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33. Telegram From the Department of State to the Consulate General in Geneva0

2222. Eyes only for Harriman1 from the Secretary. I was very much interested in your suggestion (Confe 210)2 about the possibility of your having a quiet discussion with Chen Yi. I certainly share your feeling that we should attempt avoid unnecessarily strained personal relations with ChiCom Delegation which might leave us at disadvantage in dealing with ChiComs as compared with attitude of other key Western delegations. Our posture should be polite and correct at all times. Nevertheless, while I believe a discussion between you and Chen Yi might be useful at some point in the Conference I rather doubt that it would be of particular benefit at this point, inasmuch as friendly delegations should be able to fill us in on Chinese attitudes. It seems unlikely that such a meeting could be kept secret, since the Chinese Communists might consider it advantageous as a means of increasing their prestige and making us appear weak and anxious, to leak the fact that you had taken the initiative to approach them. The repercussions of our taking the initiative for such a private meeting on our Asian SEATO allies as well as on the governments of the divided Asian countries would be adverse, particularly if there seemed to be no tangible advantage to us from the discussion. The Canadians and French who occupy far less important roles in the Far East than ourselves can hold such meetings with Chen Yi without these risks.

I would be glad to receive your further thoughts on this matter particularly if developments at the Conference should warrant our taking this significant step.

In meanwhile I suggest you and members your delegation gradually adopt a “correct” attitude in and out of Conference toward Chen Yi and other members Chinese Communist Delegation generally not taking initiative toward additional contacts but also not rebuffing any Chinese Communist initiative. However, if you feel it useful there would be no objection to testing Chinese Communist response by having Steeves [Page 81]make casual and informal approach to Wang Ping-nan in delegates lounge or any other such occasion where both happen to be present.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/6-361. Secret. Drafted by Martin; cleared by McConaughy, Johnson, and, with revisions, by Bowles; and approved for transmission and signed by Rusk.
  2. W. Averell Harriman was heading the U.S. delegation at the International Conference on the Settlement of the Laotian Question.
  3. Telegram Confe 210, June 17, suggested that Harriman meet quietly with PRC Foreign Minister Chen Yi, who headed the Chinese delegation, to discuss controversial Laotian questions directly with him. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J/6-1761)
  4. Harriman reported in telegram Confe 279 that Steeves had spoken to Wang Ping-nan at a reception, and Wang expressed the hope that efforts could be made to normalize relations but stated that the United States should take the initiative “because we are the ones who have been wronged.” Steeves introduced Harriman and Mrs. Harriman to Wang, and they shook hands with Chen Yi and exchanged a few words. (Ibid., 751J.00/6-2661) Rusk states in his memoir that when he was in Geneva at the beginning of the conference in May 1961 he “discreetly” suggested a private meeting with Chen and Chen refused, but he and Chen shook hands and exchanged pleasantries at a reception. (As I Saw It, p. 287)