Courtesy Reuters

American Dealings with Peking

If the most powerful country and the most populous country in the world could not have a normal diplomatic relationship, they would have to invent a substitute. And they did. For eleven years the United States and the Chinese People's Republic have dealt directly with each other by means of their special if obscure arrangement known as the Ambassadorial Talks, held at irregular intervals, first in Geneva, then in Warsaw. Although the official record of the exchanges between their two Ambassadors has been kept secret by mutual agreement, official statements in Washington and Peking, together with news reports in both countries, provide some material for describing several high points of the "longest established permanent floating" diplomatic game in modern history. The United States has participated in three international conferences with the Chinese People's Republic, but in the course of them few or no bilateral discussions or contacts took place informally on the side; thus the principal American dealings with Peking have occurred in the Ambassadorial Talks. It is time to recognize and appraise these unusual dealings.

They are a distinctive paradox, empty of results but full of consequences. Through them Washington has probably had a more continuous diplomatic contact and diversified dialogue with the government in Peking than any of the non-Communist Western governments which maintain embassies there. Yet, despite the long duration of the Talks and the voluminous exchanges made in them, they have transacted only one agreement in all that time. In fact, nineteen specific proposals known to have been made by one side or the other have been publicly rejected. Nevertheless, this forum has proven of some lasting value.

The crucial feature of the Talks is that they provide a workable channel for reducing miscalculations, clarifying intentions and explaining proposals. The President has a dependable "switchboard" immediately available to talk with the Politburo in Peking about Viet Nam, nuclear disarmament, the improvement of relations or anything else. The responsible leaders in Peking have the same facility in reverse

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