chapter  4
16 Pages

Negotiations at a standstill

On 13 January 1972, Nixon announced the withdrawal of another 70,000 troops from South Vietnam by 1 July 1972, thereby bringing down the number of US troops based there to 69,000. On 25 January, he revealed to the public the secret meetings between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho since 1969, the US seven-point proposal of 31 May 1971 and the most recent offer made on 11 October 1971 to pull out all troops from South Vietnam by 1 July 1972 if a peace agreement could be concluded by 1 December 1971. The aim of his revelation was to show the international community that Hanoi’s intransigence was holding up the peace settlement. The day after Nixon’s disclosure, US negotiators in Paris called for the

resumption of secret negotiations between the two sides. The Vietnamese communists were in no mood for negotiations at that point. Instead, on 31 January 1972, Hanoi countered by making public its nine-point solution that had been given to Kissinger on 26 June 1971 as well as the exchanges between the two sides on the aborted 20 November 1971 meeting. On 2 February 1972, the PRGSVN reiterated the communists’ demands: (1) the US should set a definite date for the complete withdrawal of US and related troops from South Vietnam. The release of POWs would take place simultaneously; and (2) Nguyen Van Thieu must resign and all policies of repression, terror and pacification should be abandoned. (It is worth noting that the PRG had only demanded the resignation of Thieu and not the entire ruling group.)

While both sides traded revelations to win the support and sympathy of the international community, Nixon made his landmark visit to China where he spent a week from 21 to 28 February 1972. According to

Sihanouk, ‘neither our Chinese friends, nor my Vietnamese and Laotian friends, nor myself had any illusions but that one of Nixon’s aims was to try to drive a wedge between the Chinese and our national liberation movements’.1 The Chinese were evidently anxious for a quick settlement of the Indochina War. Prior to Nixon’s visit, Beijing had sought Hanoi’s agreement to discuss the Indochina problem with Nixon on its behalf, but was rebuffed by the North Vietnamese who insisted that Vietnam was an independent country and the Chinese had ‘no right to discuss with the United States the question of Vietnam’. The Chinese were reminded not to repeat the mistake of 1954. In early February 1972, Soviet sources reported that Le Duc Tho was

preparing to travel to Beijing to meet with Kissinger.2 Eventually, it did not materialise, much to the relief of Moscow. Nonetheless, Vietnam was a major discussion topic between the two sides during the US President’s visit. In the discussions, the Chinese continued to voice support for the Vietnamese communists and criticised Washington’s policies in Indochina. However, there was a tacit understanding on both sides that the Indochina War would no longer be a hindrance in US-China relations. Mao told Nixon that:

At the present time, the question of aggression from the United States or aggression from China is relatively small, that is, it could be said that this is not a major issue, because the present situation is one which a state of war does not exist between our two countries. You want to withdraw some of your troops back on your soil; ours do not go abroad.3