student level. But some of its former students (who include foreigners) told me that it no longer functions.
In the next few years, diplomats with an army training will emerge in China’s embassies. Just how they are being trained is not known, but two interesting points surround the Army’s role in the foreign policy corps. One is that a number of able men were sent into the Army, some at Chou En-lai’s own instigation, to “hide” from the furies of the Cultural Revolution which might otherwise have cut them down. This is one more case of the Premier running the Cultural Revolution with his left hand while limiting its destructiveness with his right. It is also one more case of the Army extending its role beyond military tasks. The result is that there are many diplomats (and other professionals) in the Army who are not ordinary army men, but whose career patterns are now bound up with the Army.
The second point can be put simply. Watch out for the Navy and the Air Force. Since Lin Piao took over Defense from the less “Maoist” P’eng Teh-huai, the Army has swelled up with prestige as a “model” and a “school” for the whole nation. A little resentment stirs in the other two services. They feel that the colossal stress upon politics has left the more professional and more technical aspects of military work enfeebled. The Navy and the Air Force are the natural repositories of these neglected aspects. In recent months there has been pressure to give more prominence than Lin Piao’s regime has done to air and naval work and weapons. This may well affect defense and foreign policy by the end of 1972. Already in the fall of 1971, it became one of several issues surrounding the eclipse of Lin Piao, and accompanying changes in the relation of the Army to politics.
I will not soon forget the teaching of the Korean War in Chinese schools. Few events are better known to Chinese students of society than this one. There is a double stress (beyond the themes of patriotism and Chinese-Korean solidarity). It was one episode in the long story of the United States trying to “get at” China. Three paths to China’s heartland, it is said, were mapped out by Washington: via Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam. Dulles said as much, and events have richly confirmed it. The second stress is upon Russian selfishness. It is not asserted, though it is hinted, that Moscow cooked the whole adventure up. At any rate, China had to bear the burden. Every gun and bullet China got from Russia she paid for at “the highest prices.”
It is odd to hear the Korean War taught this way. You have heard American students taught that Russia and China, composing a “monolithic Communist conspiracy,” together hatched the whole thing. You have been told that the U.S. could never have wished to “get at” China. Actually, the version I heard in Chinese schools is nearer the truth than that taught in the United States. China did not push North Korea into war. General MacArthur did get at China— and Peking did not enter the war until he had bombed bridges on Chinese territory. But beyond the soundness of what was being taught, the seriousness of the tone in these classes on Korea was haunting. In American classes, students take up this political topic or that, but how few topics really grip them. Fewer still if we think only of international politics. But these Chinese students talked about the Korean War with a clear and immediate sense of its connection to their own lives. A threat to China stirred in them deep personal feelings. If some will tomorrow be diplomats, the Chinese Foreign Ministry will not lack conviction and purpose.
V. Foreigners in Peking
The diplomatic community in Peking is marked by irony and by a sense of brotherhood rare in the bitchy world of diplomacy. Irony because of a gap between repute and reality. The image: diplomats in Peking are intimate monitors of Chinese foreign policy, agog at each fresh twist of Middle Kingdom intrigue. The reality: diplomats in Peking often sit around and drink, and some are so cut off from the Chinese that they wonder if they mightn’t be better off in Hong Kong. Brotherhood because this state of affairs binds the diplomats together in the furtive secret of their shared dilemma, and because Peking has few distractions, and diplomats are thrown relentlessly into each other’s company.
I have caricatured, yet no one could deny a leisured ambience and signs of boredom within the embassies of the Chinese capital. It is a delightful world for the scholar-diplomat, and ideal for those who like to bring up their children by paying much attention to them. There is no superfluity of paper to read. Much of what there is cannot be read by most ambassadors, for it is written in Chinese. In the summer, few chancelleries work after lunch. Parties begin early and end late. They are lavish because there is time to make them so. It comes as a shock to find Chinese servants of an older breed, schooled in deference and discretion before Liberation, when you walk off the street into certain European legations. A silver-haired, impassive butler clips cigars in the Dutch residence as he has been doing for decades. A waiter at the French Embassy walks with Gallic lightness (no resemblance to the Chinese shamble). He handles a capacious wine cellar with informed calm and the French language without disaster.
At embassy functions, there is a tendency for stories and rumors to bounce back repeatedly like pingpong balls in a small room. Yet the absence of “news” has a good side. Long-range reflection germinates in those with a taste for it. Some ambassadors will stroll on their verandas, and talk very well about the larger trends concerning China and the world. If Peking is seldom a good place for an ambassador to report from, it is not a bad place for him to think in.
