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25. Memorandum From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson) to Acting Secretary of State Bowles0


  • U.S. Policy Toward the Chinese Civil War

There are attached the papers prepared by S/P1 and FE2 on the foregoing subject sent to me for review.

First, no one can possibly quarrel with the objective of attempting to end the civil war. It represents a very real danger to peace in the area and could well involve us in hostilities not of our own choosing and making. Therefore, I see no reason that we should not continue to strive towards the objective, but I am very doubtful that we should attempt to bring severe pressure on the GRC in this regard unless and until we have some reason to believe that Peiping would be responsive. To do so would only produce severe strains on our relationship with the GRC without any practical result, for it takes two to end a war.

As I mentioned the other day, one of the objectives of my talks with the Chinese Communists which began in Geneva in 1955 was de facto to accomplish the result of ending the war by obtaining from the Chinese Communists a reciprocal renunciation of force in the area. The Chinese Communists were undoubtedly aware that they would at that time have been able considerably to embarrass us by accepting such a proposition, for it was by no means certain that the GRC would agree. However, the [Page 57]Chinese Communists resolutely refused and are still continuing to refuse such a proposition. It is my own feeling that the imperatives of the Chinese revolution and their internal situation render it virtually impossible for them to do so.

As I also mentioned the other day, I probed as deeply as I know how on their attitude toward the off-shore islands. Neither at that time, nor I understand subsequently, have they either publicly or privately shown the slightest interest in GRC evacuation of the off-shores but have consistently linked those islands with their whole attitude toward Taiwan. Therefore, however logical and practical it might seem that an evacuation of the off-shores would tend to reduce tensions in the area, Chinese Communist attitudes do not give the slightest indication that this would in fact result. However, the military weakness of the exposed position of the GRC in the off-shores is obvious and I believe we should continue to urge their evacuation on that ground.

I agree with the FE memorandum that the very raison d’etre of the present group in the GRC is their claim to return to the mainland and, unrealistic though this may be, I do not think we can any more expect them to renounce the principle than we could for West Germany to renounce the principle of German reunification. I fear that this is one of those issues which only time can solve, and more time is needed. In the meanwhile, we continue to do all we can to prevent its exploding into hostilities which involve us. In this connection, the Congressional Resolution on the off-shore islands3 gives the President discretionary authority and is not a commitment on our part.

The aspect of our China policy that has most bothered me is that the necessity of defending the position of the GRC in the United Nations and other international organizations all too often becomes the controlling factor in our decisions and greatly limits our freedom of choice. I would hope that, as our policy on China evolves, we could work out a formula that could much more effectively cope with this aspect.

In summary, I certainly see no objection to S/P continuing to explore more fully the practicability of a policy aimed at terminating the Chinese civil war and hopefully, with some fresh thinking, some new ideas can be developed. The formidable difficulties should not deter us from trying.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.93/5-1061. Top Secret.
  2. The memorandum of May 10 from Deputy Counselor and Vice Chairman of the Policy Planning Council George A. Morgan to Bowles states that it was prepared in response to a May 4 request from Bowles for discussion of “the pros and cons of terminating the Chinese civil war.” It declared that while there would be many advantages in adopting such a policy, “tantamount to a two-China policy,” it would be foolhardy to embark on it without plans for coping with adverse GRC reactions, bringing about an evacuation of the offshore islands, and ensuring Congressional and public support. It recommended (1) further study of the question on an urgent basis and (2) in the meantime, keeping GRC operational activities against the mainland to a minimum.
  3. The May 10 memorandum from Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Walter P. McConaughy to Bowles stated that although FE agreed with the recommendations of the Morgan memorandum, FE was unable to associate with it in its entirety because: developments in Laos and Vietnam made it a bad time to embark upon such a policy, efforts to persuade the GRC to accept it would fail and have unfortunate consequences, the PRC would not drop its claim to Taiwan, and since PRC hostility to the United States was “an inescapable fact of life” pressures should be increased in order to exploit current PRC economic difficulties. It concluded that rather than seeking the unrealistic goal of persuading both sides to abandon their aspirations, “we should concentrate our efforts on seeking to insure that neither side resorts to large-scale use of force to realize their objectives.”
  4. Reference is to the Joint Resolution approved on January 29, 1955, or P.L. 84-4; 69 Stat. 7). For text, see Foreign Relations, 1955-1957, vol. II, pp. 162-163.
  5. Bowles initialed the Morgan memorandum on June 9, indicating his approval of the recommendation for further study. A notation on the memorandum indicates that no decision was taken on the second recommendationote.