Ambassadorial talks between representatives of the United States and the People’s Republic of China were held in Geneva from August 1955 through December 1957 and in Warsaw from September 1958 through February 1970. The 73 meetings in Geneva constituted more than half the entire series of 136 meetings, which provided a direct channel of communication between the two countries at a time when they did not have diplomatic relations. The participants in the Geneva discussions were U. Alexis Johnson, United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, and Wang Bingnan (Wang Ping-nan), Chinese Ambassador to Poland.
Background of the Ambassadorial Talks
Ambassadors Johnson and Wang represented their respective governments in direct talks held during the Geneva Conference of 1954 concerning U.S. nationals imprisoned in China and U.S. restrictions on certain Chinese nationals in the United States. The 1954 discussions were precursors of the later ambassadorial talks, although they were more limited in scope. These conversations, as well as subsequent meetings on the same subjects between U.S. and Chinese consular representatives at Geneva, are documented in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, Volume XIV, and 1955–1957, Volume II.
U.S. concern with the problem of Americans imprisoned in China increased in November 1954, when a Chinese military tribunal sentenced 13 Americans to prison on charges of espionage. They included 11 Air Force personnel shot down in 1952 while flying a [Facsimile Page 2] mission for the United Nations Command over North Korea. At the request of the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld visited Beijing in January 1955 in a vain effort to obtain the release of the 11 airmen. They were freed on July 31, 1955, on the eve of the opening of the ambassadorial talks.
The Taiwan Strait crisis, which had been simmering since September 1954, intensified in early 1955 when Beijing increased pressure on the Nationalist-held offshore islands. On January 29, 1955, Congress passed a Joint Resolution (the “Formosa Resolution”) authorizing the President to use U.S. forces to protect Taiwan, the Pescadores, and related positions against armed attack. In February, the Nationalists evacuated the northernmost of the disputed offshore islands with U.S. assistance. Nevertheless, tension remained high.
The continuing crisis led to diplomatic efforts to open a channel of communication between Washington and Beijing. Chinese Premier [Typeset Page VIII] Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai) stated at Bandung on April 23, 1955, that the Chinese Government was willing to “enter into negotiations with the United States Government to discuss the question of relaxing tension in the Far East and especially in the Taiwan area.” On July 11, the United States sent a message to Premier Zhou through the British Chargé in Beijing proposing that the consular-level talks in Geneva be raised to the ambassadorial level and enlarged in scope. After further exchanges, the following announcement was released on July 25 in Washington and Beijing:
“As a result of communication between the United States and the People’s Republic of China through the diplomatic channels of the United Kingdom, it has been agreed that the talks held in the last year between consular representatives of both sides at [Facsimile Page 3] Geneva should be conducted on ambassadorial level in order to aid in settling the matter of repatriation of civilians who desire to return to their respective countries and to facilitate further discussions and settlement of certain other practical matters now at issue between both sides. The first meeting of ambassadorial representatives of both sides will take place on August 1, 1955, at Geneva.”
The Geneva Talks
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles set forth his general instructions for the ambassadorial talks in a letter of July 29, 1955, to Ambassador Johnson. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the draft instructions at a meeting with the Ambassador and the Secretary that day. Ambassador Johnson described his recollections of the meeting with the President and of a meeting between himself and Secretary Dulles at which they discussed his instructions in The Right Hand of Power (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1984, pp. 238–240). According to Johnson, the Secretary indicated that he should try to keep the talks going as long as possible. Although this instruction is not in the letter, other documents in the supplement refer to it.
Between August 1955 and December 1957, Johnson and Wang held 73 formal meetings. They also met twice on an informal, private basis over dinner in August 1955. The supplement includes Johnson’s reports of these meetings. Because Secretary Dulles took a great interest in the talks, especially in the early stages, and requested detailed reports, Johnson sent a brief summary telegram followed by a long, detailed report after each meeting. As the documents in the supplement show, many of the instructions sent to [Facsimile Page 4] Johnson bear Dulles’ signature or initials, indicating that he had drafted or approved them.
In the initial stage of the talks, Johnson and Wang negotiated an agreed announcement on the repatriation of civilians which was issued on September 10, 1955. During the next few months, they held extensive [Typeset Page IX] discussions of a possible mutual renunciation of force but did not reach agreement. In mid-1956, the two Ambassadors turned to other topics, including the possible relaxation of trade restrictions, exchange of journalists, or other bilateral contacts, again without reaching agreement. Meanwhile, they continued to discuss the problem of implementation of the agreed announcement.
By 1957, the discussions had become repetitive and unproductive. The frequency of the meetings, initially held two or three times a week but soon cut back to a weekly schedule, was reduced to once a month. In late 1957, the Department decided to shift Johnson to the Embassy in Bangkok and to lower the level of the Geneva talks. The Chinese did not accept the U.S. proposal to continue the discussions at a lower level, and after Johnson and Wang held their last meeting in Geneva in December 1957, the talks lapsed until they were renewed in Warsaw in September 1958.
The ambassadorial talks in Warsaw will be documented in forthcoming volumes and supplements to the Foreign Relations series.