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156. Telegram From the Consulate General at Singapore to the Department of State0

287. For Harriman. Reference: Consulate General telegram 282.1 Conversation with Malcolm MacDonald on Nov 12, mentioned reftel, concentrated primarily on internal situation Communist China, US-ChiCom relations and Sino-Indian border dispute. MacDonald prefaced remarks by stating he had been allowed to visit every place he requested with exception of Jehol which hosts said was too far away. (MacDonald wished trip to Jehol because of historic interest.) Said he saw “hundreds of thousands” of Chinese, communes, factories, iron and steel mills and believes has obtained true and accurate picture of Mainland conditions and of attitudes of ChiCom leaders on matters discussed below.

1. Internal Situation

MacDonald convinced that ChiCom leaders have gone through an “agonizing reappraisal”; that they have learned their lesson, and that, although they know the country is still vulnerable to nature, they have become more practical, more realistic and more patient. He says this for three reasons: (A) Leaders miscalculated speed with which country, particularly peasants, could enter modern age. Chou En-lai told him their plans had been over-ambitious. He saw factories which were built two or three years ago and are now closed, although he was assured they would reopen as soon as primary problem of agriculture was ameliorated. (B) Withdrawal of Soviet technicians. Neither Chou nor Chen Yi would acknowledge any indebtedness to these technicians but MacDonald believes it an essential element of the necessity for reappraisal. Chinese technicians he saw were excellently trained but young and inexperienced. (C) Three bad harvests which undoubtedly caused real hardship and suffering. According to MacDonald agriculture has first priority with those industries related to it given only slightly lower priority. Iron and steel mills are going full blast with a slight balance in favor of iron smelt as ChiCom leaders now realize peasants not only prefer but will have to use hand implements for “decades and decades.” He visited [Page 323]mills at Nanchang and Wuhan. At Loyang he saw factory producing 50 tractors a day, 15,000 per year. Irrigation and chemical fertilizer plants are others high on priority list.

Turning to communes MacDonald said he thought they were smaller; 10,000 or less was average commune. Communes have fewer functions than formerly and peasants, to whom cadres must now pay heed, have more influence in handling agricultural problems. Overall planning for area is still function of communes, but production team or brigade is village unit. Peasants have no more land, but agricultural produce and livestock have increased because of better grain and stock. Peasants allowed to sell some produce on free market.

In summation MacDonald said people on the whole looked “hale and hearty” (there were “good spring and fall harvests”); that they appeared reasonably content because regime was giving them a little more of everything and they were better off than they ever had been, but that it would take years, which leaders realized, for Communist China to become modern nation. He ruefully remarked that he had planned write series of articles on internal situation for London Observer but had decided against it, thereby losing 1500 pounds, because he would have to paint “too favorable a picture.”

2. US-ChiCom Relations

Chou told MacDonald he was pleased with results of Geneva Conference on Laos but that since that time there had been marked deterioration in US-ChiCom relations: there were US soldiers in civilian dress still in Laos; US had troops in Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam and now giving military aid to India. US was encircling China. (Here MacDonald made obvious observation to me that ChiCom leaders were intensely nervous about their national security.)

MacDonald told Chou that since new administration there had been some changes in US policy toward Asian nations which had gained world-wide acceptance and approval and suggested US scholars and journalists be permitted travel throughout country in order inform American public of true facts. Chou replied that US refused reciprocal arrangements, that it imposed restrictions on Chinese; that there were Chinese in prison [garble] which was reason for his holding prisoners and that unless US agreed to reciprocity on all questions he was not prepared to budge. In this connection MacDonald has impression ChiComs do not rule out completely some type of exchange of scholars and journalists but it would be impossible effect until after Indian border dispute settled.

[Page 324]Chou raised Warsaw talks and GRC (see reftel).2 Said most Taiwanese wished be joined with Mainland but he was “patient” and was not going attempt “violent” solution. On other hand Chiang was “internal matter” not for outside (i.e. US) interference. MacDonald said Chou obviously wished assure him privately Peiping had no intention of invading Taiwan but would never state so publicly.

3. Sino-Indian Relations3

On this subject MacDonald differentiates between discussion and monologue. Chou and he were discussing Sino-UK relations which Chou said were good (trade, Hong Kong, UK vote in UN, although he disliked UK support for retention of seat for Taiwan).4Chou took exception to UK position that Peiping was aggressor in border dispute. Stated he realized UK must support India as member of Commonwealth but did not have to charge Chinese aggression. He wished to go to conference table but India had made impossible demands prior to discussions, particularly since territory under dispute was not Indian but Chinese. MacDonald, of course, upheld UK position. He thinks that ChiComs again are concerned with internal security and believes they consider they must have control of roads in that area to maintain military control of Tibet. Also that ChiComs do not wish go beyond border incident stage because of concern for their own domestic internal problems. He believes they will attempt subversion in Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, Ladakh and elsewhere in SEA but at this time they definitely will not attempt large scale military aggression anywhere in Asia.

4. Other Items

(A) MacDonald believes ChiComs intensely resentful of Soviet withdrawal of technicians. At every opportunity emphasis was placed on Chinese having to “go it alone.” While he never queried them directly on subject, he sensed a real defiance of USSR and a fiercely independent attitude. (B) MacDonald did not see Mao but from films he saw of him thinks he looked old. (C) When asked about succession, MacDonald[Page 325]stated Chou, Chen Yi and “their school” were in the ascendancy and, subject to death, would certainly remain so. (Note: These two were only ChiCom bigwigs MacDonald saw. He, of course, knew of Liu Shao-chi and others but was not prepared to comment on them.)

MacDonald reiterated he would write letter to you and ask that his communications to London be sent Washington.5 He will be in North Borneo next ten days and then plans return Singapore for short while. Will be happy answer any questions you may have at that time. Will then proceed to New Delhi and London, thence Canada.

Since you requested personal report6 this telegram and reftel have not been sent other interested posts.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/11-1362. Confidential; Priority. A notation on the source text in Harriman's handwriting apparently indicates that he wanted a copy sent to the President.
  2. Telegram 282, November 8, reported a luncheon conversation with Malcolm MacDonald, who had just visited the People's Republic of China; he had lengthy discussions with Chou En-lai and Chen Yi. MacDonald commented briefly on his visit and arranged to meet with Acting Consul General Robert Donhauser on November 12. (Ibid., 793.00/11-862)
  3. Concerning the Warsaw talks telegram 282 reported, “Chou stated Warsaw talks had been going on for seven years ‘with no results’ but that he was prepared have them continue for another seven years.” Concerning the GRC, it reported that Chou had said the Taiwan question was the business of the Chinese alone, had given MacDonald the impression that “hidden contacts exist between GRC leaders and ChiComs,” and had “emphasized his old line that Taiwan would have nothing to fear from mainland takeover and would survive as minority political group.”
  4. For documentation relating to the Sino-Indian border conflict of October-November 1962, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume XIX.
  5. On October 30 the General Assembly rejected a Soviet draft resolution by a vote of 42 in favor (including the United Kingdom) to 56 against (including the United States), with 12 abstentions. It would have removed “the Chiang Kai-shek representatives” from all U.N. organs and invited the People's Republic of China to send representatives to occupy China's place. (U.N. doc. A/L.395)
  6. A letter of November 12 from MacDonald to Harriman, together with copies of telegrams from MacDonald, which the Foreign Office had made available to the Embassy in London, may be found in Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Kennedy-Johnson Administrations, Subject Files, MacDonald, Malcolm./5/
  7. Requested in telegram 189 to Singapore, November 7. (Department of State, Central Files, 110.15 HA/11-762)