Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Chinese Affairs (Vincent)48

Observations made to me last night by John Keswick, Counselor of the British Embassy in China (in peace-time a director of the large British firm of Jardine, Matheson and Company) may throw some light on the British attitude toward the future of China.

Mr. Keswick referred to reports that the British desired a weak China in the post-war period. He said that there was no foundation for such reports. He explained, however, that he, and perhaps many other Britishers, felt that a somewhat loosely federated China would emerge from the war—a China under a central government having control of finances, customs, foreign policy, but in which a very large degree of local autonomy for areas such as the northwest, northeast, southwest, etc., would exist. He said that, whereas a strong unified [Page 36] China would of course be the ideal development, it was more realistic to anticipate and perhaps work for the semblance of unity under a loosely federated system.

I commented that a loosely federated China might be a necessary alternative to a strong and united China but that I did not see why we should not actively work for the latter with reasonable hope of success.

Mr. Keswick mentioned the Kuomintang–Communist situation and stated that he had some misgivings about the influence we were apparently exerting to bring about a settlement between the two opposing political groups. He felt that a coalition brought about under persuasion might have undesirable consequences. I asked him whether in speaking of a loosely federated China he had in mind areas which might be under the control of the Kuomintang, areas under control of the Communists in north China, and areas under the control of other dissident political groups in China. He indicated that he did. I said that whereas there might be some justification for a federated China which took into consideration the age-old differences between various areas in China (for instance, economic and cultural dissimilarities), I felt that a federated China based upon differences such as those existing between the Kuomintang and the Communists would be most unrealistic; that a federated China of that kind would, it seemed to me, be most likely to develop into spheres of influence and regimes independent of each other in everything but name. Mr. Keswick said in reply that, if a central government in control of the Yangtze Valley and south China could develop sufficient vitality in the post-war period it could, by powers of attraction, draw to it northern provinces under Communist control and eventually eliminate Communists by this peaceful process of “attraction”. I granted that this might be a possibility but said that the chances of failure seemed to outweigh those of success. I went on to say that actually the ideological and political differences between the Communists and the Kuomintang seemed to me to be exaggerated especially when one took into consideration the tenets of the Kuomintang as set forth by Dr. Sun Yat-sen rather than the actual practices of the ruling group now in Chungking. This was best illustrated, I said, by the fact that liberal-minded Kuomintang members found themselves more in sympathy with the Communists than with the present leadership of the Kuomintang.

Mr. Keswick again referred to his earlier statement that the British did not desire a weak China and expressed the hope that a strong united China might emerge from the war but it was clear to me that he felt that our policy of trying to promote unity through agreement between the Kuomintang and the Communists was unwise or, as he might say it, unrealistic.

J[ohn] C[arter] V[incent]
  1. Addressed, to the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Ballantine) and the Under Secretary of State (Grew).