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History of U.S.-China Ties a Secret at CIA : Archives: Agency won't declassify exhaustive study on Nixon-era negotiations and later high-level dealings with Beijing.

September 18, 1993|JIM MANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — After four years of review, the CIA has decided that an exhaustive classified report on the history of U.S.-China relations cannot be released, sealing from the public for now the full story of the secretive Nixon-era negotiations, as well as this nation's high-level dealings with Beijing during the Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations.

The intelligence agency--which, under some pressure, has said it will be more open in its handling of Cold War-era archives--rejected a Freedom of Information Act request by The Times to declassify and release the China history. Commissioned by the CIA in 1985, the study is comparable in some ways to the Pentagon Papers, which offered a history of U.S. diplomacy in Vietnam.

Former President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger have published their memoirs, and other participants, historians, and experts have given their versions of what transpired in the critical era of U.S.-China diplomacy.

But the CIA's study would shed light on a number of important issues of recent American history, such as: What did American and Chinese leaders tell or promise each other about the war in Vietnam and what was said about American and Chinese policy toward Taiwan, Cambodia, Japan or the former Soviet Union?

The China history, which reconstructs and analyzes secret negotiations between Washington and Beijing from the Nixon era through 1984, is officially characterized as "the only comprehensive survey of the negotiating record, based on official documents" held by the White House, the National Security Council, the departments of State and Defense, several presidential libraries and Kissinger's archives.

In issuing its August decision, Douglas J. MacEachin, the CIA's deputy director for intelligence, wrote The Times that the CIA's Information Review Committee had decided the ground-breaking history must be kept private "in its entirety." He cited the importance of keeping foreign policy and defense matters secret and of preserving intelligence sources and methods.

However, some experts speculated that the contents of the report might prove embarrassing to some of the American officials involved in the diplomatic maneuvers at the time.

The study was written for the CIA by Richard H. Solomon, a China specialist then working for the Santa Monica-based RAND Corp. think tank. Solomon, a one-time aide to Kissinger, served as assistant secretary of state for Asia in the George Bush Administration.

"I would have to say the material (in the report) is still pretty sensitive," Solomon said in a telephone interview, noting that it covers talks with top leaders such as Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai.

But Warren Cohen, an academic historian, questioned that judgment.

"When you're talking about officials such as Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai, who've been dead for 17 years, what difference does it make?" he asked.

Former U.S. Ambassador to China James Lilley told The Times: "There would be sections of (the historical record on China) that might be sensitive but not many." Keeping the report secret, he said, "is more a matter of the situation having changed, and (former U.S. officials) not looking too good. . . . There was a lot of buttering up of the Chinese that wouldn't look too good today."

Two other former U.S. officials who were involved in the secret China diplomacy said one of the main reasons the full history of the period is not being released is that it would prove embarrassing to former senior officials, such as Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser.

Neither of the officials was willing to be quoted by name.

A short, declassified summary of the study's findings, published six years ago by the Foreign Service Institute, concluded that in diplomatic negotiations Chinese officials regularly seek "to identify foreign officials who are sympathetic to their cause; to cultivate a sense of friendship and obligation in their official counterparts; and then to pursue their objectives through a variety of stratagems designed to manipulate feelings of friendship, obligation, guilt or dependence."

While refusing to release the China report, the CIA did turn over to The Times a chronology accompanying the study which lists the key events in the development of ties between the United States and China. But more than half of the subjects discussed at meetings between the powers were blacked out.

Some parts of the chronology overlap with the Nixon and Kissinger memoirs but in greater detail or with less euphemistic wording.

For example, the chronology says that during Nixon's trip to China in 1972, "after facing a prospect of collapse of the communique negotiations, HAK (Kissinger) withdraws request for the Taiwan paragraph change." Kissinger's memoirs allude to these events, but do not actually say that he backed down from changes he had requested.

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