Memorandum by the Ambassador in China (Stuart)8

Notes on a Future American China Policy

This should be free from any illusions as to the nature of Chinese Communism. The CCP is thoroughly imbued with the Marxist-Leninist doctrines of the historical necessity of world revolution through violence, of promoting this through the cooperative efforts of the CPs in all countries in close allegiance to the USSR, and of the ultimate goal of a classless society in a completely communized world in which all capitalist or “imperialistic” governments will have been overthrown. Chinese Communist Party discipline and popular indoctrination have been to this end thorough and effective to a degree unknown heretofore in China.
Full account should be taken ‘also of the passionately nationalistic element in all of CCP teaching and practice. With many of its more liberal leaders and educated followers this is perhaps the more powerful motive, the CCP and its technique being considered the best vehicle for ridding the nation of its semi-colonial backwardness and making it strong and self-reliant. Mao Tse-tung and his contemporaries [Page 431] began their careers in the period of nascent nationalistic consciousness and most of them have never lost these convictions. The Kmt also owes its inception to the same impulse. It must be recognized that this is an essential element in the development of a modern Chinese state and will continue to exert a strong appeal, particularly to students and intellectuals. Unless converted wholly to the Soviet pattern of internationalism, such as preached by Liu Shao-ch’i, it need not work to our disadvantage. While protecting our national interests, we should seek to avoid placing ourselves in the position of apparently blind opposition to manifestations of Chinese nationalism and to emphasize our traditional role as champion of legitimate Chinese national aspirations, portraying Russia in its traditional role of suppressor of those aspirations.
A third factor is the social awakening of which the CCP is the most articulate and dynamic expression. This had already asserted itself in such movements as the Taiping Rebellion,9 the Sun Yat-sen Revolution,10 etc., to which the CCP claims it is in the succession, and in numerous less conspicuous processes. Disillusionment over the Kmt for having neglected this feature of its avowed program has been perhaps one of the most potent influences in sending idealists over to the CCP whose emphasis has been upon economic justice and amelioration for the masses rather than upon political liberty. It is imperative that we bear constantly in mind the fact that Chinese intellectuals and progressive forces have been hostile to our policy of aiding the Nationalist Government because they feel that thereby we sought to block Chinese national and social progress to our own selfish advantage. The failure of our aid program must in some measure be ascribed to this opinion so often expressed and so deeply felt by many Chinese intellectuals and progressives.
Whether any form of American military aid or other intervention would at any stage have altered the course of events for the better is now an academic question. Further American aid or intervention in the foreseeable future is impossible; is seems conceivable at the moment only if the ability of the Kmt or other non-Communist power to resist were miraculously to revivify, or if the Communists should so trample on American rights and interests as to bring American public opinion to demand action against them.
A situation has now emerged in China, analogous to that already reached in Europe, in which the conflict will be one of ideas and the consequences of these for human welfare. We Americans ought to welcome this comparison of ideologies, freed from most of the factitious features which have hitherto distorted the issue in China, Our leadership in world affairs is not merely a matter of dispensing money [Page 432] and munitions. We have an experimental faith in the philosophy which underlies our political and economic institutions. Communists in China and elsewhere cannot be convinced by argument, still less by any reliance on their own brutal tactics of suppression. They too must learn by the empirical way. This may take a long time.
In the present circumstances, perhaps the nearest to an ideal solution of China’s ills from the American standpoint would be a true coalition composed of one-third CCP, one-third KmtRC, and one-third “democratic elements” with each having equal authority and responsibility. That being out of the question, the next best would be the strengthening of the non-Communist democratic elements which will participate in the Communist-dominated coalition government. While we are not sanguine that they will be effective to any important degree, their strengthening and continuing struggle for independence as political parties within the coalition may tend to adulterate or modify extremist CCP doctrines or at least their current tactical application. Furthermore, the force of circumstances and the enormous inertia of Chinese society over a period of time may tend to debilitate the undeviating orthodoxy presently avowed by CCP leadership. Although the extent to which we can influence CCP members themselves is strictly limited in an anti-American police state, nevertheless we should be alert for opportunities where we might by pressure, education or personal contact strengthen the more liberal wing of the CCP against the uncompromising Stalinists. However, mere needling or ill-considered sanctions against Communist China may well result in strengthening the extremist wing of the CCP against the more moderate elements.
The essence of American concern over the course of events in China is not the volume of our trade, nor even the maintenance of our much larger cultural activities, but the threat to world peace. It is conceivable that a Marxian type of government may be established which permits a measure of continued commercial and cultural intercourse. Or our merchants and missionaries may alike be forced to leave the country. These considerations are of great importance to certain elements of the American people. But the aggressive quality in the CCP program is the paramount issue. That this is not mere doctrinaire orthodoxy may be seen in the current slogan involving our policy in Japan.
The outlook is not by any means as hopeless as might be assumed. In reply to the charge of the failure of our recent policy it might even be admitted that we are learning by trial and error and argued that this has not been entirely wasted. There is an immense reservoir of friendly feeling all over China toward the USA and it will take much insistent propaganda to obliterate this. There is also an instinctive fear of the USSR and dislike of Russians personally. The Chinese social [Page 433] tradition is against excessive regimentation such as the CCP is compelled by its tenaciously held theories to enforce. It may well be that they will yield to their environment and become so diluted by this that we have nothing to fear or that they will continue true to form in Which case they will inflame the innate resentment at such treatment which is already showing itself. There are also geographical and sociological factors—the long coastline, the distinctive Chinese cultural heritage, etc.—which will militate against the totalitarian methods of a police state. But the fundamental problem—as the CCP itself realizes—will be economic. This cannot be solved merely by arbitrary confiscation and division of land. Public opinion in China as to whether a government is good or bad is determined by the price of rice. China will be a significant laboratory for the application of peculiarly Russian terminology and techniques to a radically different civilization.