There are really two diplomatic quarters in Peking. The old “legation quarter” lies just east of the Tien An Men Square. Architecturally it is a hodgepodge of nineteenth-century European turrets and gargoyles and pillars. But it is picturesque and not without charm, and some of Peking’s most splendid villas sit among its trees. In this area, only nations which are (or recently were) friendly toward China remain. The Burmese are in the former Belgian mission. Prince Sihanouk has the old French Embassy. The Rumanians are busily here. The Hungarians occupy the superb mansion built in the days of colonial largesse by the Empire of Austria-Hungary.
The other diplomatic quarter is bland and remote. Northeast of the city, it accommodates all the countries which recognized China substantially later than 1950, and all those which wished to put up new buildings. Not far away is a forest of new apartment blocks for Chinese workers. This section is almost like Manhattan, with its soaring heights and geometric regularity. But the new diplomatic area itself is hat and placid. Pink mimosas line the dusty yellow streets. A pale blue sky above (its the delicate and understated color tones of the scene. Noise, too, is muted, and with virtually no traffic the cicadas have the airwaves all to themselves. PLA soldiers guard each embassy gate without martial fuss. They will chat and laugh freely with a passerby. The tensions of 1967—when these streets rang with the sounds of demonstration and sometimes of battle—have totally gone.
Many embassies contain one or two younger China specialists poring over documents. The Russian, French, and East German offices have quite a lot of them. These Sinologues do not often see responsible Chinese officials. Yet they pick things up from living in Peking with a knowledge of Chinese. They can sift the bookshops; they chat with people in the street. Ambassadors vary enormously from the brilliant to the bovine. Effectiveness depends on how Peking at any point of time regards their country, and what background and interest they have for the job. Peking is a post that can make a poor diplomat worse and a good one very good. If he is cut off from the country and the leadership, and cannot overcome this, he withers into a clerk. If he can get an angle on events in this vast nation, and a foot in the door with officials, the challenges to mind and spirit (and digestion) are limitless.
Observing the foreign policies of China from a Peking chancellery is quite different from reading Chinese foreign policy documents in Washington or Canberra. First, you realize that China’s political language loses point and freshness on the printed English page. Breathing the air of China, where the cryptic, earthy Chinese language has constant spoken life, and where you hear political language as debate and exchange as well as read it as pontification, the whole effect seems more serious and lively.
Second, you are better placed to see that the practice of Chinese foreign policy is not a mechanical reflection of its theory. In Hong Kong you have the ideological documents, and you have the reports of what Peking actually does. Relating the two is not always easy. In Peking you may discern the “middle ground”—those sinews of reason and judgment which link ideology with day-to-day decision. Third, the diplomat in the Chinese capital can supplement public statements with private talks. This is the crucial superiority of Peking as a vantage point. For it is in these talks that the thought processes of the Chinese reach the non-Chinese world.
Ambassadors at Peking generally praise the competence of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. A Scandinavian ambassador about to return after four and a half years in his post looked back; “Going to the Foreign Ministry here has been just the same as going to the Quai d’Orsay. The level of knowledge is similar. You have the same kind of free, frank exchange about world affairs. Of course, it’s not as close as when we talk to Washington or London—for with these two my country has a special tie. But it’s about like talking with the French.”
How the mountain looks, of course, depends on what path you approach it by. Some ambassadors have excellent access to the Chinese leadership. Others are like fish upon the sand. Here are three cases:
France. Etienne Manac’h is perhaps the outstanding ambassador in Peking today. This stems both from the cordial Paris-Peking relationship and from Manac’h’s acuteness and long background in Asian affairs. A precise, modest man, he has long been a socialist. Enjoying a good relationship with De Gaulle, he was chosen personally by the General for the Peking embassy. Trade between France and China did not leap after diplomatic ties were set up in 1964, though many Frenchmen expected it would. Indeed, it is smaller than Chinese trade with West Germany, which has no diplomatic relations with Peking. In 1970, for instance, total French-Chinese trade turnover was $151 million. Total West German-Chinese trade turnover was $253 million.
But there is a similar way of thinking about “independence” and “superpowers” in Peking and Paris. Both are sticklers for “national sovereignty.” Both suspect that Russia and America would like to divide and order the world on their own terms. Both lack a little bit in power what they think they have in status. Both berate superpowers. Yet this prevents neither from thinking of itself as a supercivilization. These modes France and China share.
France is busy as intermediary between Peking and certain hesitant nations. Thus during 1971, China and Thailand nibbled at each other through the grille of French diplomacy. Paris has been China’s major diplomatic base in Europe and a site for wider activities. New agreements to establish relations—such as that with Turkey last summer—have been hammered out in Paris.
Manac’h sees the Chinese leadership regularly. More than once Chou En-lai, inveterate night owl that he is, has drawn Manac’h aside after a reception and started (at midnight) a twoor three-hour chat in a side room in the Great Hall of the People. The Frenchman sees Chairman Mao from time to time. He has found Mao an eager student of French history: fascinated by Napoleon and the Paris Commune. avid for details on the Siege of Toulouse, impressed by De Gaulle.
