Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Alger Hiss, Assistant to the Adviser on Political Relations ( Hornbeck )

Participants: Mr. J. Franklin Ray, Assistant Administrator
Mr. Robert McCann of the Lend-Lease Administration
Mr. Hiss

Subject: Sinkiang Route to China

I asked Mr. Ray to call so that I might ascertain informally the reaction of the Lend-Lease Administration to the British memorandum No. 534 of August 19 on the above subject. Mr. Ray brought Mr. McCann with him.

After Mr. Ray and Mr. McCann had read the communication they both said that it looked to them as if the British were anxious to make use of the new road as a pretext for obtaining the entry of British nationals into Sinkiang, an objective which the British have vainly attempted to accomplish for some time.

I stated briefly that in the view of this Department our primary interest in the proposed route is with respect to its political aspects. I said that I thought it likely that, having that point in mind, the Department would be inclined to reply to the communication under reference by saying that it was a question between China and Great Britain as to whether the Chinese desire to have British road experts come out to China to help with the repair and maintenance of the Chinese portion of the new road, that this Department has at all times considered the project as being more important from a political than from an economic or military point of view, and that this Government was not undertaking to associate itself with any initiative which the British might take along the lines indicated in their memorandum of August 19.

Mr. McCann and Mr. Ray expressed general agreement with a reply of the kind indicated. Mr. Ray, however, said that he hoped the Department would not feel that it had to stress the military and economic unimportance of the road. He said that the War Department uniformly takes the position that all supplies for the Chinese theater must be under the direct control of American military authorities. As a result only minor quantities of supplies for China can be got to China and these only by great effort. Furthermore the War Department attitude makes it difficult even to plan now for larger supplies for China to be sent when transportation permits. This issue is at present acute with respect to trucks. Lend-Lease is recommending urgently that the War Production Board now schedule for production in the [Page 610] first six months of 1944 some of the heavy trucks which the Chinese have long been requesting. The Chinese have asked for 10,000 trucks, a figure which Lend-Lease considers entirely reasonable in view of the fact that trucks imported into China from the United States alone in 1941 totaled 13,000 and in view of the further fact that no trucks whatsoever have been imported into China in 1942 and so far in 1943. The Army opposes the scheduling of the production of any trucks for China in 1944. Mr. Ray and Mr. McCann pointed out that even if the Lend-Lease recommendation is adopted no trucks can be got to China for China’s own use until the very latter part of 1944 or sometime in 1945 at the earliest by which time China’s internal transportation system will be still more critical. Lend-Lease is well aware that even in late 1944 and in 1945 almost all traffic that will go to China directly from India will be under U.S. Army control and the bulk of that will necessarily be for U.S. Army utilization. They therefore consider it important that the Northwest route be regarded as a means of getting lend-lease trucks into China for Chinese use.

I told Mr. Ray that in my opinion the Department felt quite strongly that the Northwest route was not economically important and might even be regarded as disadvantageous in as much as it could in fact be regarded as a diversion of effort and interest from more direct routes to China from India.

Mr. Ray took with him a copy of the British memorandum and said that he would let me know promptly if the Lend-Lease Administration wished to make any further comments. He also undertook to find out for me who might be an appropriate official in the War Department with whom the matter might be discussed informally in an effort to ascertain the War Department’s reaction.