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Why Henry Kissinger Secretly Went to China

Updated on March 2, 2014

Secret meetings between Kissinger, Chou Enlai and Mao Tse-tung

Henry Kissinger was then the national security adviser of Pres. Richard Nixon. Mao Tse-tung was then chairman of People’s Republic of China or China. Chou Enlai was the premier of China.

Kissinger met with Mao five times, before and after the rapprochement treaty between the USA and China signed in 1972.

China-US relationship

The love-hate relationship between China and USA began in 1900s when the USA was eyeing China as a great market. USA annexed the Philippines as part of its empire for use as jumping board to China. Then it dangled the Open Door policy to 8 western countries lapping up China so that it could come in. Great Britain took Hong Kong; Portugal took Macao; Germany took Shandong; Russia took Manchuria.

China entered World War I on the side of the Allies against Germany in the hope that the Unequal Treaties on China would be abrogated and Chinese territory taken by western countries be returned. At the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that ended WWI, China was disappointed. Shandong was given to Japan; western influences on weakened China were not stopped.

A movement, May 4th movement, sparked nationalism to redeem China from the humiliation it was suffering from western invaders. The movement grew then forked into the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek favoring feudal China, and Mao Tse-tung who leaned toward the Marxism-Leninism ideology. The United States supported Chiang not only ideologically but also with military personnel of 153,000 (including 53,000 marines) arms and warplanes. A civil war between Mao forces and Chiang forces (with American support) ensued. The Americans provided military advisers to Chiang: Gen. Joseph Stilwell, Major General Albert Wedemeyer and Gen. George C. Marshall, no less, who was former chief of staff of the US armed forces in WWII. Pres. Truman wanted Gen. Stilwell as commander of Chiang's forces; however, Chiang dilly-dallied the appointment. Gen. Marshall placed the blame on Chiang for his failure.

Mao forces drove Chiang forces (including the American support) to the island of Formosa, now called Taiwan. in 1949 Mao declared: "We have stood."

During the Korean war in 1950-53, Mao’s China and the USSR were still allies. China supported the North Koreans with ground forces; the USSR contributed little on troops. In 1959, the USSR-China alliance broke up.

Meanwhile the Cold War raged from 1945 up until 1990 when the USSR imploded. The shooting proxy war started in Korea in 1950.

All the time when USA supported Chiang, up to the Korean war when China supported North Korea, China did not declare war on the USA. During the Chinese civil war, Mao did not want to declare war on USA because that would have turned the war into an international war to the disadvantage of his forces. The USA posed a neutral stance between Chiang and Mao trying to broker peace between the two.

USA did not declare war on China during the Korean war either. That would be virtually declaring war on USSR because the two were still allies. During a conference in Midway Island between Pres. Harry Truman of the USA and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then commander of Southwest Pacific theater and commander of the United Nations army supporting South Korea, Truman asked the opinion of MacArthur about the likelihood that USSR might declare war on USA. MacArthur replied that declaration of war was farfetched (Kolko, J. and G. Kolko. The Limits of Power 1972).

In short, China and USA had tangled in wars before. After the Chinese revolution, Mao closed China to the world. It could live without the USA. In fact, China was the Middle Kingdom when Britishers had not yet settled in North America to found the 13 colonies that eventually established the USA. Then China was opened to the world. USA, according to the design of international businessmen, must penetrate the China market.

In geopolitics, if USA could not rule China through a dummy like Chiang, they might as well co-optate with it. John Hay, former Secretary of State and architect of the Open Door policy said in September 1899: "As goes China, so goes the world." In a speech, Senator Albert J. Beveridge said in January 1900: "The power that rules the Pacific... is the power that rules the world" (Hunt, F. The Untold Story of Douglas MacArthur. 1954:39).:

Unlikely mission

One morning, Pres. Nixon saw a note on his table in the White House. It exhorted him to go to China. That note was unsigned but Nixon knew its origin.

On his own, Nixon had no motivation to go to China. He might have been adamant. The reason was that he was anti-communist. How could he make friends with Mao, the chairman of the Communist Party of China? Nixon was a prosecutor of alleged communists in the administration of Pres. Truman. He was involved in the investigation and eventual incarceration of Alger Hiss, a former top State Department official under Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hiss was close to FDR that he was included in the US delegation in the Teheran conference between the Big Three that decided the fate of the world after WWII. The Big Three were FD Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain.and Joseph Stalin, premier of USSR.

The celebrated Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers (who was senior editor at Time magazine) divulged that Alger Hiss was a fellow traveler who passed state documents on to him. Hiss denied it and sued Chambers for libel. Chambers produced additional evidence that prompted then US representative Nixon to subpoena the materials, the "pumpkin papers." Hiss was convicted not for spying but for perjury, for denying that he passed state documents on to Chambers. However, the typewriter that was used to link Hiss to the pumpkin papers was reportedly tampered with. Other circumstantial evidence was that Hiss accompanied FDR in the Teheran conference then went to USSR afterwards. However, Hiss was not caught red-handed. He was pinpointed by deduction. Hiss was jailed for two years. All the while, Hiss, a lawyer, denied the spying charge.

When the USSR had collapsed, Hiss wrote the director of the archives of intelligence of Soviet Union and asked him to publicly divulge the true record. The director issued a statement saying that there is no record of Hiss having been a Soviet spy (Internet. May 3,1013).

