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June 21, 1971

Transcript of Conversation between Zhou Enlai and William Attwood

This document was made possible with support from Chun & Jane Chiu Family Foundation




(JUNE 21, 1971)


William Attwood (hereafter shortened to Attwood):  I feel that the main obstacle to the development of relations between our two countries, which is a real roadblock, is the problem of the status of Taiwan.  The American people now already see Taiwan as not being China.  To say Taiwan is China is just a myth.  Now that myth is bankrupt, which is why there is so much interest in the real China among the American people.  How can we remove this roadblock?  What measures can the U.S. government take to remove this roadblock?  Can you put yourself in the position of the U.S. government and think of how this roadblock could be removed, for example within six months?


Premier Zhou Enlai (hereafter shortened to Zhou):  It isn’t easy to respond given a time-frame.


Attwood:  Then forget about the six months.


Zhou:  If you ask me what the U.S. government should do, of course I can’t give you an answer for that.  I would like, however, to explain the Chinese government’s attitude.  Taiwan has always been part of China, it was a province of China; this has long been the case in history.  Later, due to the 1894 Sino-Japanese war, it was cut away by Japan in 1895.  In 1945, when the Anti-Japanese War ended, in accordance with the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration, Taiwan was already restored to China, returned to the bosom of the motherland, and was still one of China’s provinces.  Mr. Topping and Mr. Ronning*[2]* were with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army when it liberated Nanjing in 1949 and they saw the collapse of the old Chinese government, this was probably in April of 1949.  

In January 1950, U.S. President Truman also acknowledged this fact.  He said very clearly that Taiwan had been restored to China, that the U.S. government had no territorial ambitions whatsoever towards Taiwan, and the issue between mainland [China] and Taiwan was an internal affair of China, which the Chinese people should resolve on their own.  This was after Acheson issued the “White Paper” in the fall of 1949, so one can say that the U.S. government had already announced to the world its attitude towards the New China.


However, in June 1950, the U.S. government’s attitude suddenly changed, and it sent the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Straits, cutting off the connection between Taiwan and mainland [China].


Attwood:  That was because of the Korean War.


Zhou:  But at the time China had nothing to do with the Korean War!


Attwood:  I know that.


Zhou:  We want the United States to cease its continual interference in China’s internal affairs, remove all U.S. military forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits, to respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China.  We respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the United States, and we wish that it would respect our sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and we won’t interfere in the internal affairs of the United States.  Solve this problem, and all problems will be solved.  Sino-American relations, that is, the [diplomatic] relationship between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America, can be established.  This has been our consistent position for fifteen years since the start of the U.S.-China Ambassadorial level talks in 1955. We have no other demands.


Attwood:  Public opinion in the U.S. now increasingly acknowledges this point.  If in the future, the U.S. government were to also accept this point, and American forces were to withdraw completely, then how would you reunite with the province of Taiwan, that is, how would you reabsorb Chiang Kai-shek [Jiang Jieshi] and his troops and the people of Taiwan: would this be realized through negotiation, or would you use military means to settle it?


Zhou:  The people of Taiwan are also Chinese, the vast majority of them are of the Han nationality.  Not only are the more than a million troops Chiang Kai-shek took with him of the Han nationality, among the more than eight million prior inhabitants of Taiwan the vast majority are of the Han nationality; their language is similar to that of Fujian, especially the dialect spoken around Xiamen.  The minority peoples in Taiwan are called the Gaoshan nationality, and in China we have quite a few of such minority nationalities, and we have adopted a policy of equality among nationalities.  How Taiwan returns to China, how this problem is solved, is our internal affair.  When I left Nanjing in 1946, many foreign journalists asked me: you are leaving; do you want to return, will you be able to return?  I said, I am confident we will definitely return.  Since we were able to return to Nanjing, it won’t be difficult to achieve the return of Taiwan to the motherland.

There is a question that is especially worth the attention of the U.S.:  Chiang Kai-shek also opposes creating “two Chinas,” and also opposes creating a structure of one China and a separate independent Taiwan; that is, “one China and one Taiwan.”  We and Jiang have been allies as well as enemies, we have fought for many years, but on this point we are in agreement, we both believe there is only one China, and foreign countries can only recognize one China.  This is how things stand now, so we will surely find a solution.


Attwood:  Thank you.


Zhou:  Some people say that the standard of living in Taiwan is quite high, so once Taiwan returns to the motherland, the standard of living will fall.  On the contrary, once Taiwan returns to the motherland, we will be able, on the existing foundation, to step-by-step raise their standard of living.  

First, we would not increase their taxes, but would decrease taxes, just like everywhere else in the motherland.  


Second, there would be no need to pay down any debt, the motherland would be able to assist their construction.  As you all know, we are a country without any internal or external indebtedness, this is one of our lesser achievements.


Attwood:  Maybe you are unique in the world.


Zhou:  I wouldn’t dare say so.

Third, we have a low wage system and don’t collect any income tax.  As for the people in Taiwan, they can keep the same level of their original income, but since we won’t be collecting income tax from them, their livelihood will be even more improved.


Fourth, there are some unemployed people, who came from the mainland, whose living conditions are very difficult; they will be able to return to the mainland, return to their native places, and we won’t discriminate against them.


Fifth, if after Taiwan has returned to the motherland, and people on Taiwan make contributions to the motherland, the motherland ought to reward them.  So, not only won’t will we not retaliate against them, we will in fact honor them.


As you all probably know, the last Emperor of China, who was also the Emperor of “Manchukuo,” who was formerly imprisoned, but later released, and regained his freedom as a citizen.  Unfortunately, he passed away four years ago.  His wife is still alive, as is his younger brother.  His brother’s wife is a Japanese aristocrat, also in China, in Beijing.  Many high-ranking officers under Chiang Kai-shek became our prisoners during the War of Liberation, and now all of them have found work, and not a few are in Beijing.


So, doing things in this way will only give Taiwan considerable benefits, and not cause it any loss whatsoever.  If we do this, Sino-American relations will get better.  Just as the February 8th editorial in your paper said, the same as with Vietnam, withdrawing all American military forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits, would be a glorious act, an act that would produce friendship, and it would be something worth applauding.  I don’t know whether you approve or disapprove of this point, it’s possible that our views are not entirely the same, but I hope that this will happen one day.


Attwood:  At least, as a taxpayer, and the taxes I pay are part of the billions of dollars that the United States provides to Taiwan, I agree that the U.S. should withdraw all its armed forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits.  The U.S. does interfere in other people’s internal affairs.  Of course, my views on this are completely selfish.


Zhou:  Yes, this is also for our friendship.  This way, the world will change.


* This is an excerpt from a transcript of a conversation with New York Times Assistant Managing Editor Seymour Topping, Newsday Chairman and Publisher William Attwood, Wall Street Journal Foreign Affairs Reporter Robert Keatley, and others.

** Chester Ronning (1884-1984), Canadian diplomat and Topping’s father-in-law. (Translator’s note)

American journalist William Attwood asks Premier Zhou whether the primary obstacle between the U.S. and China is Taiwan, how China plans to reunify with Taiwan, and how China plans to address differences in living standards after reunification. Zhou says that China's stance on the Taiwan issue is that Taiwan belongs to China and the U.S. should not to interfere in China's domestic matters, withdraw its armed forces from the Taiwan straits, and respect China's sovereignty. Zhou believes that living standards will only be improved when Taiwan reunifies with the mainland.


Document Information


Zhou Enlai Waijiao wenxuan [Selected Diplomatic Papers of Zhou Enlai] (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian, 1990), pp. 476-480. Translated by Simon Schuchat.


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