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29. Editorial Note

During the Vienna meeting of President Kennedy and Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers Nikita S. Khrushchev, June 3-4, 1961, there was some discussion pertaining to China. Khrushchev raised the subject during a June 3 conversation in which the two leaders were accompanied only by their interpreters. A memorandum of the conversation by U.S. interpreter Alexander Akalovsky reads in part as follows:

“Mr. Khrushchev then said that he wanted to say a few words about China. At the same time, he wanted to emphasize that he had not been authorized or requested to speak on China’s behalf. He said he simply wanted to set forth his thinking on the problem. He said that US relations with China were very aggravated. Obviously they could not be improved until the United States ended the occupation of Taiwan. The most realistic policy would be that of recognizing China and having China admitted as a member of the United Nations. What kind of United Nations is it when it does not have among its members a nation numbering 600 million people? On the other hand, it should be clear that China would never join the United Nations if Chiang Kai-shek were to be still there. This would be a discrimination against China’s rights. There is no question that at some point China will gather its strength and liberate Taiwan. If the Soviet Union were in China’s place, it would probably have attacked Taiwan long time ago. The Soviet Union supports the policy of reunification of China’s territory. As a matter of fact, the United States itself signed a document recognizing Taiwan as part of China. Mr. Khrushchev said that he did not know whether the United States was ready for a change in its policy toward China. The relations between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung are an internal affair of China, and neither the US nor the USSR should interfere. This would be a reasonable course and it would promote a peaceful development of the situation. Mr. Khrushchev said that he was glad that there were voices in the United States asking for a change in US policy toward China, but said that he did not know how that policy would develop. He reiterated that he had not been requested by the Chinese to speak on their behalf.”

After addressing other Khrushchev statements, Kennedy replied as follows:

“The President said that even before he had assumed office China had made strong attacks against the United States and himself personally, and this has been going on like a drumbeat ever since. At the same time the USSR was cordial and expressed the hope that our relations would improve. The President said that he recognized that China was a forceful nation, that its population was one quarter of the world, and that it might still further increase its strength. He also recognized that bad [Page 71]relations between the United States and China affected world relations in general. However, if the United States were to withdraw from Taiwan, it would have a strategic problem. It would be confined to its shores and its strategic position in Asia would be greatly impaired. This is a problem of security for the United States.”

Khrushchev replied that “this was an interesting conception with which he could not agree” and declared that although the Soviet Union sympathized with socialist countries, its policy toward capitalist countries was one of non-interference, and that Kennedy’s argument regarding Taiwan sounded “strange.”

Kennedy interjected that “the situation should be viewed in the light of Chinese hostility.” Khrushchev replied that “the Chinese cannot reconcile themselves with US bases on Taiwan.” After some remarks about U.S. bases near the Soviet Union, he returned to the subject of China:

“Thus, Mr. Khrushchev continued, the President’s argument only fortifies the views of the Chinese. The US will not leave Taiwan and force will have to be used. This is a sad thing indeed. Referring to Chinese statements, Mr. Khrushchev said that the Chinese were against US policy, but then the Soviet Union has also criticized US policy. Mr. Khrushchev said that he had not spoken against the President personally and would not wish to do so. He said he wanted to improve relations between the two countries with the President in the White House, but he may turn out to be wrong. In that event he would have to criticise the President too. The best thing for the United States would be to recognize China because diplomatic relations alone impose certain obligations. The United States could continue to support Chiang Kai-shek, but of course only morally. The Chinese position is correct and the United States should settle its differences with China. The USSR certainly hopes that this will take place. Mr. Khrushchev reiterated that if the USSR had been in China’s shoes, it would have acted long time ago. He again referred to the fight against Americans in the Far East and against the French, the British, and Germans in other areas of Russia during the Civil War. He said that this fight had been carried on until its victorious end and that any country would do the same. Such wars are not aggressive, they are holy wars.”

Kennedy turned to other subjects, but Khrushchev soon renewed the subject of China:

“Referring to Taiwan, Mr. Khrushchev recalled the President’s remark that withdrawal of US troops from that area would affect US strategic posture. This, he said, might be true, but what about the Chinese position—how should they regard the occupation of Taiwan? If the United States proceeds from such an assumption, Mr. Khrushchev said, he will be forced to doubt whether the United States really wants peaceful co-existence or is simply seeking a pretext for warlike developments. [Page 72]The Soviet Union sympathizes with the Chinese and this seems to be the only solution. There is no other way out. After all, the United States might even occupy China and say that this would improve its strategic position. This would be true. But it would be the policy of Dulles, a policy of strength. Times have changed and such policy is doomed to failure. If the US wants to dictate its conditions, that is inconceivable today. No improvement of relations would be possible in such circumstances.” (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1901)

There was a brief exchange pertaining to China the next morning, when Kennedy, urging a nuclear test ban, cited “a Chinese proverb saying that a thousand-mile journey begins with one step.” According to Akalovsky’s memorandum of conversation,

“Mr. Khrushchev rejoined by saying that the President apparently knew the Chinese very well but that he too knew them quite well. To this the President replied that Mr. Khrushchev might get to know them even better. Mr. Khrushchev retorted that he already knew them very well.” (Ibid.) Documentation on the Vienna meetings, is in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume V.