chapter  5
The peace agreement
Pages 24

On 7 July 1972, when Xuan Thuy met Zhou Enlai to update him of the Paris negotiations, he told the latter that Hanoi was prepared to continue to fight the Americans but would not forgo any opportunity to find a solution on the basis of ‘reasonable negotiations’. In Zhou’s view, whether the war continued or whether it could be settled peacefully would be determined in ‘the four crucial months from July to October [1972].’1 When Le Duc Tho met Zhou on 12 July, Tho came across to be very much more a hard-liner than Xuan Thuy. According to Le Duc Tho, ‘we still think of a government without Thieu’ and ‘We are asking Thieu to resign. If he does not, we will not talk with the Saigon government.’ Zhou tried to persuade Le Duc Tho that it was necessary to talk to Nguyen Thieu and he gave some examples to illustrate why. Zhou reasoned that nothing would have been achieved had the Chinese communists refused to talk to Jiang Jieshi during the Chinese Civil War. In North Korea, Kim Il Sung was also trying to communicate directly with Park Chung Hee. Replacing Thieu would only mean still having ‘Thieu’s policy without him’. As for Le Duc Tho’s idea of a tripartite government possibly under Duong Van Minh, Zhou’s view was that a coalition government could be established, but the fighting would still have to resume later. The crux is ‘to play for time’ to allow the North to recover its strength and get stronger while the enemy become weaker.2