S/SNSC files, lot 63 D 351, NSC 148 Series

No. 92
Study Prepared by the Staff of the National Security Council1

top secret

Basic U.S. Objective Toward Communist China

The central problem facing the United States in the Far East is the threat to U.S. and Free World security resulting from the establishment of control over China by an aggressive and dynamic Communist regime closely aligned with an supported by the Soviet Union. A basic objective of U.S. policy in the Far East, therefore, must be to bring about changes in China which will eliminate the threat from that country to Free World security.
Achievement of this objective, however, would not satisfy U.S. long-range aspirations with respect to China. As an ultimate objective the U.S. must seek the development in China of an independent, stable, self-sustaining, non-Communist Government, which is friendly to the United States and acts in accordance with the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter. Attainment of this objective is subordinate, however, to the solution of the immediate problem of the threat from Communist China.
It is highly improbable that a satisfactory solution of this problem can be obtained so long as the regime controlling China is [Page 176] closely aligned with the Soviet Union. Thus the most effective means of resolving the problem is through the disruption of this alignment and the detachment of China from the Soviet orbit.
There are two ways in which detachment of China from the Soviet orbit could occur: (a) by defection of the Peiping regime from Moscow, and (b) by the overthrow of the Peiping regime and its replacement by a Chinese Government hostile to Moscow. Present U.S. policy towards China has been in theory at least, to encourage both of these possibilities simultaneously. There is in this policy an inherent dilemma; obviously (a) and (b) cannot both occur at the same time. Thus it may be argued that the two courses are mutually exclusive and can not be pursued simultaneously. A choice must be made now, according to this argument, as to which course the U.S. will foster and the other must be abandoned.
The argument for selecting course (a) and abandoning course (b) may be summed up as follows: Tito2 demonstrated the possibility of successful defection by foreign Communist leaders from the Kremlin: the Chinese Communist dictator Mao resembles Tito in that he acquired power largely on his own and his country has never been occupied by Soviet troops so that he retains the capability of independent action; conflicts of national interest between China and Russia will eventually lead to a break between Peiping and Moscow; on the other hand, to accept course (b) is tantamount to declaring war on Communist China; there is no likelihood within the foreseeable future of the Peiping regime being overthrown without direct U.S. intervention and even then it is problematical as the Soviet Union would undoubtedly come to Peiping’s aid; couse (b) is inconsistent with U.S. declarations that it has no aggressive intent.
The argument for selecting course (b) now and abandoning course (a) may be summed up as follows: The Peiping leaders are died-in-the-wool Communists who have deliberately chosen the side of the Kremlin and there is no indication that they have any desire to change their orientation, while it is at least doubtful that they could change if they wanted to; to abandon course (b) would be to abandon the Chinese Nationalists and others fighting the Chinese Communists, which would result in seriously weakening the current Free World effort to stem Communist aggression; so long as Chinese Communist aggression persists the U.S. cannot afford to overlook any means of exerting pressure against them; on the other hand, to try to pursue course (a) while continuing to support the Chinese National Government, for example, makes (a)’s accomplishment [Page 177] impossible; retaining (a) as a course hampers and limits the effective implementation of course (b).
There are strong arguments, however, against a decision now to commit the U.S. exclusively to either course (a) or (b). There is good reason to believe that at this stage of development these courses are not mutually exclusive. A policy of increasing pressure on Communist China short of outright U.S. intervention in China promotes both courses; it does not render the eventual detachment of China from the Soviet orbit impossible by way of either course. Thus the dilemma at this stage is only a potential dilemma, and while it may well have to be resolved one way or the other in the long run, it is neither possible to make a wise resolution of it now, nor necessary to do so.
It is only a potential dilemma for several reasons:
The stage has not been reached yet, nor, according to the intelligence estimates of this Government, will that stage be reached in the near future wherein the Peiping regime is desirous of altering its pro-Soviet, anti-U.S. orientation, which it deliberately chose months before the outbreak of the Korean war, at a time when the National Government appeared to be on the verge of final extinction and the U.S. had adopted an attitude of wait-and-see with respect to China. In other words, the question of providing an “avenue of escape” from the Soviet relationship is academic when there is no evidence that the Peiping regime is looking for one, and especially when its provision would severely handicap, if not nullify, the accomplishment of other important U.S. objectives.
The U.S. objective of altering the status quo in China in a manner satisfactory to the U.S. is only partially dependent upon U.S. and Free World actions. Soviet dealings with the Chinese Communist regime may in the end prove more decisive in determining whether a change in the status quo occurs in China. Within the framework of Free World capabilities to affect the situation, short of direct attack on the mainland, it seems essential that U.S. actions be directed toward demonstrating to the Chinese that the pro-Soviet posture of the Peiping regime does not pay off but in fact causes them increasing hardships and sacrifices. Courses of action directed to this end are inconsistent with the provision of an avenue of escape; they are rather directed toward the achievement of a situation which will stimulate a desire for an avenue of escape. When such a situation is brought about, courses of action with respect to China may be reexamined.