The Chinese statesman, for his part, admired both De Gaulle’s realism about the world of nations and his poised style and tendency to take a lofty view of politics. (The visitor to China often hears praise of De Gaulle. Chou En-lai invoked him—in scorn of SEATO—when debating with Mr. Whitlam. Officials more than once drew to my attention the fact that Mao took the unusual step of sending a message on the death of a foreign leader when De Gaulle died in 1970.)
Laos is an opposite case. Not because Laos is unimportant to China. But China supports the Pathet Lao, which is in rebellion against the Vientiane government that is represented in Peking. So Kienthong Keorajvongsay. the polite and stoic Laotian chargé, in his neat villa on a quiet street of the new diplomatic quarter, is truly a fish upon the sand. He might as well be on the planet Mars. He watches the Pathet Lao leaders trip to Peking for talks with Chou and Huang Yung-sheng (Chief of the General Staff”). Yet he himself from one year’s end to the next sees no one higher than a desk officer at the Foreign Ministry. No one in his tranquil little embassy speaks or reads Chinese.
This charming man knows in full measure what Chinese aloofness can be like. All he can do is talk with other foreigners and make detached social observations. “How hard the Chinese work.” he said with a certain awe as we sipped a morning cognac. “Not like Laotians.” He gestured outside to the street where PLA men were on duty. “You don’t see them drinking as they work. They eat frugally. They come home from a meeting, and you ask them what happened. They tell you not a word. In Laos people will chat about it: this man was criticized, that man was amusing. But here the discipline is so strong. Oh, no, not like Laos at all . . .” He took more cognac, and said I really ought to visit Laos sometime.
Britain. John Bull is something else again. He is not stranded like the Laotian, but he does not enjoy Manac’h’s entrée. Britain was one of the first countries to recognize the Chinese Communist government (January, 1950). But in their usual manner, the British did not make a clean sweep of things; they tried to have a shilling each way. They kept a consulate on Taiwan (accredited not to the Republic of China but to the provincial government of Taiwan, which Chiang Kai-shek pretends has a separate life of its own). London also supported (until 1971) America’s “important question” resolution in the UN, a procedural device to make it more difficult than it would otherwise have been for Peking to take its seat.
These two points China has held against Britain. For twenty-one years Peking has declined to exchange ambassadors with London. Each country has in the other only a charge d’affaires office, not an embassy. In Peking, the Chinese maintain the distinction fastidiously. Even the taximen are schooled. If in haste you ask to go to “the British Embassy.” they correct you and say they are prepared to take you to “the British charge’s office.”
The British have an able staff of a dozen or so in Peking—a lot smaller than the French. Face red and suit white, the charge. John Denson, looks a colonial type but is not. He purrs with pleasure that relations between the two countries have been improving ever since he crossed the bridge at Lo Wu in 1969. The dark days of 1967, when the British office was burned and its staff imperiled, are altogether gone. London abandoned the “important question” nonsense at the UN in 1971. It has made the decision in principle—nothing is yet announced—to remove the offending consulate from Taiwan. Even if trade with Taiwan suffers, the loss cannot be great. Britain’s trade with China is worth some ten times its trade with Taiwan. A Chinese order for six Trident aircraft nicely boosted the late 1971 trading lists.
Meanwhile, sweetness and light prevail in Hong Kong. Dealings between the Hong Kong government and Chinese Communists in the colony and in Canton have been smooth, at least since the attempted hijacking by Filipinos of a plane to China in 1970. A senior British official in Hong Kong recalled: “The Chinese hate hijacking. They’re totally against it. When the Filipino incident occurred, an official at our Hong Kong airport just picked up the phone and called White Cloud Airport in Canton. Immediately, matters were fixed up. The Canton people gave the details: how much fuel, how many passengers, what time the plane would take off. Very businesslike; no problems; no politics.”
The British in Peking do not enjoy easy access to the Chinese leadership. Until Denson saw Chou Enlai earlier this year, there had been very little access at all. But they feel the trend is upward. With the modulated optimism the British have always shown in China, they are slowly erecting a new residence to house the ambassador-to-be. With a new ambassador to China arriving every couple of weeks, the British frankly confess that they do not want to be left paddling in the shallows as the new diplomatic wave surges upward.
VI. How Do the Chinese See the World?
What in the world does China want? How do the Chinese see the rest of the nations with which their own destiny is now intertwined? With China more than with most countries, what she is and how she understands herself weigh as much as what she explicitly seeks. A visit puts a light on some territory in back of China’s approach to the world. It is four shades of this subsoil of Peking’s foreign policy that I sift in these closing pages.
