John Paton

Wu Ningkun




INT: And then you hit him. (Laughter) ... One thing that was very interesting is the whole preparations for the 1971 trip. There's the story of a motorcade leaving Pakistan, a decoy motorcade, so that journalists think that Kissinger's off to regain his health, and meanwhile he's going off elsewhere. Can you give us a little bit of the chronology there, and how you came to be involved in briefing different people that different things were happening?

WL: First of all, just to help you, the Nixon memoir account of this, of course, is really quite full and good, so I mean, that's not like being on tape. It's something you may want to take a look at, if you haven't; and I edited that book, so I'm sure there were no mistakes. (Laughter) Getting ready for the 1971 secret trip of Kissinger to China was of course very dramatic and exciting, but also very difficult both to assemble (our substance of?) positions and to work out the logistics. On the substance, Kissinger would often call on outside scholars to get their ideas on various foreign policy issues, and he did that with Chinese scholars, but of course not letting on why he was picking their brains. He himself had had very little experience with China, but he was a brilliant analyst and very quick at picking up strategic approaches, of course. (Clears throat) We had a person on the staff, John Haldwich, who knew a lot more about Asia and China at that point than I did, and so I would work with him: I would bring the global perspective, since I was involved in the various pieces that he was (planning with?), including Vietnam and Russia, and Haldwich would bring the expertise on China. We also had drawn the expertise of the State Department, but again without explaining exactly why, because the secret trip was secret even from our State Department. And so we got a lot of analyses on issues and picked their brains, but we had to do it in a way that was somewhat disingenuous and awkward. But some outstanding work done over there as well. So that's how we generally got prepared, and I and Haldwich put together the briefing books and working closely with Kissinger. I remember we went down to Florida and Key Biscayne and had a weekend retreat to get ready for this trip and so on. So that's the substance. On the logistic side, the Pakistanis were of course the crucial conduit. We had settled on Pakistan as the channel of communications with the Chinese, and in the course of 1970 and '71 messages passed back and forth in a very careful way to their ambassador in Washington and our people in Pakistan. And it was finally agreed that Kissinger would come to China to see whether in fact the two sides could agree on a Nixon trip a few months later. But the negotiations through these channels were basically on the agenda to be discussed. The Chinese initial position was we should come and talk only about Taiwan. We of course would not come on that basis, and it took a while to get Chinese agreement that we could discuss a broad agenda. We agreed to discuss Taiwan but not as the only issue. So once that was settled, it was a matter of working out the logistics. We did this in part through our CIA station chief, of course. Our ambassador in Pakistan was very helpful, a man named Farland. At one point, he and the station chief, I believe was with him, came to California and we arranged some of the logistics there. I can give you ... I can keep going on the chronology, if you like...

INT: No, well, actually what I was thinking...

WL: ... I can get into the trip itself, but...

INT: Yeah... what I'd like to hear really is more when you arrived...

WL: OK, let me... this'll be free-flowing, but you can chop it up, but let me just sort of give you... this is now going to be about 10-minute riff, if that's OK, and you can just take whatever parts you like.

(Consultation re: time left)

WL: Kissinger was going on a public trip to Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Thailand, and then India and Pakistan. It was decided that while he was in Pakistan, he would make a secret side-trip to Beijing, and we worked out carefully with the Pakistanis what the scenario would be, which was: he was going to get sick with a stomachache. Ironically, while we were in India, on his way to Pakistan, he got sick with a stomachache, which he held secret because he didn't want to destroy his later cover story. We got to Pakistan... , there was already built into the schedule a one-day consultation before we go on to Paris. We were going to Paris for secret talks with the Vietnamese, as it turns out. Anyway, the way the scenario unfolded was as follows. We went to a banquet given by the President of Pakistan. Kissinger left the banquet early, allegedly with a stomachache, and went back to the guesthouse. In the middle of the night, the head of the Pakistan Air Force, I believe, or at least one of their top military officials, personally drove a car, picked us up at about 3 a.m. in the morning, drove us to a military airport, where we got on the President of Pakistan's plane to fly to China. I'll come back to that aspect. But meanwhile, the next morning, a secret service agent impersonating Kissinger, with a hat over his head, got in the car and we announced that he was sick and he was going up to a hill station rest house to get better, and we postponed our departure from Pakistan to give us a total of 48 hours to get in and out of China secretly. We carried out an elaborate charade. For example, we wanted a Pakistani doctor to call upon Kissinger, and I remember they interviewed one doctor and they asked, "Do you know what Kissinger looks out?" and he said, "Yes," and we said, "Well, you're the wrong doctor." And they got a few Pakistani Cabinet officials who were cut in to the secret to go call upon Kissinger at the hill station where Kissinger allegedly was, to continue this cover. So that's how we carried out the cover back in Islamabad. Some of the Americans travelling with the Kissinger delegation... only four of us went in with Kissinger, plus two secret service agents, but the others... a couple of them knew what was happening, some of them didn't: thought Kissinger was actually sick, but a couple knew what was happening, to help maintain the façade along with our ambassador. Then the scene shifts back to the Islamabad airport. We get on the plane and we're greeted four Chinese who had been sent into Pakistan to fly in with us to Pakistan. There was a Pakistani pilot and fly attendants, and then sitting in the back were the Chinese and ourselves. First, a few anecdotes. It turns out that...

(Change tapes)

INT: So if you'd like to carry on...