In facing this situation one of our two principal instruments is publicity. This is one which the CCP has from the outset employed most effectively. From village classes and political indoctrination of troops and workers to scholarly periodicals and worldwide broadcasts, it uses propaganda with unremitting zeal. This propaganda is unscrupulous and crassly one-sided, but also extremely intelligent and over a period of time probably effective. As Americans become aware of the crucial importance of this tool, we should strive to develop it to the point where the impact of our publicity on the people of China is greatly increased. We have the advantage of needing only to purvey the facts—chiefly about the USSR, our historic treatment of China, our efforts for world peace, etc. We have the further advantages of Chinese skepticism of the news available in Communist China today, Chinese eagerness to hear and willingness to believe news from the outside, and the moderate cost of an intensive use of radio, printed matter, etc.

The great obstacle to increasing our information activities within Communist China is, of course, the determination of the authorities to limit access to news to official sources. So long as it may be possible to do so, we should print in the Chinese language and distribute in large quantities throughout Nationalist China a wide variety of material supporting our point of view and refuting the distorted accusations of the CCP. Much of this material will eventually find its way across the lines. Furthermore, because of the expansionist nature of Communism, and our desire to contain it within the borders of China, we should immediately and substantially expand USIS activities in all Southeast Asian countries. In this area, where there are large Chinese minorities, we should put out huge quantities of printed material in the Chinese language. In this way we can not only work to counteract the CCP’s efforts to use these minorities as fifth-columns in the countries where they reside, but also may be able to get a certain amount of [Page 434] the material into China proper. The CCP will not be able to seal the country off from its Chinese minorities abroad, nor will it be able to control their sources of information as it does for residents of China proper. In our propaganda in these areas we should particularly play up the aggressive activities of the USSR in China.


The second instrument we have is the powerful economic one. Foreign trade and economic assistance are far more important to urban and other modern segments of China’s economy than in many countries, and Sino-American trade is vastly more significant to China than to the United States. Already apparent domestically are the effects of cessation of trade in the great port of Shanghai and the permanent stoppage of ECA11 inward shipments of sorely needed relief and other supplies.

At the same time, however, we must never overlook the deep-seated doctrinal repugnance to the CCP of compromising political principle in exchange for economic assistance. To hurdle this our action must be properly timed, and it must be incisive. To adopt economic sanctions or retaliatory US tariff adjustments at present would be largely a wasted gesture because of the current stagnation of China’s foreign trade. To show our willingness to trade with CCP-controlled areas (on a purely commercial basis), even to permit the initiation of such trade, and then decisively to control it at the time when the effect would be most telling would seem the wisest policy.

Our policy must be sufficiently thorough to counter the traditional Chinese tactic of playing off one interest or nationality against another. Additionally, it must be made transparently clear to the CCP just what particular quid pro quo we are seeking. The policy as a whole should also be remarkably flexible so that, clearly sighting our strategic objective, we can move tactically as the situation warrants. The success of our tactics would probably depend in large degree on American determination to make non-vital commercial and individual interests secondary to the broad objectives of national policy.

The use of the economic weapon should not be tied too closely to the question of diplomatic recognition, for we should remain free to employ it after as well as before any possible recognition. We must also guard against too obvious use of this weapon for political purposes, against seeming to be bluntly hostile or vindictive or in any sense imperialistic. There are many ways in which the Chinese people can be educated to the reciprocally beneficial nature of trade, the advantages of multilateral commercial intercourse in the modern world, and our readiness to continue our help if given the proper conditions. These are subjects in which the Chinese are apt pupils. Sooner or later the CCP must face up to the issue of either fanatically clinging to a foreign ideological theory or of satisfying as best it can [Page 435] the economic necessities of a socially awakened and probably better informed, less docile people than the Russians.

In view of the widespread interest in the matter of the recognition of the Chinese government now forming, it may be advisable to prepare an educative campaign for the Chinese people as to what this involves. At the same time it would be well for us to prepare a series of trenchantly incisive questions to be put at the right time to the new coalition government. These questions would be concerned with such matters as the declared sympathy of the CCP with insurgent minorities in Southeast Asian countries and its implied intent to assist in the violent overthrow of the governments of these countries; assurances of equal treatment for foreign nationals and interests in China; the attitude of the new government toward basic human rights and freedoms; recognition of normal obligations imposed on a state by international law, etc. It would be desirable to develop these questions in consultation with other interested governments and possible in some relation to the United Nations.
An attitude of indifference or unconcern should be cultivated, letting it be transparently clear that China needs intercourse with other countries, especially the United States, more than they need commercial and other relations with China. We must understand, however, that the Communists, in their present mood, are fully prepared to do without anything they cannot get from the West on their own terms. They will not hesitate to force the Chinese people to undergo severe privation in order to attain their goal of a socialized China, free from Western influence. They are probably counting heavily on playing off one Western power against another in order to satisfy their vital needs. There is doubtless a point at which popular discontent and lack of progress in their industralization program, combined with friction with the USSR, may force the Communists to adopt a more reasonable attitude toward the West. We do not know what that point is. Consequently, we should not place undue hope in an early change in CCP policy. The chief virtues for us to exercise at present are perhaps patience, self-restraint and reserve—fortified by firmness of purpose.
J. L[eighton] S[tuart]
  1. Memorandum transmitted by the Ambassador in person to the Department upon his arrival from China and mentioned on August 11 in a conversation with the Secretary of State; copy forwarded to the Secretary of State on August 15 by the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Butterworth).
  2. 1850–1865.
  3. 1911–1912.
  4. Economic Cooperation Administration.