1. Sense of place. Stray from Peking and the gateway cities of Canton and Shanghai, and it is easy to forget that the world beyond China exists. You meet no foreigners, see no foreign products, hear little foreign news. You observe in the Chinese mentality such a strong “sense of place” that China seems by nature isolationist. A Chinese word for landscape is made up of two characters meaning “mountains” and “waters.” One day in Yenan. I recalled with amusement a phrase used to me at the U.S. State Department in 1966: “the China that exists on the mainland”! (And where are the others?) Of no country on earth could it be more absurd to separate the location from the essence of the nation. There is nothing abstract about China’s view of itself (as perhaps there is of Gaullist France’s view of itself).
It is not only that the Chinese have dwelt for 4000 years amidst these incomparable mountains and rivers. The rounded mountains and yellow rivers are China, the soil and the nation are almost one. Chinese towns and provinces are often geographically named. Hunan, Mao’s province, means “south of the lake.” Yunnan, the hilly province near Vietnam, means “south of the clouds.” Peking translates as “northern capital,” Shanghai as “on the sea.” China never names towns alter a great man (as Washington, San Francisco). Never after a place in another country (as New York).
In China’s heartland, the cliché of China as “Middle Kingdom” (which is the literal translation of the Chinese word for “China”) does not seem absurd. Here is a superior people, you reflect, but whose sense of their superiority is rooted in contentment with their own mountains and rivers. Not an active sense of superiority which pants to convert the world to its excellence. A passive sense of superiority, which basks, inward-turned, within its own possessed excellence.
Of course, a nation’s foreign policy is a stew of many morsels. It refracts much more than cultural attitudes. Yet this “sense of place” deeply affects every Chinese’s view of the world. It underlies China’s lack of interest in conquering, subverting, or even understanding other countries. True, Marxism has brought to one level of the Chinese official mind a global sense and global concerns. Communism has “internationalized" China to a degree. No less true, there is in China today an impulse to “catch up” with advanced countries. Many factories display a poignant quotation from Mao: “The Chinese people have will and ability. In the not-too-distant future they will certainly catch up to and surpass advanced world levels.” Yet my abiding impression is of cultural self-confidence, outweighing national insecurity.
The Chinese are a rooted and a continental people (they have emigrated only when their own country was in chaos). Their cultural memories run the length of the dynasties. They possess effortless assurance of their own cultural identity. This does not negate the fact that Peking sees the world through the spectacles of Communist ideology. But something in the Chinese way damps down the lust and swagger of Marxism. They take a very long view of things. Long dwelling amidst the mountains and waters of ancestors ten times as ancient as the Pilgrim Fathers has given the Chinese a patience of the ages. They do not, in fact, go around the world lighting fires of revolution, for they are genuinely skeptical that one nation can ignite another. And they believe in their hearts that few others, if any, can follow the epic Chinese way to revolution and socialism.
Most Americans would be surprised, I believe, by the tranquil confidence of China today. It is not a restless nation keen to prove itself in ambitious worldwide schemes. A fundamental contentment springs from cultural security. China seems less dismayed than amused that the chief of superpowers should fear them. Most Chinese do not care enough about the world to want to uplift others. Nor did they fret terribly when other nations for petty reasons kept China from its seat at the UN. They are secure and content in their habitation.
I watch lovers strolling around the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Peking at sunset. Little boys pissing peacefully under a tree of the Tien An Men Square, then mounting the solemn stone lions beside the Forbidden City to play at riding and hunting. PLA men during a lunchtime break at Sian, talking with nostalgia and absorption of their home counties: what they eat there, how the accent varies, who the local folk heroes from antiquity are. Students in Canton, reading Dream of the Red Chamber under a tree, asking me not about Australia but about the way of life of Chinese in Australia. These people, it seemed to me, are not missionaries to the world but gardeners of their own heritage.
2. Independence. Five roots sit under China’s insistence on complete independence (and associated principles such as “self-reliance”).
• First, the cultural particularity which I have illustrated by the deep Chinese “sense of place.”
• Second, the simple geographic fact that China is a continental nation cut off by sea or mountains from other major world centers. Except for receiving Buddhism from India, China drew little on other cultures. She had no experience of allying with a second nation in order to counter a third nation. China’s isolation was her independence.
• Third. China’s buffeting by foreign powers since the Opium Wars has made her acutely sensitive to any pressures which qualify her total independence. Having known dependence so recently, China is daily conscious of the quality of the air of independence she now breathes.
• Fourth, the Chinese Communist Party did not win power in China by following Soviet models or by virtue of Soviet help but by turning inward to tap China’s own resources of sinew, mind, and will. In the Chinese Communist Party’s experience, the evening cup of alliance turned sour by morning. The Chinese made their revolution by self-reliance. The experience has convinced them that no one—not even China-can make another nation’s revolution for it.
• Fifth, the aggravating presence of two superpowers makes it natural for Peking to stand up for the principle of independence. Superpower hegemony threatens independence, whether it is the Russians in Eastern Europe or the Americans in Central America. China is incommoded by the “blocs” orchestrated by each superpower. It is the card of independence that she can best play amidst the power realities of today’s world. Independence is the logical banner for a self-respecting major power which has no bloc of its own and could only be “number two’ in another bloc.
