The Secretary of State to the Secretary of War (Patterson)49
Dear Mr. Secretary: I have read your letter50 handed to me at the February 26 meeting of the three Secretaries regarding our policy toward China.
I am in general agreement with the comments made by you on Recommendation (1) in my memorandum of February the 11th.51 Recent events certainly make it questionable whether the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party can work together in the National Government, but this obstacle does not invalidate our policy of encouraging the Chinese to achieve unity and democracy by peaceful methods. We have a clear practical purpose in mind. We desire a unified democratic China because we believe that such a China would contribute towards peace and progress in the Far East. We do not think that a Communist dominated China could make such a contribution any more than we think that a feudal-fascist China could do so. Without sacrificing any legitimate national interest, including our security, it is important to prevent China from becoming a dangerous irritant in our international relations, particularly with the U. S. S. R. I believe that we should pursue our objective with patience and perseverance in the hope that the Chinese themselves, with our encouragement, will find a satisfactory solution. We should not be deterred or deviate because of obstacles and delays; nor should we assume that Chinese military action will prove to be capable of eliminating Chinese Communism.
With regard to your comments on Recommendation (2) the President said on December the 18th last that “when conditions in China improve, we will be prepared to give China economic assistance.” In my statement of January the 7th, I set forth some of the conditions which I considered would constitute an improvement. In judging the steps which the Chinese Government may take to meet the conditions mentioned by me, it is believed that sincerity of purpose should be given greater weight than the actual length of the steps taken. While being careful not to be misled by measures adopted by the Chinese as “window dressing,” we should not set such a high mark for early progress as to defeat our purpose. I do not believe it is feasible, however, at this juncture to be more specific than I have been in setting a standard for Chinese achievement.[Page 806]
As you state, there is a direct relationship between political advancement in China and economic assistance from us. Nonetheless, there must be that minimum degree of improvement in conditions which would make it possible to advance credits with some assurance that they could be effectively used. That is not now the case. Careful appraisal of advances made by the Chinese should enable us to decide when substantial economic assistance should be given. I earnestly hope that the time will come soon, as the situation in China is rapidly deteriorating. In the meantime we are endeavoring to find solutions beneficial to China in various and sundry small problems such as shipping and surplus property. As you are aware, the attitude of the Export-Import Bank is an important, if not controlling, factor in dealing with the problem of major economic assistance.
With reference to military matters, it would be manifestly unrealistic to withhold arms, or more particularly ammunition, from National Government forces if such action condemned them to a degree of military anemia which would make possible a successful offensive by the Communist forces. However, it does not appear that our withholding munitions will result in such an eventuality in the next few months. It might result in the immobilization of some of the modern American equipment in the hands of the Government forces, but it is believed that Chiang has and can get from sources within the country a sufficient amount of small arms and ammunition to enable him to withstand a general Communist offensive, in the event that one is undertaken. This situation requires the most careful day to day watching. It would be preferable from our standpoint to let the opposing Chinese military forces reach some degree of equilibrium or a stalemate without outside interference. Should we find evidence of material support of the Chinese Communist Army from the Soviet Union, an immediate reassessment of our attitude would obviously be necessary.
In any consideration of the question of American military aid to China, we should not overlook the problem of Chinese reaction in groups other than the right wing Kuomintang and the Chinese Communists. Partly because of Communist propaganda but largely through conviction, a sizeable body of Chinese public opinion has been strongly critical of American military aid to the National Government. Existing anti-American feeling could be stimulated to serious proportions by propaganda against American military assistance to the National Government.
There is a strong doubt in my mind that, even if the United States were willing to give a large amount of munitions and support to the Chinese Government, it would be unable within a reasonable time to [Page 807] crush the Chinese Communist Armies and Party. Limited amounts of munitions would encourage the Kuomintang military leaders to continue their inconclusive war which, for economic reasons, will lead, I fear, to the disintegration of the National Government.
If we let down the bars now on munitions shipments to China, it would be very difficult to control the flow not only from the United States but also from other countries. Moreover, those reactionaries in the Chinese Government who have been counting on substantial American support regardless of their actions and party corruption would have cause to conclude that they were right. Premature action on any proposal for military aid to China might thus prevent any chance of genuine reform in the Government which, in the last analysis, is the only practical method of combating the challenge of the Communists.
With regard to your comments on Recommendation (3), although I do not anticipate an early military collapse of the National Government, or disintegration of its authority to a degree that will permit Communist domination of China, I agree to your proposition that the Joint Chiefs of Staff give study to this military aspect of the problem. I believe, however, that the matter should be brought to the urgent attention of the Joint Chiefs through the normal channel of SWNCC.
Reference your comment on Recommendation (4), the State Department is prepared to sponsor suitable legislation for a Military Advisory Group in China. It is our belief now that the general Military and Naval Missions Bill is the most convenient way in which to achieve this end. A special bill for China might unnecessarily raise difficulties in the Congress at this time.
This leads directly to your comments on Recommendation (5). I am in agreement with your suggestion that the question of U. S. military equipment for China be studied by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I believe that this question should be handled in the same manner as I have suggested above with regard to the general military aspect of the situation in China.
With regard to your comments on Recommendation (6), it was not the intention to raise any question as to the President’s final responsibility, but we believe that the decision should be based on the recommendation of the Secretary of State, presumably following consideration of the issue by the Committee of the three Secretaries.
With regard to your comments on Recommendation (7), I have already directed that we move rapidly in supplying the Chinese with the civilian end-use items under the 8⅓ Group Program. Insofar as [Page 808] the military items are concerned, I believe that this also is a matter which the SWNCC might appropriately refer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff together with the other problems mentioned above.
Reverting to the suggestion contained in your opening paragraph with regard to a study of policy on China to be made either by SWNCC or a special interdepartmental committee, I believe that we should avail ourselves of all the competent thought and guidance we can get in pursuing our China policy. Although I do not think we should set up a special interdepartmental committee at once, it might be advisable to do so after we have received from the Joint Chiefs of Staff their study on the military aspects of the problem.
With regard to your final suggestion that we establish an Economic Advisory Group in China, I have from time to time given thought to this idea. However, in the absence of any evidence that we are going to be in a position to give immediate financial and economic assistance to China, I doubt that it would be opportune or realistic to proceed with the establishment of such a Group. When we are in position to give China substantial financial assistance, I am convinced that it should be accompanied by technical assistance in the form of high level expert personnel; and I am not at all sure but that this Group should have a position vis-à-vis the Chinese Government and the expenditure of American credits more authoritative than is implied in the word “Advisory”. I have in mind men who could function without hampering interference in the field of administration and management.
I am taking the liberty of sending a copy of your letter and my reply to the President and the Secretary of the Navy.