Power camps

Alger Hiss might have been a victim or a participant in the rivalry of two power camps in the USA. One is called the trilateralist, another is the Birch Tree Society (BTS). Trilteralism was once an issue in a presidential election. BTS has listed Henry Luce, publisher of Time magazine, as a trilateralist, together with Cyrus Vance who became Secretary of State under Pres. Gerald Ford. In his first meeting with Mao, Mao asked him if he was a trilateralist which Vance affirmed. Chinese top officials seemed to have kept abreast of the rival camps of power in the USA.

One could judge the intensity of the rivalry between these two power camps. A passenger jumbo jet was exploded by a ballistic missile over North Korea sometime ago killing all passengers. Immediately the blame for the military attack on such a civilian passenger plane was placed on North Korea Apparently that was the obvious reason why the plane had to be downed over North Korea - a suspect that is convicted without trial. This country vehemently denied involvement. Through the ruse, one could see the real target of the attack. Among its passengers was the president of Birch Tree Society. Former president Jimmy Carter was sent over to mollify the North Koreans. .


At that time, Henry Kissinger was already Nixon's national security adviser who was bypassing the Secretary of State in negotiating with other nations. Stories in media had it that Nixon had a chance meeting in a restaurant with Kissinger who was in the company of the wife of Henry Luce. Reportedly Nixon was impressed with the wit of Kissinger that he took him to the White House! Kissinger was a protégé of Nelson Rockefeller.

Nelson Rockefeller was vice president of USA; he was appointed in place of former vice president Spiro Agnew who resigned over the issue of tax evasion. Nelson was a candidate for the vice presidency under consideration by the US congress. The staff of Nelson secretly prepared questions that were stuffed in an envelop and secretly dropped in a mail box. The questions so prepared were among the questions asked of Nelson by senators conducting the hearing (Persico, J. Nelson Rockefeller).

[Persico was among several speech writers of Nelson Rockefeller who needed a speech writer badly. Nelson was afflicted with dyslexia who could hardly compose in writing one correct sentence, according to Persico.]

Nelson, together with his brother David Rockefeller, was a prime mover of international businessmen. At the height of the powers of Nikita Khrushchev as premier of USSR, David went for a vacation in Russia. Two weeks after David had left Russia, Khrushchev was ousted from power.

Ping pong diplomacy

Kissinger brokered the ping pong diplomacy between China and USA. It started with a feeler delivered by a high official of Pakistan who visited China (Burr. W, Editor. The Kissinger Transcripts. 1999). In his shuttle diplomacy, Kissinger would sneak in secret trips to China from an airport in Thailand dressed in borrowed tight shirts. One foreign correspondent recognized him as he boarded his plane to China.

Kissinger was in his 50s; Mao was in his 80s and already afflicted with heart disease owing to his smoking cigars. His meeting with Nixon would affirm the equality in status of China among nations in the world. Besides, China was not afraid of USA; of USSR either because it had fought border wars with USSR before. On top of that, he had a vision to modernize China. Earlier on, Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher and mathematician who was a visiting professor in China, remarked that China could adopt capitalist ideas and still remain intact in its philosophies and culture (Russell, B. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. vols, I and II). Deng Xiao Ping, after Mao, oversaw the modernization of China.

Nixon visited China in 1972 and signed with Mao the rapprochement treaty. Back home at the USA, there was a celebration in the White House over the feat of having bridged over with China. Nixon showed discomfort at being congratulated as the architect of the rapprochement, according to Kissinger in his memoir as national security adviser.

(I have other Hubs on the topic of USA and China, for example, “China will catch up with USA by way of the economy,” A history of the development of the Korea problem,” “Why South Korea and USA will not fire the first shot in the present Korea crisis.”)


Submit a Comment

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Philippines

    pramod gokhale,

    The treaty could have ended the Cold War. Hopefully, more peace will come out of their alliance.

  • pramodgokhale profile image


    5 years ago from Pune( India)


    It was a historic event and USA and China signed a treaty for their

    national interests and new economic and political relations for mutual benefit .

    pramod gokhale

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Philippines

    Thanks for the added information on Kissinger getting richer. The signs that USSR was in the brink of implosion were already becoming clear. The wheat exportation by USA to USSR even when the Cold War was raging showed that there could be trade with a socialist country without conquering it or having a dummy within.

  • lions44 profile image

    CJ Kelly 

    5 years ago from Auburn, WA

    Nixon and Kissinger's primary goal in approaching China was to open up another front in the Cold War with the Soviets. They knew China and the Soviets had been at odds for over a decade, so the White House saw an opportunity. That led to more arms reduction talks and another treaty. It was a brilliant strategy. Granted, Kissinger has become a rich man off trade with China through his company, Kissinger and Associates.

  • gkerosi profile image

    Geoffrey Kerosi 

    5 years ago from Nairobi

    It is true that official history is quite misleading. People always manipulate facts so that that they are not blamed for wrong doings in our society. We have to investigate in order to know the real truth. Thank you.

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Philippines


    Official history is deceiving. If we rummage through tidbits we may find true history.

    Of course, there is bias in writing history. But it is better to admit one's bias than to pretend absolute objectivity, as Bertrand Russell had written in his book "Wisdom of the West." The tests are verifiability and fidelity to events.

    Thanks for the kind words.

  • gkerosi profile image

    Geoffrey Kerosi 

    5 years ago from Nairobi

    Great article on history.


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