Learn about the beta
Office of the Historian

124. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Ball to President Kennedy0


  • Suggested Diplomatic Action in Connection with Chinese Communists Build-up

Approach to Russians

I would suggest that Harriman be authorized to call in Dobrynin (preferably at lunch) and informally request information on what the Soviets know about ChiCom troop movements in the Fukien area and what their objectives are. He would state that because of the agreement between the President and Khrushchev on Laos, we had assumed Khrushchev had no desire for military action at this time over the off-shore islands. Harriman would indicate to the Ambassador that in case the Soviets or ChiComs were concerned regarding rumors of ChiNat preparations for mainland invasion, the U.S. had no intention of supporting such a move under existing circumstances. He would point out that ChiNats had agreed not to take any offensive action without full consultation and prior agreement on the part of the United States.

In this connection, he would also note that in our meetings with the Chinese Communists since 1955, we have consistently been urging agreement that force not be used by either side to change the existing situation, and of course we continue to adhere to that position.

On the other hand, he would mention the defensive treaty with the GRC and, therefore, refer to the dangers of any aggressive action on the part of the ChiComs. The conversation should be more of an inquiry than a demarche.

Approach to Chinese Communists

We should make sure that the Chinese Communists do not act under a misunderstanding of our intentions.

While approach to the ChiComs might be made through Ambassador Cabot to [Chinese] Communist Ambassador Wang, I think it would be better to try to use the British Embassy in Peiping, both because the ChiCom response could be faster and because the ChiComs might be more willing to talk frankly with the British.

[Page 259]

Subject to your approval, I propose that we call in the British Ambassador and discuss with him the Chinese Communist military build-up in Fukien. If the British Ambassador believes that an approach by their Embassy in Peiping to the Chinese Communists would be useful, we could suggest to him the line that might be taken.

The British might call the attention of the Chinese Communists to the Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the GRC and to the 1955 Formosa Resolution giving the President of the United States the authority to use U.S. armed forces to defend the off-shore islands, if he judges such action is required or appropriate in assuring the defense of Taiwan and the Pescadores. The Chinese Communists might be advised that in view of the strength of the GRC garrisons on the off-shore islands, any effort to take them would be a major operation which could not easily be limited to the immediate vicinity of the islands. Serious risk of wider hostilities involving U.S. forces would therefore arise.

If the Chinese Communists were to raise with the British the report of GRC plans to attack the China mainland, the British might respond by stating that it is their understanding that the United States Government has no intention of supporting such an attack under existing circumstances. The British might also call attention to the Exchange of Notes between the U.S. and the GRC in December 1954 which requires the GRC to obtain agreement of the U.S. in any offensive action by GRC military forces. In this connection, they might also note that in our meetings with the Chinese Communists since 1955, we have consistently been urging agreement that force not be used by either side to change the existing situation, and of course we continue to adhere to that position.

Consultation with Allies

In addition to consultation with the British I think we should move immediately to inform the Australians and New Zealanders of our concern over the Fukien build-up. As soon as the situation becomes clear we should consult on a similar basis with the Japanese Government.

Congressional Consultation

Presumably you will wish to advise the leadership of the possible implications of ChiCom actions. I shall await your instructions as to any approaches you may wish us to make with other members of Congress.

George W. Ball1
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China. Secret. The source text does not indicate the drafter, but the Department’s record copy indicates that it was drafted by Ball. (Department of State, Central Files, 793.5/6-2162) The source text bears a handwritten note: “OK’d by the President. M.K.” A memorandum of June 22 from Bundy to Ball notified him of the President’s approval. (Ibid., 793.5/6-2262)
  2. Printed from a copy that indicates Ball signed the original.