On 14 February 1971 André Malraux visited the President of the United States and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, who was already secretly planning the coup de théâtre of the Nixon presidency: the visit to China. Malraux said absolutely nothing that would be of any assistance to Nixon during his own visit, but, in a manner cultivated by the French, spoke mostly in allegory. Mao, he claimed, had had ‘a fantastic destiny … You may think he will be addressing you, but in truth he will be addressing Death … There’s something of the sorcerer in him. He’s a man inhabited by a vision, possessed by it … No one will know if you succeed, Mr President, for at least fifty years. The Chinese are very patient’. After Malraux left, Kissinger flattered the President: ‘I thought your questions were very intelligent.’ Nixon: ‘I tried to keep him going.’ Kissinger: ‘Well, you did it very beautifully.’ In Nixon’s presence, Kissinger was invariably sycophantic.
Malraux had pitched it exactly right. Both Nixon and Kissinger had an over-inflated sense of China’s importance, as well as of the mystique of Mao and Chou En Lai, so desperate were they for some new dimension in the Cold War. They saw themselves as explorers in the footsteps of