But such a situation may never be brought about; the Peiping regime may well stick to the Soviets regarding [regardless?] of how badly things go. In such a case nothing less than complete obliteration of the regime would satisfy U.S. objectives. Moreover, it is conceivable that a Chinese Communist regime detached from the Soviets would continue to pose a security threat to the U.S. Having broken with the Soviets it could pose as a purely Asian power and as such might attract far more Asian support than it does now. In short, the circumstances which will cause the Peiping regime to [Page 178] seek “escape” from its Soviet relationship do not exist now, nor can it be accurately forecast when or how they will come about, or what the implications will be for the solution of the China problem. For these reasons it is impractical to determine now on courses of action to meet this eventuality.
The problem posed by U.S. support of the Chinese National Government whose objectives go beyond those of the U.S. with respect to China is also largely academic at this stage, and will remain so (a) until the status quo on the mainland is altered in such a way as to provide the Chinese Government with an opportunity of re-establishing itself on the mainland, or (b) changes take place in the Peiping regime of such magnitude that it is no longer a threat to U.S. security interests. These circumstances do not exist now nor will they within the foreseeable future; and when they do come into being they may occur in one of several possible forms, which should be handled in different ways. Meanwhile the U.S. shares with the Nationalists a common purpose of altering the status quo on the mainland through the exertion of pressure. The achievement of this purpose is advanced by political, military and economic support of the Nationalists and is not significantly hindered by failure to commit the U.S. to the Chinese Nationalists’ ultimate objectives on the mainland.
Another factor which underlies the belief that the U.S. must immediately resolve the apparent dilemma in its policy towards China may be an over-emphasis on the importance of its policy with respect to the Chinese National Government as a solution of the China problem as a whole. The advocates of an immediate resolution of the dilemma, whether they favor courses (a) or (b), assume that U.S. policy toward Formosa has a decisive bearing on the problem of Communist China. It is important to bear in mind, however, that our policies elsewhere in the Far East are also directed to this problem and may in the long run prove more decisive in its solution than our policies with respect to the Chinese Nationalists. For example, it is probable that the Peiping regime is considerably more concerned with the potential threat to its power of a resurgent Japan than with the possible danger to it of a fully armed Formosa. Thus our policy towards Japan may well be more important in determining Chinese Communist courses of action and even in influencing their estimates of U.S. intentions towards them than our policies toward Formosa. The disparity in military potential between the Chinese Communist regime and the Chinese Government is so great that it is safe to assume that as long as the former remains intact and maintains its hold on the mainland (and there is no evidence that it will not do so in the foreseeable future) it will never view the Chinese National Government of itself as a serious military threat. It constitutes a threat to Peiping (other than of a local nature) only in so far as it is an adjunct of U.S. power in the Far East. As U.S. power in the Far East also manifests itself in our [Page 179] policies towards the ROK, Japan, and Vietnam, there may be reason to doubt that the Peiping regime measures U.S. intentions or estimates U.S. courses of action toward it primarily by U.S. policy towards Formosa, or that what the U.S. does on Formosa is decisive in determining Chinese Communist attitudes or its courses of action with respect to the U.S.
Perhaps the most important reason for the futility of attempting now to resolve the potential dilemma of our China policy, however, is the strong possibility that before either (a) or (b) could occur the Peiping regime would abandon, at least temporarily, its aggressive tactics. Such a development would probably postpone even further the detachment of China from the Soviet orbit by means of either (a) or (b).
A shift in Communist tactics of this kind would logically begin with the acceptance of UN armistice terms in Korea, the conclusion of an armistice and exchange of prisoners. This might be followed by such moves as agreeing to a diplomatic exchange with the British and other Western governments which have recognized Communist China but have not secured its recognition, renewed efforts to gain a seat in the UN, and serious attempts to revive trade with Free World countries, particularly those which could supply capital equipment. By such tactics the Peiping regime would hope to obtain a breathing spell in which it could concentrate on industrialization and further build-up of its armed forces. In the meantime, it might hope to sow discord among the Western nations and increase its influence over neutral Asian nations at the expense of the U.S. Such a shift in tactics, however, would not cause the Peiping regime to abandon its Communist ideology, to give up its ruthless police state rule over China, nor to alter its close alignment with Moscow. It would not mean the abandonment of the regime’s long-range objective in the Far East, i.e., the elimination of Western power and influence from the area and extension of its own.
A development of this nature would mitigate the current threat to security in the Far East by ending the shooting war in Korea. Thus it would be welcomed. It would not achieve our basic objective in the Far East, however, as Communist China would continue to pose a serious potential threat to Free World security in the area. Yet the means by which the U.S. could bring direct pressure to bear against the Peiping regime would be substantially curtailed following the cessation of open hostilities with the Chinese Communists. For this reason U.S. capabilities of promoting the detachment of China from the Soviet orbit would be reduced. In these circumstances, present courses of action with respect to China would have to be re-examined.
  1. This NSC staff study was an annex to NSC 148, “United States Policies in the Far East,” Apr. 6, 1953, a draft statement of policy prepared by the NSC Planning Board and submitted for the Council’s consideration. A covering note of the same date by NSC Executive Secretary Lay, enclosed with NSC 148, stated that the staff study was included for the Council’s information. For text of NSC 148, parts of which deal specifically with China, and related documentation, see vol. xii, Part 1, pp. 285 ff.
  2. Josip Broz Tito, President of Yugoslavia.