Chinese distrust of Romania led the then US president, Richard Nixon, to use Pakistan as his diplomatic conduit to Mao Zedong, said Henry Kissinger on Wednesday.
Kissinger, speaking at the Asia Society, explained that communications between the US and China was a major obstacle in the run up to the historic 1971 Nixon visit to China.
He said Washington began to realise the depth of the Sino-Soviet rift when the Soviet ambassador began coming to the White House "nearly ever day" to brief the Nixon administration about the clashes between Russian and Chinese troops on the Ussuri river.
Kissinger, who was the then national security advisor, said he called in Chinese expert and retired US diplomat Alan Whiting to explain the clashes. Whiting noted that the clashes were happening near Russian supply depots, not Chinese ones. "This meant the clashes were not being started by the Chinese," said Kissinger.
Further evidence Moscow was applying the squeeze on Beijing came when the Soviets began asking the US how they would react to "certain military redeployments on their part vis a vis China."
At this point, the US saw a window to begin a rapprochement with China. "But finding ways to communicate with China proved much difficult," said Kissinger. "We first used a communist interlocutor in the form of Romania. The Chinese did not trust the Romanians."
Kissinger explained that while lower-level State Department officials welcomed opening up to China, senior levels were hostile to the idea. A delegation of them went to Nixon and warned that such a China policy could trigger a Sino-Soviet war.
"Finally," said Kissinger, "we found a channel in Pakistan. After that we moved forward on setting up the trip."