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196. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) to the Representative to the United Nations (Stevenson)0

Dear Adlai : Here is the brief rationale for my San Francisco speech1 you requested in case you are questioned on its content and implications.

1. The Policy

a) Our policy towards Communist China is one of firmness, flexibility and dispassion. We are firm in our commitment to the government of the Republic of China and people of Taiwan and in our resistance to all forms of aggression by the Chinese Communists. We are flexible in our readiness to respond to a significant change in the behavior of the Peiping regime. We are dispassionate in our refusal to substitute cliches and polemical rhetoric for cool, objective analysis.

One parallel to this policy can be found in our recent relations with the USSR. When the Soviets placed missiles in Cuba, we responded with firmness; but six months later, when the Soviets sought a Test Ban agreement, we were willing to negotiate. b) On the specific point of the Peiping regime’s viability, we doubt the possibility of its overthrow for two reasons:

  • —Police states of such a far-reaching nature are notoriously invulnerable to uprisings by an inadequately armed populace;
  • —China’s leaders, despite their intensive dogmatism, have shown a tendency to pull back and become pragmatic in the face of serious internal or external resistance.

Hence, as I concluded in my speech: “We hope that, confronted with firmness which will make foreign adventure unprofitable, and yet offered the prospect that the way back into the community of man is not closed to it, the Chinese Communist regime will eventually forsake its [Page 412]present venomous hatreds which spring from a rigid class view of society.”

2. The Implications

The speech signifies no change in U.S. policy, no new departure.2

It is significant primarily as the first attempt in some time to articulate the policies we have been pursuing toward Communist China for several years.

It should be added that we have similarly pursued a policy of firmness and flexibility toward the Soviet Union.

3. The Timing

The speech was given at this time for the following reasons:

The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco asked me to—early this autumn.
No full-scale rational analysis of U.S. China policy has been available for public information since Mr. Dulles’ speech in San Francisco of June 28, 1957.3
There was a need to clarify the reasons for the apparent divergence between U.S. treatment of Moscow and U.S. treatment of Peiping. As the Soviets have begun to behave more responsibly, the U.S. has become more responsive to Soviet initiatives; but with Peiping continuing to hew to a bellicose Stalinist line, we have been unresponsive to the Chinese. This apparent divergence stems from a consistent policy of firmness and flexibility, as applied to two regimes whose behavior currently differs.

I hope that these points will be of use to you.

With my best wishes,


  1. Source: Princeton University, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Stevenson Papers, Box 860, Chinese Representation. Limited Official Use; Official-Informal. Drafted by Thomson, according to Hilsman’s copy. (Kennedy Library, Hilsman papers, Box 1, Communist China—Policy Speech, 12/13/63)
  2. For text of Hilsman’s address to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on December 13, see Department of State Bulletin, January 6, 1964, pp. 11-17. According to James C. Thomson, Jr., Special Assistant in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs, it was drafted by Grant, with additions and revisions by Green, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Economic Affairs Robert W. Barnett, Director of the Office of Research and Analysis for the Far East in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research Allen Whiting, and himself. (Memorandum of May 6, 1964, by Thomson; Kennedy Library, Thomson Papers, Box 9, Hilsman Speech, Thomson Notes on Genesis and Reaction) See also Hilsman, To Move a Nation, pp. 350-357, and Thomson, “On the Making of U.S. China Policy, 1961-9: A Study in Bureaucratic Politics,” The China Quarterly, No. 50, April/June 1972, pp. 230-231.
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1955-1957, vol. III, pp. 558-566.
  4. At President Kennedy’s press conference on November 14 in response to a question under what conditions the United States might resume “some sort of trade with Red China,” he replied in part as follows: “We are not planning to trade with Red China in view of the policy that Red China pursues. When the Red Chinese indicate a desire to live at peace with the United States, with other countries surrounding it, then quite obviously the United States would reappraise its policies. We are not wedded to a policy of hostility to Red China.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, pp. 845-846)