No. 181
Memorandum by the Regional Planning Adviser for Far Eastern Affairs (Ogburn) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson)



  • U.S. Position at Geneva

In response to your invitation to express my view as to what our position should be at Geneva, I would offer the following:

The United States and Communist China are now in effect engaged in a limited war (the battlefronts are in Korea, the Straits of Formosa, and Indochina and, in addition, we are at war in a general sense with respect to economic measures, mutual nonrecognition, etc.). At Geneva we shall meet with our enemy at the conference table. The problem will be to determine whether a peace can be negotiated. We must, therefore, be prepared to come forward with our terms for a settlement. This would, however, be necessary whether we were preparing to negotiate with the Chinese Communists or not. In waging war it is always necessary to indicate the terms of settlement one is prepared to accept—even if the terms are unconditional surrender. Without terms which are generally accepted in one’s own country and among one’s allies, there can be [Page 398] no unity in waging the war, no rational plans for carrying it out, and no way of knowing how or when a conclusion is to be reached, or, indeed, whether it has been reached.

Therefore, what is important is that we be prepared at Geneva to specify our terms of a settlement with Communist China. We should define the concessions we require of Communist China with respect to the future status of Korea, Formosa, and Indochina, the treatment of foreign officials and foreign-owned properties in China and other matters concerned with the Peiping regime’s external behaviour. Subject to Communist China’s agreeing to these concessions and carrying them out, we for our part would be prepared to terminate economic controls on Communist China and accept the Peiping regime as the legitimate government of China. Our demands of Communist China should come as close as possible to being both (1) sufficiently hard to protect our important interests and (2) sufficiently reasonable to attract general international support. We should neither appease Communist China nor stand on such extreme terms that we shall lose the support of our allies and sacrifice our leadership.

Having announced our terms at Geneva, we should expect to bargain on them. We should expect that the process of bargaining would either produce a general settlement in the Far East that would be tolerable to us or result in conclusively pinning responsibility upon Communist China for the continuation of the injustices and tensions prevailing in the Far East and in strengthening international support for our own position. It may be that the Secretary’s forthcoming speech,1 in which he stresses the “performance” we shall require of Communist China, will lead to a definition of our terms. I hope so.

After I sent Mr. Drumright a copy of my memorandum to you of March 22 dealing with this same subject, we engaged in the following exchange of notes:

Drumright to Ogburn: “Let the Chinese show a definite capacity to behave peacefully and justly. Until they do that let us stick to our guns”.

Ogburn to Drumright: “The whole question is, what standards of peaceful and just behavior are we applying? What concretely are we asking the Chinese Communists to do in return for which we shall call off our dogs?”

Drumright to Ogburn: “Stop their aggression and subversion. Live peaceably with their neighbors and the world generally. Live up to their obligations as decent and law abiding members of the international community”.

[Page 399]

Ogburn to Drumright: “Good. Would we be willing to spell out these conditions and then state publicly that if Communist China lived up to them, we would be willing to terminate economic controls on Communist China and acquiesce in Communist China’s representation in the UN? If so, Lippmann’s3 point would be met and I believe our position at the Korean Political Conference and in the Far East generally would be much stronger. It is by setting forth terms of a general settlement in the Far East that will appeal to reasonable men as fair and realistic—and only by doing this—that we can call Communist China’s bluff, regain the initiative, and restore confidence in our leadership.”

Drumright to Ogburn: “I doubt if we would want to state these things publicly. Rather we would want the Chinese to do these things without our stating them.”

There are only two reasons I can think of why we should refuse to state our terms publicly. One reason would be that this would involve us in making some very unpleasant and difficult decisions. The other would be that in fact nothing less than the destruction of the Chinese Communist regime will satisfy us. If the former is the reason I would suggest that we must make the decisions, palatable or not, unless we wish to witness a growing disunity in the free world and growing loss of faith in the United States and growing confusion at home. If the latter is the reason, I believe we should face up to it frankly, put ourselves on a war footing, reconcile ourselves to the effect on our allies, stop negotiations with the Chinese Communists and, as a first step, prepare to drive them and their influence out of Korea and Indochina and seriously groom the Chinese Nationalists for a campaign on the mainland.4

  1. See footnote 1, supra.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Journalist Walter Lippmann.
  4. There follows on the source text a handwritten note by Robertson: “Or maintain our strength and continue our economic pressures until they either change their leadership or disintegrate from within—a good possibility—WSR”.