The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in China (Hwley)

No. 52

Sir: The Department has received a letter from Dr. Syngman Rhee,12 “Chairman of the Korean Commission”, in which is included the following paragraph:

“The Chinese government which showed no anxiety in this respect six months ago, is now willing to take the lead in recognizing the Korean Provisional Government provided the United States would follow suit. I hope the United States Government would feel free to cooperate with China regarding the recognition of Korea. The Chinese Government would not move without an understanding with the State Department. If the State Department gives China a tacit understanding that it will cooperate, China will formally recognize the de jure status of the Republic of Korea.”

There is enclosed for the Embassy’s information a copy of a memorandum dated February 513 summarizing a conversation regarding Korean problems held on a personal basis between Mr. Shao Yu-lin, Senior Secretary of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and officers of the Department. The Embassy will note that Mr. Shao and the officers of the Department were agreed that recognition of the “Korean Provisional Government” should be withheld for the present. The Embassy may in its discretion seek a suitable opportunity to indicate informally to the Foreign Office the content of the paragraph quoted from Rhee’s letter and in so doing refer to the conversation with Mr. Shao and affirm that in the opinion of the Department the question of recognition should be left in abeyance and efforts should be directed toward the preparation of basic material relating to the draft questionnaire on post-war Korea. The Embassy may also wish to inform the Foreign Office that, while the illness of an officer directly concerned with the work is causing some delay, the Department is [Page 1023] proceeding with the preparation of studies based on the questionnaire.14

Rhee in his letter advances as a reason for immediate recognition of the “Korean Provisional Government” the fear that Soviet Russia might advance into Korea and establish as the government there a “Korean Liberation Committee” allegedly existing in Vladivostok.15 The Department has been unable to obtain confirmation of reports of the existence of such a committee in Soviet territory and would appreciate any comment or information the Embassy may have on the subject.

Copies of this instruction are being sent to the Embassies at Moscow and at London.16

Very truly yours,

For the Acting Secretary of State:
James C. Dunn
  1. Dated February 5, to the Under Secretary of State, not printed.
  2. Ante, p. 1018.
  3. Various research papers on Korean problems were prepared in 1944 and 1945 by the Inter-Divisional Area Committee on the Far Bast, the Office of Far Eastern Affairs, and the Divisions of Japanese Affairs, Territorial Studies, and International Security and Organization. They include the following: “PWC” papers 124a, 125, and 126, prepared from March to May 1944; “H” papers 200–207 and 209, prepared in November and December 1944; and “K” papers 1–16, prepared from March to November 1945 (Records of the Committee Secretariat Branch of the Executive Secretariat, Lot 52–D478). These papers cover a wide range of subjects on various aspects of political, economic, and security problems in Korea and the capacity of Korea for independence. For “PWC” papers 124a, 125, and 126, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. v, pp. 1239, 1224, and 1228, respectively.
  4. Mr. Rhee’s letter stated: “Ever since December 7, 1941, we have been witnessing along with the authorities of the Department of State, the repeated and unmistakable signs of the danger that the Korean Communist Army maintained in Siberia by Russia might rush into Korea at an opportune moment and overrun the entire Peninsula, before the Korean Nationalist Democratic Government in Exile could find a chance to return to Korea. The people will then have no opportunity to express themselves as to the form of government under which they want to live. This will naturally create a situation detrimental not only to Korea but also the United States and China.” In a memorandum of February 12, initialed by Mr. Ballantine, the Division of Japan’ese Affairs recommended that Mr. Rhee’s letter not be answered “because it would be impossible to do so without either (1) risking an undesirable controversy through taking issue with Rhee’s implications of bad faith on the part of Soviet Russia, or (2) giving tacit approval of those implications by ignoring them”. (895.01/2–545) In a further letter of June 5 to Mr. Grew, Mr. Rhee stated that “further delay in recognizing the Korean Provisional Government would place not only Korea but the United States at a disadvantage. … The only possibility of avoiding the ultimate conflict between the United States and the Soviet Republics is to build up all the democratic, not communistic, elements wherever possible now.” The letter bears a marginal notation of June 14 by “GM”, presumably George M. McCune of the Division of Japanese Affairs, as follows: “Not acknowledged due to character of contents after consultation with FE”. (895.01/6–545)
  5. With instructions 451 and 5125, respectively, dated February 20.
  6. Assistant Secretary of State.