History Lessons from Three U.S. Misjudgments of the Chinese Communist Party (14)

(3) Nixon’s Treachery and Betrayal of Anti-Communist Allies

As mentioned earlier, the U.S. misjudged the CCP’s motives to a certain extent, underestimating both the CCP’s extreme concern for its own security and ignoring the CCP’s deep desire for contact with the U.S., especially the U.S. top brass. As a result, what could have been a reciprocal and mutually beneficial thaw turned into a costly deal in which the U.S. responded to the CCP’s demands, or even gave it what it did not ask for. It is said that pie does not fall from the sky, but the CCP not only got it on the Taiwan issue, but it was also surprisingly big.

When Nixon developed relations with the CCP, Taiwan should not have been a problem because from the U.S. perspective, confronting the CCP’s existence did not require denying the reality of Taiwan. If it was in the national interest of the United States to normalize relations with the CCP, how much more so to maintain national relations with the ROC? The Nixon Doctrine should not and need not be implemented at the expense of the ROC. It was the Chinese Communist Party that forced the United States to choose between the two, and Nixon actually accepted and complied, which is the essence of what made Taiwan a problem.

For their part, the CCP did not have a feel for the U.S. position and bottom line on the Taiwan issue, despite having prior intelligence on the U.S. intention to unfreeze the rapprochement through the communist spy Kim Woo-woo, who had been undercover in the CIA for years. The CCP certainly wanted to withdraw troops, abrogate treaties, and establish diplomatic relations in one step, but it also knew that was unrealistic. Mao made it clear to Snow: “If Nixon is willing to come, I am willing to talk with him, either to make it or not to make it, to quarrel or not to quarrel, to talk as a traveler or to talk as a president. In short, anything. I don’t see that I will quarrel with him.” [37] The reason for Mao’s rather softened attitude was that the CCP was begging the United States at the Time.

Since the CCP welcomed Nixon’s visit unconditionally, it did not expect both sides to agree on any major issues. Kissinger himself had received reports that Zhou Enlai, in a meeting with a French delegation, said that China would never accept two Chinas, but could “coexist with this de facto situation”. [38] In fact, the Chinese Communists were prepared for the Taiwan issue to be a non-starter because they did not intend to let it get in the way of their grand strategy of uniting the United States with the Soviet Union.

Perhaps because the CCP did not expect the United States to easily abandon its ROC ally, Zhou Enlai, in several oral and written replies to the United States, only proposed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Taiwan and did not ask the United States to recognize Taiwan as belonging to the CCP, as he had done in the past. For example, in a personal letter to Nixon dated May 29, 1971, Zhou Enlai wrote: “Chairman Mao Zedong expresses his welcome to President Nixon’s visit and looks forward to the day when he can have a direct conversation with His Excellency and freely raise the main issues of their respective concerns. It goes without saying that the key issue between China and the United States, namely, the question of the concrete means of withdrawing all U.S. armed forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait area, must first be resolved.” [39] Given the importance of the matter, it is believed that this letter was sent only after Mao Zedong himself had read it and approved it. It is evident that Mao and Zhou were restrained and did not have high expectations on the Taiwan issue, as the initiative was entirely in the hands of the United States.

The Republic of China opposed U.S. recognition of the CCP, but would not oppose U.S. double recognition based on facts. Chiang showed pragmatism in admitting the Chinese Communist Party to the United Nations, rather than absolute “Chinese and traitors don’t get along”. Initially, Chiang agreed to co-exist with the Chinese Communist Party in the UN while retaining a seat on the Security Council. Later, after the seats in the Security Council were inevitably taken by the Chinese Communist Party, he acquiesced to the Republic of China’s presence in the UN only as a general member. Later, he even tolerated the new Saudi proposal of “one China, one Taiwan” (i.e., retaining the ROC’s seat in the UN until the people of Taiwan decide under the auspices of the UN whether to become independent or form a federation with the PRC). 40]

In short, if Nixon had really said, as he did when announcing his visit to Beijing, that the United States would not seek relations with Communist China at the expense of old friends, especially if the Republic of China showed pragmatism, it would have been possible to model its relations with Communist China on the two-German and two-Korean models. Secretary of State Rogers, for one, advised Nixon that the United States should regard the PRC and the ROC as the legitimate governments (dejure government) of their respective jurisdictions and maintain national relations and concordant defense treaties with the latter while seeking greater engagement with the former. [41] If the United States adheres to its principles, the CCP, however reluctantly, will have to face the reality of two Chinas living side by side. After all, from the CCP’s point of view, a visit by the U.S. president and efforts to improve relations between the two countries would have been two pieces of swan meat that a toad could not even dream of eating.

However, Nixon was so determined to make amends with the CCP that he agreed with the CCP that the Taiwan issue was the main obstacle to the normalization of relations between the two countries, saw Taiwan as a burden, and submitted his name to the CCP by selling out Taiwan. He knew very well that the mainstream public opinion in the United States at that time was still anti-communist, and there was no market in Congress or among the people for openly betraying anti-communist allies. Therefore, he adopted a black-box approach, discussing all plans and actions related to rapprochement with the CCP with Kissinger alone, and even Secretary of State Rogers and Assistant Secretary Greene were kept in the dark. 42]

The declassified documents show that Nixon did not have a comprehensive strategic plan to deal with the Taiwan issue, and Kissinger lacked a well-thought-out and effective negotiation strategy. Otherwise, the role and value of the Republic of China at the center of the first island chain would have been even more critical, and the U.S. presence in Taiwan should at least not have been weakened, given the inevitable expansion of communist power as a result of the U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam. The United States could also take advantage of the Chinese Communist Party’s wait-and-see attitude on the Taiwan issue to take the initiative in negotiations and force the Communist Party to make concessions to maximize the interests of the United States and the free world. Sadly, Nixon was so impatient and carried away with his own approach to bringing in the Communists that his only concern was to exhort Kissinger to negotiate “without looking like he was selling out Taiwan.” [43]