Always I found the principle of independence echoing in foreign policy talks with Chinese. It accounts for their sensitivity to the pretensions of superpowers. It is the basis of their intimacy with Rumania and France. It justifies (to themselves) support for Pakistan. They are against any sympathy for Bangla Desh which implies questioning of the Pakistan government’s right to run its own affairs. Chou En-lai gave the principle of independence extraordinary stress. “Why is it,”he asked, “that there is a lack of any ability in the Eastern part of Europe?" Politicians rarely say such astonishing things in public. For his gasping listeners, the Premier supplied an answer. “Because the biggest country there [in Eastern Europe] wants to control the others.”It was a lavish assertion of the fruits of independence (and the costs of dependence) in the husbandry of nations.
During the same conversation. Mr. Chou underlined that China likes to pay debts promptly and owes nothing to anybody. He referred to the painful period in 1960 when the U.S.S.R. suddenly took back all its aid and its experts. “But in those years of our greatest difficulty we paid back all our debts to the Soviet Union.” The Premier was not finished with the theme. He recalled how China has always paid quickly and in cash for Australian wheat. He inquired with a broad smile and a gesture of both hands: “Do we still owe you anything?" (Mr. Whitlam shot back with an allusion to the lack of a wheat order from China: “I wish you did.” Mr. Chou laughed. The Foreign Trade Minister smiled faintly.) Chou En-lai wanted us to understand that China is beholden to nobody.
Chinese military strategy likewise enshrines the principle of independence. “People’s war —one of Mao’s central notions—is a formula for a nation standing alone. Not allies but “the people" play the decisive role. The enemy is lured in deep. He is invited to overextend himself. Then he is met by a people’s struggle. By definition it can be mounted only by the inhabitants of the territory which is resisting.
If China had had allies in the 1930s. “people’s war” might never have entered Chinese Communist Party military theory. But she did not. Neither Britain, the United States, Russia, nor yet the League of Nations was prepared to help China stop Japan at a time when Japan could have been stopped. So the Chinese Communist Party—which did the bulk of the lighting in China’s Anti-Japanese War—had no choice but to turn inward to the resourcefulness of the Chinese people. Mao said the soldiers of the Red Armies were “fish” depending entirely on the peasant masses of China, who were “water.”
The same ideas prevailed in the military controversies of the 1960s. This time the threat came not from Japan but from the U.S.A. How to resist a possible attack? Some military professionals took a conventional view. Rely on Russia and its advanced weapons. Go outside China if necessary (perhaps into Vietnam) to stop the enemy before he gets to China.
Mao and Lin Piao took a different view. Rely on nothing else but the Chinese people. Prepare them politically. That is more important than lining up allies and fancy weapons. Wait for the enemy. Lure him in. Go onto the “strategic defensive” at first; then when the enemy gets bogged down, seize the moment to go over to the “counteroffensive.” Get your arms the way the PLA has always got its arms: from the enemy.
Mao and Lin won this debate over how to fight a war. Their theories are complex, and I have done them no justice. But the heart of them is “people’s war” based on self-reliance in order to preserve independence. It is the motto of an army that puts “mind" over “mechanization.” Of an army which knows itself weaker than the enemy at the start of the struggle. An army patient and steady-nerved enough to turn aside at times from confrontation, wait for a mistake by the enemy, then spring back selectively at a moment of its own choosing.
Above all, it is the motto of an army which can switch and turn because it keeps in its hands full independence of action. The Chinese think this way about war and diplomacy because they have always had to act this way. It is a method of coping with weakness. Independence, and the stratagems that fit with it, have often been the only strength the Chinese Communist Party had in the face of a superior foe.
3. Unlike the Russians, the Chinese reject “bloc thinking. ” The point touches both Chinese insistence on independence and the Chinese view of power’s fluidity. One terrible American error about China from the 1930s through the 1960s was the view of the CCP as a mere appendage of Bolshevism. Shrewd men (George Kennan: most of the U.S. diplomats in China) saw from the start that the Sino-Soviet tie was not tight or enduring. Among many reasons for this are the divergent ways of thinking in Moscow and Peking about the relation between Communism and the nation-state. Through the 1960s, the divergence grew. In the two Communist giants’ attitudes toward Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia after his fall in March, 1970, it is displayed in a pure form.
Moscow thinks—Stalin taught it how to—in terms of a Communist bloc. The land of the October Revolution naturally heads the bloc. National sovereignty within the bloc is not total (as Prague recalls). Should one lamb in the flock stray from the proper path of socialism, the shepherd has the right to reach into his life and set him right. It is all-important to Moscow whether a nation is inside or outside the bloc. In Indochina, to choose an instance, only Hanoi really counts to the Russians. Hanoi is (Moscow hopes) part of the bloc. Everything in Soviet-Vietnamese relations follows from that. The rest of Indochina seems to be viewed from the Kremlin mainly by the yardstick of its “Leninist potential.”