WL: Kissinger, myself, John Haldwich, the China expert, and a Vietnam expert, Mr. Smizer, were the four officers going on this plane, plus two secret service agents. One of them knew where we were going, the other had no idea where he was going at 3 o'clock in the morning; and when that agent got on the airplane and saw a Chinese there, I believe he went for his pistol, or at least he was extremely concerned because he didn't know what was happening. Anyway, we took off toward China, with the Chinese in the back of the plane, with Kissinger and the rest of us and the Pakistanis in the front. It turns out that Kissinger had left all his shirts behind in Pakistan; he was worried almost more about that than meeting Zhou Enlai and the negotiating challenges before him. We, of course, pointed out to Henry that "You haven't even sat down yet to negotiate with the Chinese and you've already lost your shirt." So he borrowed one from Mr. Haldwich, who is about six foot three, and put this on and looked like he was a penguin. And ironically, the shirt said in the back "Made in Taiwan". In any event, as the plane was getting close to the Chinese border, we were all aware of the fact that no American official had been in China since 1949, 22 years. I decided I'd like to be first, and so while Kissinger was sitting in the back of the plane, I went to the front of the plane, so as the plane went over the Chinese border I was the first American official in China in 22 years. Henry never forgave me for that, elbowed me aside and got off the plane first. In any event, it was a dramatic moment, of course. The historical importance of it, the James Bond secrecy, flying on an absolutely perfect morning very close to K2 peak, the second highest mountain in the world, landing at a military airport in Beijing and being greeted by Chinese officials. And for me personally it was not only exciting as a young officer, but I kept thinking, "Here I come, and my wife was born in Shanghai."

INT: What were your impressions of China when you landed?

WL: Well, of course it was very secret, so we only really spent our time in the Government guesthouse, carefully camouflaged. When we were in the limousines, we had the curtains drawn, although you could see through them, so we got some brief glimpses of Tiananmen Square and portraits of Mao and other communist leaders on the way to the guest house, but we spent our entire time at the guest house, except for one excursion. We were there for 48 hours - I believe it was from midday Friday to midday Sunday. The Chinese closed off the forbidden city, which was, I think, at times when you didn't have too many tourists anyway, but he closed it completely off and took Kissinger and the rest of us on a secret tour of the entire forbidden city. That was the good news. The bad news is, it was about 100 degrees and I had to carry two very heavy classified briefcases, but it certainly was worth it. And then we sat down and had a Peking duck lunch with Zhou Enlai, who reminisced about the Cultural Revolution, so that was quite a day. But the rest of the time we were in the guest house negotiating the very brief statement that was issued a few days after we left China, announcing Nixon's trip the following year.

INT: Were the Chinese officials, people like Zhou Enlai, as you'd expected?

WL: We knew Zhou Enlai would be impressive; we didn't know how impressive he would be. Kissinger has stated on several occasions that in all his world travels, in all his meetings with an extraordinary number of world leaders, that the two most impressive were Charles de Gaulle and Zhou Enlai; and indeed he got to know Zhou Enlai much better, so I think he probably even put him ahead of de Gaulle, but if he had known de Gaulle better he might have continued to rank them equal. So he was extraordinary; we saw that on our first encounters. , for example, when he reminisced on the Cultural Revolution, he was very clever, because he described some of the horrors of it, including his being locked up in his own foreign ministry by the Red Guards, but he also alleged that Chairman Mao had the vision to carry this out. He, Zhou Enlai, didn't understand why this was beneficial for the Chinese people, that it looked bad to him, but the Chairman was wiser than he was and knew what he was doing. So he was both loyal to the Chairman and making a point for history, that he opposed the Cultural Revolution; so immediately we could see this man's subtlety. But in all my experiences - and I've met quite a few world leaders - he is the single most impressive diplomat I've ever met. There's no question he was ruthless; you don't get to be number two or three, or number one in China, without being ruthless. He's also very clever: he was always really number three and not number two, because Mao always got rid of his number two person, so he was less of a challenge. Having said that, he was clearly more moderate, and the Chinese people consider him more moderate than Mao, and he did contain some of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. He was much more of a pragmatist, and indeed he's on record as having humanely helped to save people. Nevertheless, there is a debate about whether he could have done more to oppose Mao and his excesses, or whether realistically he did all he could and still keep his job. He was at once a strategic thinker who was Kissinger's superior or equal - and that's pretty hard: Kissinger's pretty brilliant on strategy;... he could deal at that level about the conceptual framework for our relationships, etc. He was also a master negotiator and tactician; whether it was the Shanghai communiqué or other documents, he was extremely skilful at that level. He was very well versed, particularly for the isolated Chinese, in terms of history in the world, including American history and politics, philosophy - very well read - and often he and Kissinger would put aside their briefs when they got through and sit around for another hour just to discuss seemingly irrelevant topics. Without being naïve about the ruthless dimension that he undoubtedly possessed, he nevertheless projected great warmth. An incredibly charismatic person, and someone with a personal touch. For example, one of our secretaries got sick on one of our trip(s); he heard about it and sent over his personal doctor to our guesthouse. Another example: he and Kissinger, after many trips and a lot of bonding intellectually, finished their last discussion on a trip - I forget, it was in the mid-Seventies at a guest house - late at night, and he made a rather subtle but meaningful gesture of friendship and respect for Kissinger. We had been there several days - this is in the Government guest house - and we'd often take walks, Kissinger and myself, to discuss strategy, because we knew we were being listened to in our guest house, so we figured the only safe place to discuss sensitive topics was walking around, plus we wanted to get exercise. But there was one bridge that we... in this major compound that we could never get over. We'd get up to it, and the guards would turn us away. We believe we found out later either Madame Mao or King Sihanouk was staying there, but we didn't know the reason at the time. So we kept trying to go over this bridg