In a 1983 interview with Frank Gannon, his White House Special Assistant who helped organize the researching and writing of Nixon’s memoir RN, the former president described how his long experience and knowledge of Asia led to his decision to forge a new China policy during his presidency, and to unveiling the radical idea in his article for Foreign Affairs.
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In his 1978 book With Nixon, Ray Price described how, within the space of a few weeks,
he met Richard Nixon, joined the campaign team, and traveled with Nixon through Asia.
“On each leg of the trip I gave him whatever research materials I had brought along on the country we were about to visit–on its politics, its economy, its current problems –but there was a little real need for these. He know the countries, knew the problems, and in most cases he already knew the leaders he was going to meet. He was, however, always keenly interested in whatever scraps of information or impression I might have picked up in the countries we had already visited, fitting them into his own impressions.”
“In each capital, after his meetings with the national leaders, he made a point of giving the U.S. ambassador a full debriefing on what had been talked about, what he had learned, what attitudes the leaders had expressed. And each night, on the IBM portable dictating machine that he carried, he dictated extensive notes on what he had learned.”
“It was interesting to watch as Nixon dealt with the various leaders. This was my first experience with meetings at this level. There was always mutual deference, and great courtesy, but except in the setting of a lunch or a dinner there was very little small talk. He always showed a keen interest (genuine, not feigned) in the progress of Asia generally and of the host country specifically.”
“Sometimes directly, sometimes by diplomatic indirection, he tried to size up the reactions of the various leaders to the Chinese and Soviet threats.”
“Throughout the trip, Nixon was probing for new ideas, and also sizing people up–American as well as foreign.”
Ray Price describes the Origin of "Asia After Viet Nam"
After a dinner Ray Price arranged for newspaper and magazine editors to meet Nixon, the Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs suggested that Nixon should write something for the magazine.
The “Wilderness Years” — 1962-1968
During his “Wilderness Years,” as a private citizen holding no political office (1962 1968),
Richard Nixon traveled extensively abroad, observing conditions, and talking with leaders,
experts, and ordinary citizens.
He noticed that many people he visited were talking about the emerging importance of China
on the world stage, and the idea – unimaginable and almost unthinkable at the time –
that the United States should have some kind of relations with that isolated Communist giant.
Among the most influential with him were French President Charles de Gaulle
and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Nixon's Memo to Ray Price
Scroll down to read the complete 17 page memo from Nixon to Price on the Foreign Affairs article:
Most of the 17 page memo dealt with substance, and the ideas that Nixon wanted to make and develop in his Foreign Affairs article.
Scroll down to see (in bold) the points Nixon raised in his memo to Ray Price, followed by the text of the article as it was published in Foreign Affairs. (The numbers refer to the page of the Nixon memo and the page of “Asia After Viet Nam” as published in Foreign Affairs.)
Finally, a specific discussion of the four Asian Giants. Here I would add a brief but necessary section on India which I will dictate some thoughts on later in this memorandum. This would be followed by Japan, China and finally the role of the United States. (pg.3)
Any discussion of Asia’s future must ultimately focus on the respective roles of the four giants: India, the world’s most populous non-communist nation; Japan, Asia’s principal industrial and economic power; China, the world’s most populous nation and Asia’s most immediate threat; and the United States, the greatest pacific power. (pg.119)
Regardless of what one may think of the now unfashionable domino theory, it can be stated categorically that had it not been for Vietnam, non communist Asia would be very different from what is it today. (Pg.4)
Whatever one may think of the “domino” theory, it is beyond question that without the American commitment in Viet Nam Asia would be a far different place today. (pg.111)
The American commitment of ground troops and airpower was tangible proof that communism, because of the immense potential power of communist China, was not necessarily the wave of the future in Asia and that non-communist government might have a chance to survive. (Pg.5)
The U.S. presence has provided tangible and highly visible proof that communism is not necessarily the wave of Asia’s future. (pg.111)
As indicated above, the theme that Asia has been the focal point of three wars in the last thirty years in which the United States has been involved, plus the fact United States is a Pacific Power, should be put into context. In that connection, it might be said that in view of the great leap forward in transportation and communication, the United States today is closer to Asia than it was to Western Europe before World War II. (pg.7)
The fact that the United States has now fought three Asian wars in the space of a generation is firmly but truly symbolic of the deepening involvement of the United States in what happen on the other side of the Pacific-which modern transportation and communications have brought closer to us today than Europe was in the years immediately preceding World War II. (pg.112)
With Regard to Japan, it can be said that twenty years ago it was unthinkable that Japan would acquire a non-nuclear military capability. Even five years ago, while some Japanese though about it, they would not talk about it. (pg.13)
Twenty years ago it was considered unthinkable that Japan should acquire even a conventional military capability. Five years ago, while some Japanese thought about it, they did not talk about it. (Pg.120-121)
Cases in Point (Continued)
In the section on why the United States would be most reluctant to take on another Vietnam (and incidentally I thought this was a brilliant piece of analysis) it might be useful to point out that this attitude exist not only with regard to Asia but what regard to Latin American and Africa as well. (pg.10)
If another friendly country should be faced with an externally supported communist insurrection-whether in Asia, or in Africa or even Latin America- there is series question whether the American public or the American Congress would now support a unilateral American intervention, even at the request of the host government. (pg.114)
