Over the past three decades, no area of U.S. foreign policy has been more dramatic than the opening and development of relations with the People's Republic of China. And on no policy subject has the National Security Council played a more central role. From Henry Kissinger's secret journey to Beijing in July 1971 to Anthony Lake's trip a quarter century later in the wake of military confrontation in the Taiwan Straits, the assistant to the president for national security affairs has personally played a leading role. All governments take it particularly seriously when the American president sends his personal aide to them on a negotiating mission. The Chinese government has particularly invited, and welcomed, such White House engagement in diplomacy.
This pattern has created particular problems, however, for the secretary of state, the State Department, and the overall coordination of U.S. policy Ã¯Â¿Â½ both toward China and toward relations with other countries that have strong stakes in how Washington and Beijing interact. With these policy and organizational concerns in mind, the Brookings Institution and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland convened this Oral History Roundtable bringing together officials from the National Security Council, the Department of State, and other government agencies to discuss how China policy was actually made over the past decades. We were delighted with the quality and range of policy players who were able to join in the discussion. When we learned that Ambassador Winston Lord Ã¯Â¿Â½ a key policy participant over twenty-five years Ã¯Â¿Â½ could not be present, we invited him to provide comments at appropriate points in the discussion. He did so, and these have been inserted and highlighted in the text. (We would refer readers also to Lord's discussion of the China opening in our Oral History Roundtable on the Nixon administration.1)
This is the fifth in a series of Oral History Roundtables carried out as part of the National Security Council Project, co-sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). We are grateful to the participants who gave freely of their time and insights. We also wish to express our appreciation to Shakira Edwards, who served as the primary editor of the manuscript, to Josh Pollack, who helped organize the meeting and worked with the original transcript, and to Karla Nieting, who brought the project to completion.
I.M. "Mac" Destler is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.
Ivo Daalder is a Fellow at the Brookings Institution.