Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs (Young) 1



  • Various Matters Concerning Korea


  • Mr. Paek Tu Chin, Korean Prime Minister
  • Dr. You Chan Yang, Korean Ambassador
  • Mr. John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State
  • Mr. Walter S. Robertson, Assistant Secretary, Far Eastern Affairs
  • Mr. Kenneth T. Young, Jr., Director, Office of Northeast Asian Affairs

Prime Minister Paek Tu Chin called on the Secretary at 3:00 o’clock today. After a brief exchange regarding the Secetary’s trip to Korea in June 1950 just before the Communist invasion, the Prime Minister asked the Secretary how it was possible to continue negotiations with such unreliable and unfriendly people as the Communists.

The Secretary replied that he did not believe the Chinese Communists would remain in power for a long time. It might take five or ten years, but ultimately the Chinese Communists would fail. Any dictatorship rests on terrorism, which generates hostile and uncooperative groups in the population, which in turn requires ever larger armed security forces, until eventually even some of these become unruly and untrustworthy. At that point a dictatorship such as the Chinese Communists begins to disintegrate from within.

Mr. Paek interjected that such a prospect for Communist China seemed too indefinite, and he wondered how long it would take and what would happen to Korea in the meantime. He described the efforts of the Koreans to resist the Communists and the terrible suffering of the people in North Korea. He told the Secretary that now would be the best opportunity to get the Communists out of Korea, unite the country, and liberate the people in North Korea from Communist tyranny. Otherwise, Mr. Paek said the Communists would rebuild their air fields, create strong military forces, and soon infiltrate South Korea. He [Page 1194] said that his Government and his people very much feared Communist infiltration and attack after an armistice, if the Chinese are left in North Korea. He pointed out that the Korean people do not understand the Political Conference, what it will attempt to accomplish, or what procedures will be used. It is all completely vague, but the Korean Government and people do fear that no good can or will come of it.

The Secretary replied that the infiltration should work just the other way—that is, from the South to the North. He said that the economy of South Korea should be rapidly built up so that South Korea would soon become a strong attraction to the people under Communist domination in the north. Since North Korea would be so much worse off after an armistice, as the Communists probably would not put much into restoring it, the people will wish to move south where conditions will presumably be much better. The Secretary pointed to the parallel example of Germany and Austria, where refugees continually flee from the East to the West and not in the reverse direction. The Secretary referred to the situation in South Korea in 1950 when efforts of the Koreans and the Americans had restored the economic conditions there to such an extent that the Communists found war the only way to try to get control of all Korea. The Secretary said that we should attempt to repeat the process, but do even better. However, he pointed out that in 1950 we only did part of the job. While we were building up the Korean economy, we made no adequate provision for its protection against aggression. In fact, the United States Government made the great mistake of indicating to the Communists that it would view with indifference any attack on South Korea.

The Secretary suggested to Mr. Paek that the future of Korea would be greatly influenced by a long-term trend in world affairs. If that trend goes in one direction it will help Korea, if it goes in another it will hurt Korea. The Secretary said that it was his considered view, which he had indicated in his writings and in his speeches in the past few years, that Soviet dictatorship may have reached the maximum limit of its power and its expanse. He felt that a new trend was beginning in which Communist power was starting to ebb and would begin to contract. It was possible, the Secretary said, that in five or ten years Russian power would have pulled back to its historic boundaries. In that event, countries like Germany, Korea and those in Eastern Europe would be fully restored as unified countries. One reason for eventual contraction of Soviet power was that the Kremlin has apparently taken over too many people to control effectively for a long time. He referred to the recent difficulties in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The Secretary said that it has always been his conviction that launching open warfare against Communist dictatorship would be one of the most effective means of strenthening it internally, whether in China or in Russia. Attacks against innocent people would unify the population behind the [Page 1195] regime for they would fight in defense of their homes. The military would obviously have to rally behind the Communist leaders. The Secretary felt that Communist authorities feared the military. They had to use them in war, but in peacetime they had to take every precaution to keep them under control. For all these reasons, the Secretary felt that the strategy of internal disintegration rather than open assault would be more likely in the long run to reduce or eliminate Communist power in the world.

