893.01/11–149

The British Embassy to the Department of State 62

1237/34/49

Memorandum

His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, having considered the question of the recognition of the Chinese communist [Page 152]regime, desire to consult with the Government of the United States and other governments including those of the British Commonwealth, on the basis of the general appraisal of the situation and conclusions set forth in the present memorandum. His Majesty’s Government will make no decision on recognition until replies have been made and until a report has been received from Singapore, where the forthcoming conference of United Kingdom representatives will consider the implications of recognition as they affect United Kingdom interests in the Far East.

2. It is recalled that the Chinese Nationalist Government was our former ally in the war and has been a useful friend in the United Nations. Today it is unfortunately no longer representative of anything but its ruling clique, whilst its control over the remaining metropolitan territories is tenuous. The Nationalist forces in China have shown no disposition to give battle and there is no doubt that the will to resist has largely disappeared. In the United Nations Organisation the continued recognition of the Nationalist Government offers the advantage of a vote which in the past has usually been cast in our favour, whereas a communist vote is likely to be cast against us. But this is hardly an advantage which can be maintained indefinitely.

3. The communist government of the People’s “Republic of China is the only alternative to the Nationalist Government and the communists are now the rulers of most of China (Mr. Bevin is advised that they control at present seventy per cent of the total area of the country and seventy-five per cent of the total population of China). Moreover the fall of Canton has brought them to the frontier of Hongkong. It would be a mistake to disregard the fact that they are, on their own statements, orthodox Marxist–Leninists who openly declare their strong partiality for the Soviet Union and its methods. How long they will last, how “orthodox” their methods will be, and how strong their leadership will prove is yet to be seen.

4. The Soviet Union and the satellite states have already recognised the communist government, and a considerable number of Russian technicians have already arrived in North China. It may be expected that the Soviet Union will take full advantage of the fact that they are first in the field and that, in the absence of any representation from the West, they will seek to influence the Chinese communist government in the direction of making matters difficult for other powers. If there is a considerable influx of Russians, it is not impossible that frictions may develop with the Chinese, but we cannot expect to take advantage of such a development if we have no relations with the communist government. The communists have a need to trade with the West but, with the lapse of time, if such trade does not [Page 153]develop they may come to the conclusion that they can tighten their belts and do without Western economic assistance, in which view they will be encouraged by the Soviet Union.

5. The United Kingdom has also to consider its own trading, interests in China, which are considerable and of long standing. His Majesty’s Government have advocated a policy of keeping a foot in the door, and if this policy is to bear fruit it can only be as a result of recognition of the Chinese communist government. On political and practical grounds His Majesty’s Government are therefore in favour of de jure recognition.

6. Mr. Bevin is advised that recognition of the communist government as the de jure government of China in present conditions cannot be held to be contrary to the principles and practice of international law, having regard to the proportion of Chinese territory controlled by the communist government and the firmness of its control there on the one hand and, on the other, to the small proportion of Chinese territory held by the Nationalists and the tenuous nature of Nationalist control, where it exists. It can be asserted that the resistance of the Nationalist Government in China is now ostensibly hopeless and its control over any portion of Chinese territory on the mainland hardly more than nominal, and in these circumstances Mr. Bevin is advised that de jure recognition of the communist government is legally justifiable.

7. The above represents His Majesty’s Government’s political and legal appreciation of the position and their conclusion is that recognition should be accorded. A detailed examination has yet to be made of the precise implications for the United Kingdom of de jure recognition and these are being studied. The implications for the United Kingdom’s extensive Far Eastern interests will be examined by a conference of His Majesty’s representatives in the Far East which is being held from the 2nd to the 4th November. Other governments will no doubt be studying the implications for their own interests. It is Mr. Bevin’s hope that the action eventually taken by governments will be concerted as far as possible, although it is accepted that every government has, in the final analysis, the right to take such action as it considers appropriate.

8. His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have also been considering what their attitude should be when the Chinese Nationalist complaint against the Soviet Union comes up for debate in the political committee of the United Nations Assembly. They are unable to see that the Nationalist complaint will, at this late date, serve any useful purpose in upholding the authority of the Nationalist Government in China, which has already been described as tenuous. It is [Page 154]by no means clear that a successful case can be established against the Soviet Union or that, if it is established, any desirable result will ensue. The Soviet Union for its part can be relied upon to make a violent attack upon the position of the Nationalist Government and is likely to make use of those portions of the United States White Paper on China63 which are the most damaging to Chiang Kai-Shek64 and the Nationalist Government. Since, in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government, the present state of affairs in China is due to the corruption and maladministration of the National Government and that any breach of the Sino-Soviet Treaty of 1945 had in fact little bearing upon the present situation, any support of the Nationalist Government in the forthcoming debate would not, it is considered, be justified. Nor, if ultimate recognition of the Chinese communist government is contemplated, does there appear to be any purpose in criticising the Chinese communists in advance of such recognition. In these circumstances, His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom are disposed to instruct their representatives in the United Nations Assembly to take no part in the debate and to abstain from voting if a vote should take place.

9. It would be of considerable convenience to Mr. Bevin if Mr. Acheson could favour him with the Department of State’s observations within the next two weeks in order that His Majesty’s Government may review the problem in the light of those views and the opinions expressed at the Singapore Conference.

  1. Handed by the Counselor of the British Embassy (Graves) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, (Butterworth) on November 1 and by the Secretary of State to President Truman on November 7.
  2. Department of State, United States Relations With China (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949); for correspondence regarding the publication of the White Paper, see pp. 1365 ff.
  3. President of China until his retirement on January 21, 1949, in favor of Vice President Li Tsung-jen; leader of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party).