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173. Letter From President Kennedy to President Chiang0

Dear Mr. President: I have read your letter of March fifteenth1 with great interest. I appreciate your full and frank expression of your views on problems of deep concern to both of our countries. I know that you would want me to respond with equal candor.

China occupies a special place in the hearts of the American people. No news could give Americans greater joy than to learn that, after thirteen long years of suffering, the people of mainland China have freed themselves from Communist oppression. Our hopes for the early liberation of the Chinese people, however, cannot be permitted to cloud our judgment of what is possible or to lead us into ill-considered actions that would not work, would end only in disaster for you and might precipitate a situation that neither of us want.

Despite the arguments set forth so cogently in your letter, I do not believe that we possess sufficient information to make firm judgments on vital questions such as the will and ability of the Chinese people to rise up successfully against their Communist masters. Also, I do not see how, given the long and close association of our two Governments and the Treaty and related agreements which bind us, the United States Government could be absolved from responsibility for actions which your Government might take against the Communist-held mainland.

Under these circumstances, the United States Government must exercise care in concerting with your Government on a program of action against the Chinese Communists. We can and will continue to work closely with you in checking the expansion of Chinese Communist political and diplomatic influence and in supporting the international position and influence of the Republic of China. We can and will continue to [Page 360]give you needed assistance in your most important effort to create on Taiwan a model of dynamic economic development in contrast to the misery and stagnation prevailing under Communist rule on the mainland.2 And, I need scarcely add, we will without question honor our defensive commitments under the Mutual Defense Treaty. Given our present estimate of the situation, however, we cannot acquiesce in military action against the China mainland.

It was in order to facilitate close consultations on the entire range of problems of common concern to China and the United States that I appointed a man of such unusual professional qualifications as my Ambassador in Taipei. Although regrettably Admiral Kirk will not be able to return to his post for reasons of health, I have asked another outstanding Naval Officer to succeed him. I hope that you will feel free to exchange views with Admiral Wright in a spirit of utmost frankness and trust, so that we can maintain the high degree of cooperation needed to cope successfully with the problems and dangers that lie ahead. Admiral Wright enjoys my complete confidence and has direct access to me at all times on either a formal or an informal basis.

As a final personal note, I should like to say that I fully understand and appreciate your feeling of sorrow as you contemplate the bitter fate that has temporarily befallen the greater part of the Chinese nation. I also share your faith that, true to their long and glorious history, the Chinese people will one day overcome their present oppressors and take their proper leading place in the community of free nations.

With kindest regards,


John Kennedy
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Chinese Officials Correspondence with Kennedy/Johnson. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Yager. The draft was sent to Bundy with a covering memorandum of April 4 from Acting Department of State Executive Secretary William B. Connett, Jr., stating that it reflected an April 3 discussion in Bundy’s office. (Ibid.) The letter was transmitted in telegram 659 to Taipei, April 12, which stated that a parallel message from McCone to Chiang Ching-kuo was being sent [text not declassified]. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 US/Kennedy) Clough reported in telegram 764, April 18, that both letters were delivered that day. (Ibid.) A draft message from McCone to Chiang Ching-kuo is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China Subjects, Chiang Kai-shek Correspondence.
  2. Chiang’s letter argued that growing unrest on the mainland and the deepening rift between Mao and Khrushchev created an unprecedented opportunity and urged consultation on a plan to give his government “adequate support for the deliverance of our compatriots from despotic rule.” (Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Chinese Officials Correspondence with Kennedy/Johnson) See the Supplement.
  3. In telegram 754 from Taipei, April 15, Clough expressed concern at the lack of any reference to continued U.S. support for the GRC armed forces and commented that the implication that U.S. support might be terminated could intensify Chiang’s view that he must act soon. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 US/Kennedy) Telegram 664 to Taipei, April 15, replied that no such implication was intended, and Clough could so inform Chiang Kai-shek. (Ibid.) In telegram 764, cited in the source note above, Clough reported that he had informed Foreign Minister Shen and Chiang Ching-kuo.