Executive Secretariat Files

Note by the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Souers) to the Council

NSC 34/2

U.S. Policy Toward China

The attached report by the Secretary of State on the subject is submitted herewith for consideration by the National Security Council and, at his request, is scheduled as Item 2 on the Agenda for the 35th Council Meeting to be held on Thursday, March 3, 1949.

It is recommended that, if the Council adopts the enclosed report, it be forwarded to the President with the recommendation that he approve the recommendations contained therein and direct their implementation by all appropriate executive departments and agencies [Page 492]of the U.S. Government under the coordination of the Secretary of State.

Sidney W. Souers

Draft Report by the National Security Council on United States Policy Toward China

The Problem

U.S. policy toward China.


1. During the past four months, the situation in China has so developed that we are warranted in reviewing PPS–39* and spelling out with somewhat greater precision some of the considerations laid down in that basic survey of the China problem.

2. As anticipated, the Communists have shattered, although they have not yet completely destroyed, the power of the National Government. They now look southward across the Yangtze and westward across the mountains watching the fragmentation of non-communist China and pondering by what means and at what tempo they should proceed to bring the rest of China under their sway. These are tactical questions, the answers to which turn on a variety of complex and fluid factors. It would be unprofitable in this paper to speculate on these details. It is sufficient here to recognize that (a) preponderant power has now clearly passed to the Communists, (b) although a remnant of the National Government may survive in South China or Formosa for months or years to come, it will at best be a local regime with its claims to international recognition based on insubstantial legalisms and (c) eventually most or all of China will come under Communist rule.

3. The fruits of victory in a revolution are responsibility. Now for the Communists comes the pay-off. Manchuria and North China are already theirs. They have moved from caves to chancelleries and for the first time are confronted with urban and national problems. For a long time to come these problems are going to grow rather than diminish.

4. The administrative problems confronting the Communists now loom as a larger factor than anticipated in PPS–39. The disciplined administration of their sprawling domain, possessing no tradition of strong, centralized government but rather beset by stubborn regional tendencies, is likely to constitute a formidable task for Mao Tse-tung. [Page 493]The Chinese Communists are not taking over an existing centralized state apparatus as the Communists in Czechoslovakia did but are having to build from the ground up.

5. As responsibility for the rehabilitation of China is only beginning to descend on the shoulders of the Communists, the problems which will arise from this massive factor have not yet come into play. It may be months before we see the first evidences of them and years before they develop their full force. The first conflict between communist theory and Chinese environmental realities will probably come concretely to our attention in the economic field—when the Communists, in attempting to carry out their avowed intent to develop China economically, seek trade with the West. A separate paper deals with this specific problem.

6. The natural points of conflict between the Chinese Communists and the USSR have not yet developed. The vestiges of American “intervention” still serve the Chinese communists as a rationalization for equating their interests with those of the USSR. This is so notwithstanding obvious Kremlin cupidity in northern Manchuria, its extraterritorial activities in Sinkiang and the dispatch of the Soviet Ambassador48 with the Nationalist Foreign Office to Canton. The full force of nationalism remains to be released in Communist China.

7. The Kremlin for its part appears to be following at the moment a policy of cautious conservatism. Its negotiations with the Nationalists for special privileges in Sinkiang are tidily sewing up that province for the USSR no matter who wins out anywhere in China—and are a salutary check on inflated Chinese Communist ambitions. The southward move of the Soviet Ambassador was an elaborate masquerade of correct Soviet intentions toward the National Government, warning Mao that the Kremlin had feet in both camps and could do business in a number of directions at once.

8. Our present position is not a happy one. The new China emerging in the north is deeply suspicious of and hostile to us—and is likely to continue to be so for a long time to come. As for our policy of aid to the Nationalists, it is now beyond question of doubt that any further military program for the Chinese mainland will in the foreseeable future (a) be ineffectual, (b) eventually contribute to the military strength of the Communists and (c) perhaps most important of all, solidify the Chinese people in support of the Communists and perpetuate the delusion that China’s interests lie with the USSR.

9. It is even questionable whether we have anything to gain from political support of any of the remaining anti-communist public [Page 494]figures in China. They are likely to prove only slightly less impotent than Yugoslav royalists. The only vital political resistance to the Chinese Communists is something that is not yet evident. That force will take time to appear and develop; but inevitably it will, simply because a China under the Communists will breed it just as surely as Chiang’s Kuomintang was the forcing ground of the Communists. It will and must necessarily be a grass-roots movement finding its expression in native Chinese forms.

10. We shall therefore find ourselves before long entering upon a period when the Kremlin and we shall find ourselves in reversed roles. The Kremlin is going to try to influence, probably more than we, the course of events in China. And it will not be easy, as we can testify with feeling. We shall be seeking to discover, nourish and bring to power a new revolution, a revolution which may eventually have to come to a test of arms with the Chinese Communists, if it cannot in the meantime so modify the composition and character of the Chinese Communists that they become a truly independent government, existing in amicable relations with the world community.

11. This is obviously a long-term proposition. There is, however, no short-cut. Consequently we have no sound alternative but to accommodate our native impatience to this fact. The Kremlin waited twenty-five years for the fulfillment of its revolution in China. We may have to persevere as long or longer. But in one respect at least we can wait with greater confidence: we are under no Byzantine Tartar compulsion to shackle as our own captive the revolution which we seek to release.


12. We should avoid military and political support of any non-communist regimes in China unless the respective regimes are willing actively to resist communism with or without U.S. aid and, unless further, it is evident that such support would mean the overthrow of, or at least successful resistance to, the Communists.

13. We should, of course, maintain so far as feasible active official contact with all elements in China.

14. We should continue to recognize the National Government until the situation is further clarified.

15. We should, in the near future, publicly reaffirm our adherence to the traditional American policies of (1) friendship for the Chinese people, (2) respect for the territorial independence and administrative integrity of China and (3) advocacy of the “Open Door”.

16. We should maintain our cultural and informational program, both official and private, at the most active feasible level.

17. While scrupulously avoiding the appearance of intervention, we should be alert to exploit through political and economic means [Page 495]any rifts between the Chinese Communists and the USSR and between the Stalinist and other elements in China both within and outside of the communist structure.

[Paragraph 18 not printed.]

  1. NSC 34 [Footnote in the source text. See PPS 39, September 7, 1948, Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. viii, p. 146.]
  2. NSC 41 [Footnote in the source text. See NSC 41, dated February 28, p. 826.]
  3. N. V. Roschin.