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104. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman) to Secretary of State Rusk 0


  • United States Policy on Shipments of Medicines and Food Grains to Communist China

I would like to respond to the arguments contained in Mr. Johnson’s memo to you of April 6,1 which Mr. Ball has supported. Mr. Johnson objected to the proposal, advanced in the memo on the foregoing subject which I sent you through Mr. McGhee on April 3,2 that Ambassador Cabot let the Chinese Communists know we could reconsider our present policy against selling food grains to mainland China if and when it became evident that its needs could not be met by purchases elsewhere.

Whether such reconsideration resulted in a decision to sell, or not to do so, would of course have to depend on the whole set of surrounding circumstances. I think we should not indicate actual willingness to sell foodstuffs to Communist China unless the Peiping regime takes the initiative—lest we seem to be anxious for commercial profits. I also believe that we should not exploit any such initiative by them for purposes of political propaganda. This accords very closely with what the President said in his January 25, 1961, news conference3 in the context, however, of sending food through the United Nations, CARE, or a similar organization. He alluded to some circumstances which militated against our supplying food to Communist China, but he also expressed concern for hunger anywhere, a willingness to give careful consideration to any indication of a desire for food from the United States and disinterest in offering it as a mere propaganda gesture.

Since then, the Chinese Communists have come considerably closer to exhausting other sources of grain. Nevertheless, a statement of the sort proposed, in the Warsaw talks, might well be brushed aside, perhaps rudely. The Chinese Communist leadership has made a part of its stock in trade the portrayal of the US as an enemy of the Chinese people. I am against giving them ammunition by our acts or failures to act: We should not live up to their picture of us. Moreover, we do not know what inner battles may be going on now and may occur in the future within the Chinese [Page 217]Communist leadership: Internal and external difficulties must surely be breeding differences within that leadership. Evidence that the US would be willing to play a part in moving our relationship away from one of implacable mutual hostility might strengthen the hand of any elements which might favor doing so, now or later. Whether it did or not, I think we should not have our historical record be one of having refused to sell food to a people in a period when food was greatly needed. That would be a record which might one day rise to haunt us.

Against this perspective, I am not impressed by the argument that we should, “at least for the time being, not make any overtures of our own”. If we are ever to make them, we can do so more gracefully now than, say, after the Chinese Communists have exploded a nuclear device—when overtures might be interpreted as motivated by apprehension.

The move we suggest is a small one, but our choice seems to be between immobility and steps which are few and small. I cannot believe that a policy of immobility can serve us well in a world where change is the rule.4

Personal for the Secretary. I feel strongly about this and if need be wish to have a chance to discuss it with you. It’s my hunch that it would be what the President wants. W.A.H.5

  1. Source: Department of State, FE Files: Lot 64 D 25, Communist China. Secret. Drafted by Rice.
  2. Document 102.
  3. See the source note, Document 100.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 10.
  5. The grain sales issue was discussed in the context of Sino-Soviet relations at an April 17 meeting with Rusk; see Document 99. When Battle asked whether he should arrange another meeting with Rusk on these subjects, Harriman replied affirmatively, adding, “I certainly don’t want to see the rigid policies of the past foisted on the President. I think he is strongly for the less rigid attitude as far as the grain issue is concerned.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/P Files: Lot 69 D 121, China) An April 23 memorandum from Rostow to Battle suggested meeting with Rusk on the basis of Document 100 and Harriman’s April 13 memorandum but not until Hilsman could respond to questions Rusk had raised about possible divisions in the Chinese leadership and recent Sino-Soviet developments. (Department of State, Central Files, 411.9341/4-2362)
  6. The postscript, the last paragraph, is typed on the source text, but a typed note on the source text indicates that the postscript was handwritten and only on the Secretary’s copy.