What Nixon Must Do to Make Friends in Peking

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon; drawing by David Levine

Summit meetings in the past between an American President and a communist leader have never resolved any existing problems, but they have created some basis of communication and understanding which have helped to prevent conflict. So too the meeting between President Nixon and Chou En-lai is unlikely to bring peace to Indochina or, at one stroke, dispose of Taiwan’s future. However, if it is to lead to better relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, it must go far beyond the “exchanges of view” of Geneva, 1955, and Glassboro, 1967. It must mark concrete concessions by both sides on the most fundamental clash of interests, US relations with Chiang Kai-shek and the status of Taiwan.1

Walter P. McConaughy, the present US Ambassador to the Republic of China, testified in 1969 that “any US military presence or military-related activity on Taiwan is viewed by the Chinese Communists with especial hostility, since Peking considers such activity on Taiwan as interference in its internal affairs.”2 This statement conceals a double-truth. First, we did interfere in China’s internal affairs when, in June, 1950, we interposed the US Seventh Fleet between the two sides of a civil war. And we have been intervening ever since, having supplied $2.5 billion in military assistance to one side, the Nationalists, while making a treaty commitment to defend them from attack by the other side, the Communists.

But even more direct and threatening an interference in China’s internal affairs, at least as perceived by Peking, has been what Ambassador McConaughy elliptically referred to as our “military-related activity.” In conjunction with the Chinese Nationalists we have sponsored and supported a wide range of espionage, sabotage, and guerrilla activities on the mainland. Those activities created crises in the Taiwan Strait in 1954 and 1958 and, as we shall see, furthered a revolt in Tibet in 1959. Covert operations from Taiwan heightened Chinese alarm over Indian advances on the Tibetan frontier in 1962, culminating in the Sino-Indian war that fall.

These crises produced Chinese Communist military reactions which, in turn, have been used to justify a vast network of US military bases, alliances, and military assistance programs throughout Asia, ostensibly to contain the threat of Chinese Communist aggression.

Such developments bear scrutiny by the American people and, thanks to the “Pentagon Papers,” partial documentation can now prove what journalists could previously only allege. In the past, secrecy has served primarily to conceal the facts from Americans: the details have long been known in Peking. If, however, Americans are to understand Peking’s demand that we “withdraw all US bases and military personnel from Taiwan,” the facts about the concrete provocations that underlie this demand must be known. Only if we cease all hostile operations involving the Chinese Nationalists, whether from Taiwan and the offshore islands or elsewhere in Asia, can there be real hope that President Nixon’s plan…

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