The Chinese are altogether more flexible. They reject “bloc thinking.” First, it does not fit in with independence. Second, it tends to go against China’s experience that socialism can only be won from within a nation. Third, Mao has a view of power too volatile to be accommodated by “bloc thinking,”
Mao scandalizes the Russians by asserting that even a bloc has “contradictions.” The Leninist fold may be divided against itself. One of its members may be “chauvinist” and seek “hegemony” over the rest. It comes as no surprise that Peking tosses around the term “superpower.” In no sense is it a Marxist term. It describes not a class reality but a power reality. The Chinese have started no Comintern of their own. It is by no means only Communist Parties which interest them. So we confront a paradox. The Chinese are more rigid about national sovereignty than bloc-thinking allows. Yet they have a more flexible notion of power than bloc-thinking permits.
Today, the key unit of Chinese thinking about strategy in the world is not the bloc but the united front. What is the difference? The bloc is a phalanx of the faithful. The united front is a loose partnership set up for a specific task. The partners do not come together out of agreement on socialism. Partners change as circumstances change. A new target calls for new partners. So in the 1930s when Japan became the chief target, the Chinese Communist Party linked arms with the Kuomintang. which had in recent years been steadily murdering CCP forces. No less suddenly, a power shift may render today’s partner unnecessary for tomorrow’s struggle. He is tossed aside like a used Kleenex. This is the Chinese way of politics. They can be tough as a pine or as bending as a willow. But they simply do not think in terms of blocs.
Why has Peking embraced Sihanouk while Moscow continues to recognize the Lon Nol regime? Here the difference between the two capitals over bloc thinking is illustrated. Chou En-lai spoke a lot of this “extraordinary man” Sihanouk. “A Prince, a Buddhist, a pacifist,”he remarked to us, “has now become a fighter against American imperialism.” It seemed less than vital to the Premier that Sihanouk is not Marxist. Crucial was the Cambodian’s membership in the united front against the U.S.
The Russians are more rigid. They do not trust Sihanouk. and have given him no support (though Kosygin remarked to the Prince when he [Sihanouk] reached Moscow Airport from Paris just after the coup against him: “We will support you to the end”). Sihanouk explained the Soviet attitude to me. “Their chief concern is their particular brand of Communism. One reason they stay in Phnom Penh is to propagandize among young Cambodians for antiMaoist Communism. The same with the East Germans. They have mounted a vast effort to educate Cambodians in revisionism.” Sihanouk was not Moscow’s kind of socialist, so they dropped him.
The Chinese were more supple. Their view of the flux of power in Indochina is not bound in a straitjacket of ideology. The Chinese never use the term “Maoism.” They never refer—except in embarrassed caricature—to “Maoists” outside China. Sihanouk made this point at length. It is plain to any visitor to China or reader of China’s press. Peking refers a lot to foreign “friends of China,” but never to foreign “Maoists.”
Here they have stepped out of Communist tradition. Moscow is proud to point to “Leninists” in foreign lands. But the Chinese—I feel—do not really believe in “international ideology.” Sihanouk is weighed on another scale entirely. He is part of the united front against Washington. He is a welcome barrier to any ambitions Hanoi may cherish for a Cambodia made in Vietnam’s image. These are notions within reach of Lenin but within even closer reach of the ancient strategist Sun Tzu.
James Reston wondered why Chou En-lai, when speaking of Soviet policies toward China, used the word “lassoo.” He got no answer. A story around Peking during July gives it. Mr. Chou himself recounted the story to a French visitor. In a herd of Mongolian horses, when the leader bolts, the herdsman has but one recourse. He must lassoo the leading horse. Otherwise he will lose his herd forever. The Premier likened the herdsman to the Soviet Union. It fears for its herd. China has bolted away, and many “horses” go with her. Moscow sees only one recourse. It tries to lassoo China. Chou En-lai laughed for his French visitor and quipped: “But the Chinese horse is still bolting!” China will not be lassooed. And she continues to disrupt the tidy “herd.” which is Russia’s best vision of the world of nations.
4. The Chinese have not abandoned their Communist theory, but Realpolitik is built into the very heart of Chinese Communist theory. I sense the reader over my shoulder with a good question. Am I trying to suggest the Chinese leaders are Bismarckian pragmatists? No. they are Communists. They believe capitalism is in decline, that the world will one day be socialist. They take their theory of the world as seriously as any government does. Cadres in China believe as much in the Thought of Mao as lawyers in the United States believe in the American Constitution. But what is often missed is that Mao’s theory is no armchair speculation. It is distilled from practice. “If you want to know the taste of a pear,” wrote Mao in On Practice, “you must change the pear by eating it yourself. ... All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.”