In other words, very briefly, there might be developed the thought that not only in Asia but Latin American as well as in Africa, indigenous collective security agreements must go forward and that the role of the United States as the international policeman- always coming to the aid of governments threatened by communist subversion- in the future will be seriously limited. Incidentally, I think this theme could be another potential lead in the article which would be pulled out by sophisticated readers. (Pg.10)
But other nations must recognize that the role of the United States as world policeman is likely to be limited in the future. To ensure that a U.S. response will be forthcoming if needed, machinery must be created that is capable of meeting two conditions: (a)collective effort by that nations of the region to contain the threat by themselves; and, if that efforts fails, (b) a collective request to the United States for assistance. (pg.114)
I think I might be well to make the point directly that while the Americans like out form of government, we must recognize that it may not be the best form of government for people in Africa or Asia and Latin American with entirely different backgrounds. I think there has been far too much effort of the part of the U.S. opinion makers to judge the governments of virtually all developing countries-judge whether they meet the standards of Western style democracies. (Pg.12)
Not all the governments of non-communist Asia fit the Western ideal of parliamentary democracy-far from it. But Americans must recognize that a highly sophisticated, highly advanced political system, which required many centuries to develop in the West, may not be best for other nations which have far different traditions and are still in an earlier stage of development. (pg.117)
I think the Chinese section may prove to be the most important and I will be working on it extensively next week. But some preliminary thoughts might well be stated now. In the last third of this century, the major threat to peace in the world will be the Chinese communists. In three to five years they will have significant nuclear capability and will be outside the non-proliferation treaty-able to scatter these weapons to liberation forces around the world. (Pg.15)
During the next decade the West faces two prospects which, together, could create a crisis of the first order: (1) that the Soviets may reach nuclear parity with the United States; and (2) that China, within three to five years, will have a significant deliverable nuclear capability-and that this same China will be outside any nonproliferation treaty that might be signed, free, if it chooses, to scatter its weapons among “liberation” forces anywhere in the world. (pg.122)
Non-communist Asia, like non-communist Europe, must continue to be strengthened economically and eventually, militarily, so that the Chinese will recognize that this also is a dead end street for them. It is here of course, that Japan must play their major role. China will change when there interests will better be served by turning their immense energies inward rather than trying to expand outward. (pg.16)
Only as the nations of non-communist Asia become so strong-economically, politically, and militarily-that they no longer furnish tempting targets for Chinese aggression, will the leaders of Peking be persuaded to turn their energies inward rather than outward. And that will be the time when the dialogue with mainland China can begin. (pg.123)
The whole thrust of this section on China should be that I am taking a hard line at the present but in the long range that I recognize the absolute necessity of a dialogue with China and that I reject completely the idea of the Soviet-U.S. alliance which would alienate China forever. (pg.17)
For the short run, then, this means a policy of firm restraint, of no reward, of a creative counter pressure designed to persuade Peking that its interests can be served only be accepting the basic rules of international civility. For the long run, it means pulling China back into the world community-but as a great and progressing nation, not as the epicenter of world revolution. (pg.123) Others argue that we should seek an anti-Chinese alliance with European powers, even including the Soviet Union. Quite apart from the obvious problems involved in Soviet participation, such a course would inevitably carry connotations of Europe V. Asia, white vs. non-white, which could have catastrophic repercussions throughout the rest of the non-white world in general and Asia in particular. (pg.122)
Hidden In Plain Sight
In Nixon’s 17 page memo (particularly on pages 15-17), he described, in greater detail than would appear in the Foreign Affairs article, what would become his approach to China when he was elected president:
In the last third of this century, the major threat to peace in the world will be the Chinese communists…..
How do we get China to change? Going overboard and recognizing them and admitting them to the U.N. at a time that they are in their aggressive posture and particularly at a time that they are supporting and instigating aggression in Vietnam, would be a mistake. We need a ______ bridge to these remarkable people, but in view of their leadership, all we can and should do is to build one end of the bridge.
When China changes, it will do so as did the Soviet – because of necessity and not by choice. It will be a change of the head and not of the heart…..
China will change when there [sic] interests will better be served by turning their immense energies inward rather than trying to expand outward. When they make this decision, the dialogue between the United States and China can begin. It should be pointed out that the Untied States has a great well of friendship among the Chinese people. We would hope that this well has not been poisoned too much by the communist rulers. On our part, we should make it clear that once China resists in its foreign adventures that they will have our cooperation in what will truly be a great leap forward…..
The whole thrust of this section on China should be that I am taking a hard line at the present but in the long range that I recognize the absolute necessity of a dialogue with China and that I reject completely the idea of a Soviet-U.S. alliance which would alienate China forever.
After "Asia After Viet Nam"
“Asia After Viet Nam,” published fifty years ago this month in October 1967, was the first time Richard Nixon went public with an indication that he was reevaluating the Cold War orthodoxies that had shaped and guided American foreign policy since the mid – 1940s.
Over the next few years he dropped many hints and clues, but the world was still taken by surprise when, in August 1971, he announced that he had been invited to visit China, and had accepted the invitation.
As he later put it, “Those who were surprised in 1971…that I would be going to China simply hadn’t been following. They hadn’t read the article in Foreign Affairs in 1967.”
You can read “Asia After Viet Nam” as it appeared in the October 1967 issue of Foreign Affairs here (there is a paywall):