772. Letter 63 from McConaughy to Johnson1

Letter No. 63
Dear Alex:
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I hope you got my letter No. 62 of January 4, sent to you at Prague. I presume you did since we received no word that you would carry through the travel and leave plan which you were considering when you wrote your letter No. 51 of December 13 (received here December 21).

I am leaving on the 17th to participate in a panel discussion of Communist policy at the Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell Air Base, Alabama. I hope we can get our guidance telegram for the January 19 meeting on the wires not later than Wednesday, the 16th. I hope we can have a preliminary meeting today. There will be nothing really new to put in it unless we decide to have you bring up the missing servicemen again. I’m going to recommend that the subject be brought up at this week’s meeting. I assume you will have enough time to prepare your presentation, and it needs to be done to satisfy Defense, and to back up many letters to the relatives in which we state that we are continuing to pursue the question actively. It is evident that we are not going to make any headway in the MAC. I agree with the suggestion in your last letter that some blanket inquiry be included which would cover other incidents where military [Facsimile Page 2] personnel have disappeared in the general area of China and adjoining waters.

We do not feel that we have any good explanation for Wang’s insistence on not having this week’s meeting on January 17. Chou En-lai’s current trip to Poland may have something to do with it, although it seems doubtful that Chou’s present itinerary had been planned in [Typeset Page 1295] detail as early as December 13. As you know, extensive changes in Chou’s travel plans have been made, or at least announced, since then.

We have sent you what little we have on Nehru’s conversations touching on China matters while he was recently in this country. We have no reason to think that anything took place in those talks which would influence our tactics with Wang. I gather that Nehru is not sanguine about the prospects for any immediate favorable action on the prisoners by Peiping.

We are in a rather difficult position in our efforts to hold the line on travel of Americans to Communist China. The unexpected entry of the 3 American newsmen into Communist China has complicated our problem. The present disposition here is to refrain from any sort of legal or administrative sanctions against these three. The “Look” Magazine people have already ordered Stevens and Harrington out and the “Afro-American” publisher has promised to advise Worthy to leave promptly, although Worthy is not actually an employee of the “Afro-American” and may not feel obligated to respect their wishes. Wiggin of the “Washington Post” is making a comprehensive study of the whole subject for the American Society of Newspaper Editors. While he is not entirely unsympathetic to our position his report may make it more difficult to hold the line 100 percent. There is a strong effort to break down our position to the extent of letting in a selected few newsmen. But we do not see how we can discriminate [Facsimile Page 3] against people in other occupations who have plausible reasons for going in. We intend to continue to use all the moral suasion we can while avoiding tangles with the courts and with public opinion. It seems important to get out a better statement of our reasons for opposing travel to Red China than we have yet done. Such a statement is being worked on now.

Our difficulties have been compounded by the digging up of a 1952 press release (copy enclosed). This release announces that all passports will be stamped not valid for travel to various Communist countries including Communist China but explains that “this procedure in no way forbids American travel to those areas.” None of us were here when this press release was issued. Do you recall any background on why it was stated that we would not object to travel in Communist China? That is hard to understand since it was issued at a time when the Korean War was still going on and more than 40 Americans were unjustly imprisoned in Communist China.

Our endeavor to keep the pressure on the Communists to release the American prisoners by refusing passports to mainland China until they are released has been further damaged by the action of the defense lawyer in the Powell sedition case, Abraham Lincoln Wirin. He has given the court a long list of witnesses in Communist China whose testimony he claims is essential to his clients’ defense. The judge [Typeset Page 1296] has issued an order providing that the testimony of these witnesses be taken in the form of depositions before an American consular officer in Hong Kong. However, Wirin avers that in order to get the witnesses to come to Hong Kong he must go personally to Communist China and North Korea to interview the witnesses and others with information relating to the case (including Chou En-lai and Kim Il-sung.) Having been denied a passport valid for travel to Communist China and North [Facsimile Page 4] Korea, Wirin appealed to the court and the judge issued an order (copy enclosed) to the effect that he was to go to these two areas as an officer of the court, at government expense, depositing his passport in Hong Kong, and the court would protect him from any criminal or administrative action against him by reason of this travel. L, which has primary responsibility in this situation, has decided not to contest the judge’s action and Wirin has announced, according to the press, that he will depart for Hong Kong and Communist China on January 28. Thus, we have another precedent and another breach in the dike.

Regards and good wishes to all of you,


Walter P. McConaughy


Press Release No. 341 of May 1, 1952.
Copy of court order.
Two Nehru Briefing Papers:
Chinese Prisoners in U.S. Penitentiaries.
Background Paper on Father C.J. McCarthy.
Copy of Television Interview—Edward R. Murrow and Chou En-lai

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It would be useful if you could let us know right away if any breaching of the line at all on travel of Americans in Communist China would compromise your position in your talks with Wang. You will recall that you have mentioned several times to Wang that we could not change our policy while Americans are unjustly held. If you have any important observation on the effect in Geneva of any modification of the policy, it might be well for you to telegraph as well as write.

We are naturally interested in the interview which Worthy is to have with American prisoners in Shanghai today or tomorrow. But we have decided it would be inappropriate for us to transmit any questions for Worthy to put to the prisoners, as we have an opportunity to do. We do not wish to seem to be capitalizing in any way on Worthy’s [Typeset Page 1297] visit when it has been termed contrary to official policy. Furthermore we do not believe any additional information would result from action on our part. The questions which might logically be asked are obvious and will occur to Worthy without any prompting from us.

It now seems as if we may put out a strong statement immediately on our handling of Chinese prisoners and students, in order to correct the harmful misrepresentations which Chou En-lai is making in the course of his current tour.

  1. Source: Department of State, Geneva Talks Files, Lot 72D415. Secret; Official–Informal.