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27. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Chinese Representation in the UN


  • The President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson
  • Assistant Secretary Harlan Cleveland

The following is a summary of consensus and action and not a detailed record of a meeting which lasted about an hour and a half, covering several subjects.

As a result of the briefing by Alexis Johnson and others on May 23, in connection with the President’s trip to Paris,1 the President indicated his familiarity with the general lines of the State Department’s current thinking on Chinese Representation, as set forth now in the memorandum for the President on that subject, dated May 24, 1961.2

In the course of discussion of this subject, the Secretary handed the President a talking paper for his prospective conversation with Henry Luce.3 The Secretary recommended that the President discuss the matter with Mr. Luce on the basis of the analysis of the problem contained on Page 1 of the talking paper, and the analysis of the precarious state of the moratorium formula contained in the Annex to the talking paper; but not to get into detail on the “successor nation” or other specific formulas for the handling of parliamentary tactics in the UN next fall.

Ambassador Stevenson emphasized the importance of not saying for domestic consumption that the purpose of the exercise is to keep the [Page 64]Chinese Communists out of the UN, since that would make any proposal of ours, providing for a procedure whereby the Chinese Communists could under certain conditions take a seat in the UN, seem hypocritical.

The President asked Ambassador Stevenson what he really thought about the matter of Communist China, should we want them in the UN? Ambassador Stevenson said no, he did not want them in the UN; but that this subject should not be one on which the U.S. sustained a major loss, on a question which we had staked the whole of our prestige and leadership.

The President emphasized his view that the U.S. should not take the lead in building the coalition for the kind of “two Chinas” formula proposed in the State Department memorandum. He was clear that the Chinese Nationalists are in real danger of being thrown out of the UN, and that our objective is to keep them in; the Department’s proposal seems the best arrangement in the circumstances, but it would require a good discussion with key political figures in the U.S. before the U.S. Government could take the lead in putting it forward internationally.

The President said he would ask Henry Luce and others whether they have any better ideas about how to keep the Nationalists in the UN, given the circumstances as described in the analysis of the voting situation on the moratorium. But we could not take the major leadership in promoting even the best formula through diplomatic consultations, without its leaking to the press, and stirring up political controversy in the United States which would adversely affect the foreign aid bill and other objectives of his Administration. While, therefore, informal discussions could proceed in diplomatic channels and with key figures in United States opinion, including President Eisenhower, the President’s reaction was that the Government cannot bring this subject formally to the surface for a couple of months at least.

The Secretary reported that the Australian Ambassador had been in to visit him the previous day,4 and had volunteered on behalf of his government to take some initiative in this field if we thought that would be helpful. The President’s reaction was that it would be useful to discuss the formula we have developed with the Australians and perhaps the British, and see if it could be floated internationally as from them.

The President also emphasized the importance of getting the Chinese Nationalists to cooperate as much as possible, since their views and attitudes will be influential with some segments of American opinion on this kind of subject. He suggested that further conversations with the Chinese Ambassadors to the UN and to Washington might be helpful in [Page 65]this regard.5 In the course of this discussion a brief summary of the discussions with Ambassadors Tsiang and Yeh was provided to the President.6

There was some discussion of the Security Council aspects of the China Representation issue; the potential delays and difficulties that might stand in the way of resolving early the matter of the Chinese seat on the Security Council were described by the Secretary. These included the uncertainty of whether a substitution of the Communists for the Nationalists in the Security Council was a vetoable proposition, and the possibility that this whole question would become a part of the larger question of changing the composition of the Security Council, which would require revision of the Charter and ratification by member states, including the United States Senate.

The President thought that it would be just as well not to get on the Security Council aspects in the near future; he suggested to Ambassador Stevenson that in discussion of Chinese Representation it would be better not to have a well developed position on the Security Council stage, and to discuss the matter for the time being in its General Assembly context. In this connection, he emphasized once again the political dynamite locked up in this issue.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China. Secret. Drafted by Cleveland. A note on the source text indicates it was not cleared by the President or the Secretary. The time of the meeting is from Kennedy’s Appointment Book. (Kennedy Library) The meeting was held at the White House.
  2. For documentation concerning President Kennedy’s May 31-June 2 visit to Paris, see vol. XIII, pp. 656-667.
  3. Not further identified, but see Document 28.
  4. Editor and publisher Henry R. Luce. The paper, unsigned and undated, stated that the U.S. objective was to find a proposal that would retain membership for Nationalist China on terms that the Chinese Communists would reject, that this objective could not be explained to the American public without damaging the U.S. case with other governments, and that “Whether the Nationalists can be kept in the UN by this means, therefore, depends heavily on the understanding and restraint of leaders of public opinion, particularly those who agree with us that it is extremely important not to damage the prospects of the Government of the Republic of China by acting in such a way as to make inevitable a credentials fight in which the Nationalists could be defeated.” (Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Countries Series, Communist China)
  5. A memorandum of the conversation, dated May 23, is in Department of State, Central Files, 303/5-2361.
  6. Stevenson met with Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations T.F. Tsiang on June 1. He told Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Woodruff Wallner in a June 5 letter that he had told Tsiang that “we hoped his Government would be able to refrain from actions or statements which, by affecting our own domestic climate, might limit our tactical maneuverability.” (Ibid., 303/6-261)
  7. Telegram 3129 from USUN, May 17, reported on a meeting between Stevenson and Tsiang that day. (Ibid., 303/5-1761) A meeting of May 18 among Cleveland, McConaughy, Yeh, and Tsiang is recorded in a memorandum of conversation of that date. (Ibid., 303/5-1861) The discussions are summarized in Document 28.