And what has the Chinese experience been? It consists among other things of two broad yet vital ingredients: Chinese cultural history, and China’s collapse before the impact of the West after 1840. From both sources an apparent pragmatism has entered Chinese Communism. Fifty years in the land of Confucius has stripped Marxism in China of the vaporous clouds of German metaphysics. As for 100 years of pressure from superior outside forces, it has mercilessly confronted China with the fact of her own weakness. She has had to learn how to “pit one against ten” and still win. This has led her to stitch many a practical patch on the splendid but unserviceable garment of Marxism.
Consider the two basic Maoist ideas of “contradiction” and “united front.” Mao’s method of analysis is, first, to identify the principal contradiction in a situation. After 1937 it was between China and Japan. Today it is between the revolutionary peoples of the world and U.S. imperialism. Then Mao builds a united front against the target. You “unite with all whom you can unite with.”We see that pure power considerations are intrinsic to united-front thinking. Get with you whomever you can get! After 1937 Mao was even prepared to go into a united front with Chiang Kai-shek.
But there comes a fresh stage. You go over to the offensive. Press for your goals in sharper form. Mao has a theory for this transition. Each contradiction, he submits, has a principal aspect (the stronger side) and a nonprincipal aspect (the weaker side).
When do the scales tip? When does the nonprincipal aspect of a contradiction turn into the principal aspect? Mao puts it simply. When the “overall balance of forces” alters. When we become stronger than the enemy. Then one can be more choosy about allies, no longer having to link up with just anyone.
Again, power factors are found at the heart of Chinese strategy. “Contradiction” and “united front" are sacred vessels in the church of Chinese Communist theory. But the way they work is prosaic. The oil in the vessels is no holier than that in any other vessels of political theory. It is power. Considerations of power are not exactly in tension with considerations of ideology. They are the operative means of getting to the ideology’s goals.
So it is not “un-Maoist” (whatever else it may be) for China to ally with Pakistan. Pakistan is an ideal member of the united front that Peking maintains against several adversaries. It is neither “un-Maoist” nor inconsistent to let Britain keep Hong Kong while loudly protesting U.S. occupation of Taiwan. The United States, not Britain, is China’s main target. Certainly Peking wants Hong Kong back. But there is no hurry. Toothless Britain presents small challenge to the emerging future Mao sees over history’s horizon. Meanwhile, letting Hong Kong stay in British hands brings Peking some $600 million a year in foreign currency.
Taiwan is another kettle offish. Peking makes it a number-one issue, not just because it wants Taiwan back, but because the issue of Taiwan has involved a U.S. military challenge to China. To be sure, national emotions stir over Taiwan, But that does not explain Peking’s stress upon it. The Chinese are alwavs patient when there is no reason to be impatient. It was only when the United States installed itself on the island that Peking elevated the Taiwan issue to top priority.
So China’s policies toward these two lost bits of her territory—Hong Kong and Taiwan—are not a case of random ad hoc pragmatism. The methods bend like a bamboo. Transcending methods, however, fixed and firm as a pine, is the Chinese Communist vision of tomorrow’s world and China’s role in it.
I am not discounting ideology or Peking’s belief in its ideology. The issue is more oblique. How does ideology sway day-to-day practice? And here one more point arises. Realpolitik is not a science like physics. Its practice rests on how you first see the conditions around you. The perceptions of the crudest pragmatist are filtered through a honeycomb of prejudices. It is as Marxists that the Chinese leaders weigh and reason about international affairs.
They study a situation. What they see is not separable from the Marxist spectacles through which they peer. Take the Ceylon rebellion of 1971. Mr. Y told me why Peking did not support the rebels. “You see, there were two things wrong with them.” He sounded like a mechanic accounting for a stalled motor. “They put the gun above the party. And they did not practice the mass line.” Mr. Y summed them up as “Guevarist.”
Now, is this really why Peking would not back the Ceylonese rebels? China’s position has two inseparable roots. Peking felt the rebels would lose. That was a pragmatic reason for keeping clear of them. But the reasons which convinced Peking the rebels would lose were ideological. As Mr. Y detailed, the youthful Ceylonese had fallen into two errors which Peking believes fundamental.
The “reality” which the exponent of Realpolitik reveres cannot be measured by thermometer or scale. What you see is not unaffected by what you believe. Mao thought the Ceylon rebels were wrong—and calculated accordingly. Che Guevara might have thought them correct—and calculated accordingly.
To sum up. The Chinese are certainly among the Realists of history, not the Zealots or the Romantics. Yet their realism is at once an aspect and an application of their (China-tested) Communist convictions. The Chinese are not Communists with the left hand and Bismarckians with the right. To an extent remarkable for men of ideology, they see the world with a single eye.
