740.0011 PW/9–544: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union ( Harriman ) to the Secretary of State 19

3328. I believe that the following digest of Donald Nelson’s conversation of August 31 with Molotov on the Chinese situation will be of interest to the Department.

[Page 254]

Nelson opened the conversation by stating that the President had requested him and General Hurley to call on Molotov in order to acquaint him with the reasons for their mission to China. Molotov sincerely appreciated this courtesy. Nelson explained that he was to deal primarily with economic matters in China and General Hurley [with] military, although each would keep in close touch with the other’s work. The President’s primary objective was the early defeat of Japan. The fullest cooperation from China was of vital importance. To this end, the United States must support Chiang Kai-shek and bring about complete unity in China. With this in view, certain economic measures should be immediately undertaken. It was further thought that if the Japanese were to be permanently defeated, a good part of their business should be taken away from them and that industry should be built up in China in order to supply the peoples of the Near and Far East with their requirements formerly supplied by the Japanese. Nelson stated that he and General Hurley were proceeding to China to initiate discussions with Chiang Kai-shek on this and other subjects and to obtain his ideas before making recommendations to the President and the Department of State. He explained that he was not asking for any Russian support of the proposals but would appreciate receiving any views Mr. Molotov might wish to express thereon. Molotov commented on the extremely important nature of the mission and inquired whether Nelson planned to take any practical measures at the present time. Nelson replied that it might be possible to undertake some economic projects immediately in order to assist China in increasing its production. He added that the unification of China was one of the principal purposes of his mission, since without unification no good long-range economic program could be devised for China. Nelson stated that he would appreciate receiving an expression of Soviet opinion on the situation in China and whether Molotov thought that the economic plans outlined by him could be worked out with the present Government in China. Molotov replied that it was difficult to judge the Chinese situation from Moscow or Washington—it could much better be done on the spot. However, he had some thoughts on China which he would willingly express to Nelson—off the record. He then gave a lengthy account of Chiang Kai-shek’s trip to Sian in 1936 and his imprisonment by Chang Hsueh-liang.21 He maintained that at that time relations were tense between Chiang Kai-shek and the Soviet Government. Nonetheless, the Soviet Government had turned its back on the revolutionary elements led by Chang Hsueh-liang and Wang Ching-wei which included many Communists and which had turned to the Soviet Union for sympathy, and had issued a statement [Page 255] to the effect that the events in China, including the uprising in Sian, had transpired as a result of Japanese provocation. Because of Soviet moral and political support, Chiang Kai-shek had been liberated and permitted to return to the seat of his Government, whereas Chang Hsueh-liang had been arrested. It had been hoped that this action on the part of the Soviets would mark a turning point to the better in Soviet-Chinese relations. However, since then, the Chinese has shown little desire to strengthen relations between the two countries. On the contrary, during the recent war years, relations had deteriorated. For example, the Soviet Government had been obliged to repatriate from Sinkiang Soviet citizens because of extremely hostile attitude on the part of local authorities. But the Soviet Government did not attach any great importance to the Sinkiang incidents, considering them transitory or temporary in nature.

Molotov emphasized that the Soviet Government could bear no responsibility for internal affairs or developments in China although during recent years, it had been unjustifiably held responsible on various occasions. I was somewhat struck by the similarity in Soviet policy in respect to the recent uprising in Warsaw. (See my 3000, August 15, 8 p.m.22). He then explained that in parts of China, the population was extremely impoverished, half starved, miserable. Some of these people called themselves “Communists” but they had no relation whatever to communism. They were merely expressing their dissatisfaction at their economic condition by calling themselves Communists. However, once their economic conditions had improved, they would forget this political inclination. The Soviet Government could not be blamed in any way for this situation nor should it be associated with these “Communist elements”. The key to the entire situation was to make life more normal, to make the Chinese authorities cope with the tasks before them and to work in the common interest. He concluded by stating that the Soviet people would be very glad if America assisted the Chinese people in improving their economic and military position, unifying China and “in helping the Chinese choose their best people for this task”.

I inquired what Molotov would like to see Chiang Kai-shek do in Sinkiang. He stated that the Soviet Government only desired to see Soviet nationals there treated in humane way. I asked how many such nationals were involved. He first replied that he did not know but later added that perhaps several thousand Soviet farmers and artisans in the area have been subject to persecution and discrimination on the part of the local officials.

Molotov clearly indicated his satisfaction that he had been consulted and although he gave little new information, he confirmed previous [Page 256] statements that the Soviet Government would welcome the United States taking a lead in Chinese affairs politically, militarily and economically. He further made it clear, however, that the Soviets had no intention of taking any interest in affairs of the Chinese Government until the Generalissimo made efforts to improve Soviet-Chinese relations by changes in his policies.

A request was made to see Stalin but the following day, word was received from Molotov that Stalin was ill with grippe.

  1. A summary of this telegram was transmitted by the Secretary of State to the Ambassador in China in telegram No. 1207, September 12, 1 p.m.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. iv, pp. 414455, passim.
  3. Not printed.