Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Chinese Affairs (Sprouse) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Merchant)


Subject: Chinese Air Force Bombings of American Property at Shanghai

Reference is made to the attached telegram from Taipei (telegram No. 273 of February 15), in which there is quoted the Chinese Foreign Office’s reply to our written protests of the bombings of American property at Shanghai.1

The Chinese reply is definitely unsatisfactory, but is adroitly worded in an effort to excuse CAF bombing on the grounds that “American property” is being used to further the Chinese Communist military efforts and, while the Chinese indicate that they will not bomb US “oil tanks”, there is no assurance that they will not again bomb the Shanghai Power Company.2

It seems to me that this issue should be looked at in the larger context of U.S. policy and long-range objectives. If we are to follow the policy outlined by the Secretary at his Overseas Press Club speech,3 we must look at this in the light of the damage being done to our position in China by the use of U.S. aviation equipment to bomb the Chinese civilian population. The Communists are not slow to take up this theme and we are arraigned before the bar of Chinese opinion in much stronger terms than is the Chinese Government itself. The bombings are fast producing what the Consulate General describes as a state approaching chaos with attendant danger to American residents of Shanghai. If anarchy does prevail and if there are mob actions against Americans, we can be sure that, even though they are instigated by the Communists, the Chinese people as a whole will look [Page 313] upon them as a result of our association with a discredited government, which is indulging in an operation which cannot basically affect the outcome of the struggle against the Communists. It should not be overlooked that the Chinese Government, in effect, exists and maintains its representation in the UN solely because of American support and that it would probably collapse overnight if that support were withdrawn. It seems incredible, therefore, that we permit the Chinese Government brazenly to do the damage to our position in China that it is doing. It is all the more incredible that we do not take stronger steps than we have already taken to make clear to that Government that, if it continues bombing attacks of this nature, we will stop all aid or at least all shipments of military supplies from this country.4 We cannot afford to let the Chinese Government take us further down the primrose path than it has already led us. I say this in full awareness of the pattern of our own strategic bombing in the past and the real damage Chinese Air Force bombing is doing in Shanghai. But, if we consider that it is in our national interest to have such bombings continue, it is then up to us to encourage it and provide additional planes and bombs to the end that it becomes really effective. We cannot drift between the two courses, as we seem to be doing at present. I feel that the beneficial effect of the President’s statement of January 55 regarding Formosa has now been largely dissipated because of these CAF bombings and am dismayed that we seem to lack the foresight to look at this matter in the light of the larger issues.

These same considerations apply in the case of our evacuation plans. If the U.S. Navy is willing to sweep the mines from the Yangtze channel and if we can obtain Chinese Communist concurrence in such action, I feel very strongly that we should politely but firmly tell the Chinese Government that we are going to do so. The spectacle of the Chinese Government’s being able to call the turn on matters of direct and, in some ways, of vital interest to the U.S. Government is not [Page 314] logical; nor is it warranted when one considers its complete dependence upon the U.S.6

  1. Neither telegram 273 nor the Chinese note is printed.
  2. The Chinese Foreign Minister gave verbal assurances that the United States power plants in Shanghai would not be bombed again in the near future (293.114/2–1550).
  3. See the editorial note under date of January 12, p. 275.
  4. On February 17, Mr. Windsor G. Hackler of the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs recorded the following in a memorandum of a telephone conversation with Mr. Acheson:

    “At 6:00 p. m. tonight, the Secretary rang Mr. Merchant on the inter-office telephone. When I explained that Mr. Merchant had left the city, the Secretary said that he wanted to leave a message since he might not remember to ask about the matter on Monday.

    “He referred to the note which the Chinese had given to us ‘telling us to go to hell with our protest on the Shanghai bombings.’ The Secretary wanted to ask if this note gave us a chance to get out of Formosa and withdraw aid from the Nationalists.

    “I replied that the matter was under active consideration in FE and that an answer to the question would be forthcoming very soon. The Secretary said ‘Fine, fine, I just wanted to be sure that you are thinking about it.’” (793.00/2–1750)

  5. See the editorial note under date of January 5, p. 264.
  6. On February 17, Mr. Sprouse’s memorandum was forwarded by Mr. Merchant to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Rusk) under cover of a memorandum, of which the last two paragraphs read:

    “It seems to me in continued pursuit of the maneuver of disengagement which has been under way for nearly two years we must expect some apparent confusion in our actions for some little time to come. It is out of the question that we should pursue one or the other policy to its logical extremity since in the first case this would lead us to derecognizing the Nationalists, writing Formosa off and at the earliest possible moment recognizing Peking; whereas the logical extremity of the other would be to reverse ourselves and give all-out military support to the Nationalists regardless of the risk of direct involvement.

    “It is necessary it seems to me, however, that we should be clear in our minds in which direction we are moving in order to give a consistent emphasis in our daily actions to the policy which is fundamental. This I take it would be regaining our complete freedom of maneuver and disassociation in the Chinese mind with the Kuomintang as rapidly as events at home and abroad permit.” (293.114/2–1750)

    In telegram 286, February 20, from Taipei, Mr. Strong reported on a further conversation with Foreign Minister Yeh concerning the Chinese Air Force air raids. The pertinent paragraph of this telegram read as follows:

    “I assured him that in my opinion Department would not regard reply as satisfactory for obvious reasons. Yeh then said he thought verbal assurance given in addition to aide-mémoire would have been regarded as solving issue particularly since assurance that power plant would not be bombed again in near future should of course be interpreted to mean it would not be bombed again.” (293.114/2–2050)