811.003 Wallace, Henry/3–1444

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Ballantine)

I called on the Vice President at his office by appointment. I said to him that yesterday the Secretary of State had informed me of the [Page 217] Vice President’s plans for a trip to China and had suggested that I might have a talk with the Vice President in regard to the situation in that country.

The Vice President said that at first he had not taken seriously the suggestion of the President that he take a trip to China and to the Soviet Union but that more recently he had received intimations from the President which made him feel that the President was very serious about the matter and that in fact only yesterday the Vice President had received further indications from the President of what the President had in mind. (The Vice President did not impart to me any information of what these plans of the President were.) The Vice President stated that he would have been reluctant to go on such a trip without an important reason especially in times like the present, During the course of the conversation the Vice President indicated to me that he had no desire to intrude in any way into current diplomatic matters between the United States and China as, for example, in the rate of exchange question6 concerning which he apparently had received an account from General Marshall.7

I made comments to the Vice President along lines as follows:

The American Government and people have been traditionally sympathetic and friendly to China. We have profound admiration for the many excellent qualities of the Chinese, especially the essential democracy of their social institutions (as distinguished from political institutions) and their fortitude with which they have carried on an unequal struggle against the Japanese invaders. We naturally desire to do all we appropriately can to encourage and assist them.

On the other hand, to a certain extent expressions of our sympathy have had an effect opposite to that intended; instead of encouraging the Chinese to put forth greater efforts there has been a growing disposition among Chinese to feel that China has done her full share by containing Japan for the last six years and that it is now up to the United States alone to crush Japan. Furthermore, the Chinese have built, upon our expressions of sympathy unwarranted expectations of the measure of our assistance. To the extent that we have failed to date to meet those expectations there has been on their part disappointment with us, which is disadvantageous to our interests.

The preoccupation of many Chinese statesmen is not the war but postwar reconstruction. Discussion by responsible Americans with Chinese statesmen of China’s postwar problems would tend therefore to divert their attention still further from the war. Moreover, as one important aspect of China’s postwar problems is that of foreign credits, we should be on our guard lest what we say in favor of postwar economic cooperation with China give the Chinese unwarranted encouragement to expect large-scale credits, the granting of which might not be warranted from a consideration of their soundness or might not in any event be forthcoming.

[Page 218]

In China as in the United States there exist conflicts of etiology and of political concepts. Although the Kuomintang has tried to establish in China a one party system, the whole question and problem of political organization has, in China, been in a state of flux and of rudimentary evolution ever since 1911. The rivalries for power under personal leadership which began with the overthrow of the Manchus have not yet come to an end. There are still substantial vestiges of “warlordism”. The so-called “communists” though in a small minority, are a compact entity and a not uninfluential feature of the political scene. It is difficult for occidentals, even those who may have known China and the Chinese for a lifetime, to tread their way with clear understanding and effective discretion among the competing and conflicting currents, tides, channels, et cetera, of Chinese politics. It is easy for a stranger to China to gain erroneous impressions and make false steps in contacts and conversations with Chinese leaders and in utterances to or about the Chinese people.

There are various important and delicate questions involved in the relations of China with the Soviet Union and of China with Great Britain and the British Empire. These have an important bearing in connection with questions of China’s relations with the United States and the question of United States’ concepts and objectives as regards the place to be given China—and the reasons therefor—in the war and the post war setups.

There is no doubt that the Chinese would feel very pleased and honored to have you pay them a visit. They would be deeply appreciative of a sympathetic attitude on your part to them and their problems.

On the other hand, in the light of the existing situation I have described, the range of topics which in the circumstances could safely and advantageously be discussed is very circumscribed. The Chinese are in a hypersensitive stage which renders their susceptibilities easily aroused even when one does not intend to be critical. Conversely, manifestations of sympathy intended as encouragement are liable to give support to an attitude on their part of disregard of their responsibilities.

The Vice President seemed to be impressed with the desirability of being guarded in what he might say either publicly or in private conversation in China. He expressed the view that it might be desirable to have any statements which he might make carefully shroffed by the Department or by the Embassy in advance and his sojourn in China carefully programmed to minimize the possibility of difficulties such as I had indicated. He thought that outside Chungking he might confine his activities to observing agricultural conditions in which he took special interest. He raised the question whether he could with propriety go out in the field with Chinese farmers and handle their hand agricultural implements. I observed that the Chinese white collar class has a 2,000 year tradition against soiling their hands and I doubted whether it would be wise to go counter to the tradition.

The Vice President stated that it was proposed that he start on his trip in the latter part of May in order to take advantage of the best [Page 219] flying weather along the route which had been planned: namely, Alaska and Siberia.

Our conversation lasted for well over an hour and the Vice President asked me quite a number of questions calling for factual replies rather than opinions.

J[oseph] W. B[allantine]
  1. For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 824 ff.
  2. Gen. George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army.