In this context, the Secretary told the Prime Minister that he had reason to hope2 the reunion of Korea could be brought about. He pledged to the Prime Minister that the United States will do all the things necessary after an armistice to obtain the unification of Korea. He explained that we could use a combination of negotiating tactics, threats, and real pressures to induce the Communists to agree to Korea’s unification. The Secretary pointed to the recent developments in Germany, where the Soviets appear to be moving towards agreement on Germany’s unification. They might also do the same in Korea.

The Secretary said that he had just been discussing the question of the unification of Korea with his associates here in the Department and that he had told them that we intend to collaborate fully with the Korean Government, the first and fundamental step in this matter. He proposed to Prime Minister Paek that the United States and Korea work together in full partnership to develop a joint strategy for the reunion of Korea. The Secretary said that he felt the United States must first work with the Koreans before discussing this whole matter with our friends in the United Nations. However, after the United States and Korea have worked out this strategy, it would be necessary to discuss it with our allies, which might require a few changes.

Mr. Paek then said that in his view a prospect more likely than the reunion of Korea was the buildup of North Korea and South Korea militarily and economically until perhaps at some time they would be fighting again. He wondered if there was any real hope of bringing Korea together. The Secretary replied that he thought there was a very real possibility, provided the United States and Korea could work together, as he had said, on the strategy for the reunion of Korea. The Secretary pointed out that President Rhee’s suggestion for the simultaneous withdrawal of United Nations forces and Chinese Communist forces would weaken our negotiating position. The Secretary felt that we should use the presence of United States and United Nations forces in Korea for all of the bargaining power with the Communists that it contained. If we stand squarely with the Republic of Korea, as we have [Page 1196] said we would, if we continue to build up Korean forces, if we help the Koreans restore their economy, if we keep United States forces in Korea and in the general area, and if we give the Communists the impression that Korea might become a threat as a jumping-off place for American power, then the Communists might prefer a unified Korea if it meant the withdrawal of this threat. In addition, there would be a security pact between the United States and Korea, as well as the Greater Sanction Statement. The Communists will know that both would mean instant retaliation if they again attack Korea, and they know that this retaliation could mean atomic attacks on Vladivostok and Port Arthur. Therefore, the Secretary concluded that the Communists might be reluctant to use what resources they have, which are relatively meager, to rebuild their military position in North Korea and risk continuing the expansion of South Korea and American power on the peninsula.

Ambassador Yang commented at that point that it was particularly important for the Americans and Koreans to consult and work together closely on all of these matters. He said that President Rhee and other Koreans greatly regretted the tendency of ignoring the Korean Government in major and minor decisions regarding it. He cited the Korean desire to be a member of the UNKRA Advisory Committee as an example of lack of adequate collaboration. He also mentioned the tendency of UNKRA to make the decisions regarding Korea’s economy without consulting with the Koreans.

Mr. Robertson then asked the Prime Minister if Korea would not be in a much more secure position after an armistice than it had been in early 1950, in view of the provisions of the armistice itself, the development of the Republic of Korea armed forces which are the strongest anti-Communist forces in Asia, the President’s pledge to conclude a defense treaty with the Republic of Korea right after an armistice, our intention to continue economic and military assistance to the Republic of Korea, and the international guarantee in the Greater Sanction Statement.

The Prime Minister then thanked the Secretary for the courtesy of this visit and concluded by saying in effect that he hoped that Korea and the United States would remain friends, although the Korean people were facing difficult decisions.

  1. This memorandum of conversation was approved by Robertson and Dulles.
  2. Dulles made two corrections in this memorandum of conversation: he changed the phrase “reason to believe” to “reason to hope”, and deleted the word “every” before “reason”.