Toward the U.S.A., China has a mainly negative aim: to be free of the military harness that the United States has thrown around East Asia since the Korean War. China wants to consolidate its revolution. The only way America can help, in China’s view, is by not interfering. The Chinese know they are still weak by the standards of the superpowers. yet they know also that they are rising. They consider that time is on their side.
There are strong lines of continuity with the past in these altitudes. Not so much with the Confucian past of the dynasties. Rather with the anticolonial experience of the last century. Americans may be shocked by the suggestion, but the Chinese see post1945 U.S.A. as a direct successor to the colonial powers which bullied and ravaged Asia. The period from the Opium Wars until the present is a seamless stretch of history to Peking. First, because throughout it. China has faced superior material force on its doorstep. Second, because the Chinese mind has felt frustration, and often humiliation, when looking during this period at the West. The West has threatened China; yet the West is more advanced than China. It is a painful mixture for the patriotic Chinese mind. To keep the West at hay and to catch up with the West have both been among China’s concerns.
One reason that Communism wins wide allegiance in China is that it helps China achieve both these aims. It gives China the unity and the ideology to be anti-Western. And it C a method of modernization. But Mr. Nixon has also made a contribution to easing the first concern. He called a halt to American expansion in East Asia, and now actually reverses the process. This is what Peking has always wanted. The Democratic Administrations saw the Chinese question too much as a mere problem of communication. They offered Peking exchanges of doctors, seeds, journalists, and other good things of life. But at the same time they kept on building up the military harness around China’s throat. Peking scoffed at Johnson’s honeyed offers, and deeply feared his imperialistic actions. But Nixon is delivering the goods. Month by month, he draws back more and more ground troops from China’s doorstep.
With their long view of history, the Chinese sit back and talk about this historic shift with a philosopher’s detachment. It was inevitable, they say, that the U.S. should have found its East Asian adventures counterproductive. China did not have to wait all that long to see it happen. America’s burst of global imperialism was, by Chinese standards, an affair of a single evening. It only ran from the quivering sense of power of 1945, until the lesson of the powerlessness of power in Vietnam.
When the Australians met Chou En-lai, Mr. Whitlam started to rake over the embers of Vietnam, saying how misguided the United States had been, what a tragedy the war was. But the seventy-three-year-old Premier cut him off. With a large gesture, he said grandly: “What is past is past.” and went on to chew at the bone of Japanese militarism. Mr. Chou feels able now to look beyond the twenty-five-year spasm of American expansionism in Asia. Dozens of talks that I had in China ran along the same lines.
Some Chinese dwell much on internal upheavals in the U.S. “We notice the obsession with sex.” one official remarked. “It is the sign of a crumbling order. The late Ming period was the same. Sex was everywhere. Soon the dynasty collapsed.” But what occurs within the U.S. is minor to the Chinese. It is what the U.S. does in Asia that concerns them.
Of course, as China grows in power, her ambitions will increase. She will go. when she is able to, from “strategic defense” to “counteroffensive.” China will not always be in a condition of relative weakness. She will not forever be in the mental situation of coping with a painful past. Positive goals wall be asserted. Having “stood up” (Mao’s phrase). China is likely to “stretch out.”
The Nixon visit to Peking begins a dialogue that results from a shift in the balance of forces in East Asia. The United States is adjusting its role; Peking welcomes the adjustment. The tough bilateral issue is Taiwan (it is interesting—and not unpleasant in Peking’s ears that Henry Kissinger considers Vietnam essentially a problem of the past, and Taiwan the next Asian problem). If Taiwan gets settled the way is wideopen for Washington and Peking to cooperate in whatever ways the flux of world power may at any point intimate. The conflict of interest between the U.S.A. and China is not extensive. (That between Japan and China is greater, and so is that between Russia and China.) Nixon and Mao are not rigid men. and they look out today on a strikingly fluid world.
One day in Peking I met a jade carver at a handicrafts factory. He was a shrewd, humorous old man who has practiced his art for forty years. I watched his nimble fingers and darting eyes. He was carying fruit and vegetables. Struck by the range of colors, I asked if they were natural. “Yes, the jade has many different colors.” the craftsman replied. Then he explained to me an uncertainty about carving vegetables in jade. “I cannot tell, when I start, what color the jade is inside.” He showed me a jade piece, cut at an angle; the edge was green and the middle red. “So I cannot be sure, at the start, what vegetable I will end up carving from the piece of jade. Take the piece I am working on now. If the inside is red, I will make tomatoes. If it is green, I will make cucumbers.”
So it may be with the relationship Nixon and Mao are carving out. The lump of jade is the international context of the Sino-American dialogue. Who knows whether it will turn out “red” or “green”; whether Nixon and Mao will make “tomatoes” or “cucumbers”? The Chinese leaders may be as uncertain as the jade carver about what product (beyond a Taiwan settlement) will appear. They are so worried about Russia and Japan that they may want to go far down the road of detente with the U.S. But how far does Nixon want to go?