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181. Summary Record of the 516th Meeting of the National Security Council0

Chinese Communist Intentions

Mr. Ray Cline of CIA summarized SNIE 13-4-63, “Possibility of Greater Militancy by the Chinese Communists.”1 The President asked about the Acting Director of Intelligence and Research of the Department of State who had noted his disagreement with parts of the Estimate.2 Mr. McGeorge Bundy said Mr. Hilsman was prepared to speak to the minority views of the State Department Intelligence officers. Mr. Hilsman responded that he was prepared to speak to the policy implications of the SNIE.3

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[5 paragraphs (27 lines of source text) not declassified]

Secretary Rusk asked whether we have any hard evidence that there were significant movements of Chinese Communist troops anywhere along their borders. Mr. Cline responded that the answer depended on the definition of the word “significant.” He then summarized the hard evidence on troop activity contained in the SNIE. He described the logistic improvements being made by the Chinese Communists along the Tibetan border consisting primarily of work on local roads.

Secretary Rusk asked whether it was agreed that we could only speculate as to what effect the Sino-Soviet split has had on military deployments on both sides. Mr. Cline agreed, adding that the SNIE stated that the Chinese probably anticipated less political support from the Russians than they had received in the past.

The President asked whether the recent military crisis in Korea should be viewed as an isolated incident or as part of a broader military pattern. Mr. Cline replied that no one could say with certainty. General Wheeler said that incidents similar to those which took place this week in Korea occur every summer. Citing officers with combat experience in Korea, he said at this time of year for several years past there have been instances of line-crossing activity. This year’s incident is similar to last year’s, although no one can say positively that the recent ambushes are not part of a larger pattern.

Secretary Rusk then asked Mr. Hilsman to discuss the actions which we were taking in anticipation of Chinese Communist initiatives. Mr. Hilsman had earlier circulated copies of a memorandum to Secretary Rusk (copy attached).4 Secretary Rusk suggested that there was no need to review policy contingencies in Laos because the President had been thoroughly briefed on this subject earlier.

Mr. Hilsman said that Ambassador Cabot in Warsaw would be instructed to warn the Communist Chinese not to take actions which would prompt immediate U.S. response in the area. He mentioned the two recommendations in his paper; i.e. a request to the Department of Defense to comment on U.S. military responses to possible renewal of Chinese Communist militancy on the Indian front, and a request for a JCS military evaluation of the potential for increased infiltration into South Vietnam and of the means available to deal with it within the territory of South Vietnam.5 An additional problem is how to reinforce against Communist subversion inside India.

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Mr. Hilsman also mentioned a draft statement for the President to use at his press conference in response to questions about Korea. Secretary Rusk noted that he wished to rework the statement before discussing it with the President.

The President called attention to a press story in the Philadelphia Inquirer which appeared to have been based on a statement made by a State Department spokesman to the effect that we were anticipating serious trouble with Communist China. Secretary Rusk responded by recalling the warning the U.S. had given Communist China two days before the outbreak of the Korean War. In his view, if our warning to the Chinese had been sent earlier, the Korean War might not have taken place. Because the warning reached Peiping only two days before the offensive began in Korea, the Chinese were so fully committed to the attack that it was too late for them to consider the warning.

Mr. Hilsman said the story the President referred to raised the problem of how to deal with press speculation. He said the State Department spokesman had not volunteered the statement but had merely said that the reports which the reporter had of Chinese Communist military activity were known to the Government and were being studied. The reporter had written the story as if the Department had confirmed the reports.

Mr. McCone referred to the Special Estimate and called attention to the majority USIB view; i.e. the possibility of Communist Chinese activity is greater than that expressed by the State Department.

The President asked whether the Indian army was any better off this year than it had been last year when the Communists attacked. General Wheeler responded that the Indians were better off because of our military assistance. He noted, however, that no Indian military force was in the NEFA, so that if the Chinese Communists chose to take this area, they could do so without military opposition.

Secretary Rusk concluded the discussion by expressing his belief that we should maintain a state of considerable alert during the next few weeks. He pointed out that the Chinese Communists could cause grave trouble from a standing start; i.e. without reinforcements, on several fronts at the same time. The military capability on their frontiers is great. The troops in front of them are very thin and totalitarian regimes can reverse their courses very quickly. Thus, some Chinese initiative might suddenly reveal that the Russians and the Chinese were back together again.

Mr. McCone added that although the differences between the Russians and the Chinese are very great, he did not think they were very deep or that a final break between the two powers would occur.

Mr. Harriman said he did not think the two powers would break, but he believed that Khrushchev would not back China in any wild adventure. Khrushchev would not react if the Chinese got into a small [Page 374]military fight, but if Chiang Kai-shek landed on the Mainland, the Russians would support the Chinese Communists fully.

Secretary Rusk said that during the period ahead of us, we should not contemplate reductions in the indigenous force levels of either Korea or Nationalist China. There was no comment on this suggestion.

In response to the President’s question, Secretary Rusk said he was asking no action by the President on the matters discussed today.6

“Chinese Communist Intentions.

“The Director of Central Intelligence presented SNIE 13-4-63, ‘Possibilities of Greater Militancy by the Chinese Communists.’ There followed a discussion of the Estimate and of responses to contingencies which might arise.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meetings, No. 516)

Mr. Murrow asked for Presidential approval of the way USIA is handling the Sino-Soviet split. He said existing guidance forbade polemics and attempts to exacerbate relations between Communist China and the Soviet Union. The Voice of America is playing straight the comments on the split coming out of both Peking and Moscow, but it does not attempt to exploit the difference. The President agreed that this was the proper way to handle the current situation.

[Here follows discussion concerning Vietnam, Ceylon, and Pakistan.]

Bromley Smith7
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meetings, No. 516. Secret; Sensitive. The time of the meeting’s conclusion was taken from Kennedy’s Appointment Book. (Kennedy Library) A list of those in attendance is filed with the source text. McCone’s record of the meeting is in Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (McCone) Files, Job 80-B01285A, Box 6, DCI Meetings With the President) The meeting was held at the President’s direction; see Document 312.
  2. Dated July 31; it addressed the possibility of “more assertive Chinese Communist actions in the near future, arising from the coincidence of deepening Sino-Soviet dispute and recent Soviet negotiations with the West.” It predicted that the Chinese would not “act recklessly or run very great risks” but might undertake “somewhat more assertive initiatives,” the most likely of which would be “new pressures or incursions on the Indian border and in Laos.” (Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 110, SNIE 13-4-63) See the Supplement.
  3. Footnotes to the estimate noted that the INR Acting Director (Deputy Director George C. Denney, Jr.) was more skeptical of the likelihood of Chinese initiatives.
  4. McCone’s record of the meeting, cited in the source note, states that Rusk and Harriman both endorsed the estimate without reservation and did not support the footnotes; Rusk stated that he not heard of the reservations before the meeting and did not support them. Rostow concurred and proposed to Rusk that the State Department consider the matter and withdraw the reservations if they were inconsistent with Rusk’s thinking. They were not withdrawn; the final estimate cited in footnote 1 is unchanged from the advance copy filed with the source text. An INR memorandum of August 7 and a CIA memorandum of August 12 laid out the differing views on this subject in more detail. (Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 110, SNIE 13-4-63)
  5. Hilsman’s July 31 memorandum on the subject “Suggested United States Responses to Likely Chinese Communist Initiatives,” was not attached to the source text. (Ibid., Central Files, POL 1 CHICOM).
  6. Rusk initialed Hilsman’s July 31 memorandum on August 1, indicating his approval of these recommendations.
  7. NSC Action No. 2469, July 31, reads as follows:
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.