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43. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy0

Dear Mr. President: In the attached memorandum of July 12 you asked Assistant Secretary McConaughy for an explanation of the lack of substance in the draft reply to President Chiang Kai-shek’s letter to the Vice President.1

Kennedy’s July 12 memorandum, attached to the source text, reads in part: “I can think of no letter that would have had a more disastrous effect. It almost appears to be an intended rebuff as it deals with none of the questions that were raised in Chiang Kai-shek’s letter and does not have any substantive expressions of good will, which I believe are rather necessary at this time.”

I am replying myself because, although I had not personally seen the text of the draft, its general nature was determined with my knowledge and full concurrence.

It does not seem to me appropriate for a Vice President to become deeply involved in the particulars of highly controversial topics which we have outstanding with other governments. These involve the most careful negotiations and discussion, making full use of diplomatic channels and, where necessary, direct communications between foreign ministers or heads of government. In the case of President Chiang Kai-shek’s letter to the Vice President, it was my view that the subjects could better be dealt with in detail on the spot by Ambassador Drumright, and I personally approved a telegram (#715 of June 30, attached)2 instructing the Ambassador to discuss the topics raised in the letter to the Vice President prior to the Ambassador’s return for consultation. It was also my view that, following Drumright’s return, a communication from you to President Chiang Kai-shek would be appropriate.

Assistant Secretary McConaughy discussed the nature of the reply with the Vice President’s staff, as well as with the White House staff. It was our understanding that the Vice President preferred to avoid a substantive reply to the Generalissimo.

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It was not our intent that the draft reply serve as a rebuff to President Chiang. We had hoped instead to assure him that the questions he raised were being given the most serious attention, a point reinforced by Ambassador Drumright’s representations.

Although judgments may vary about the precise language proposed in the draft, I believe that it was an appropriate reply under all the circumstances and that the Generalissimo would have considered it so.3

Faithfully yours,

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China Subjects, Chiang Kai-shek Correspondence. Personal. The source text bears a note in Bundy’s handwriting: “President has seen and disagrees.” The letter was drafted by Rusk, based in part on a draft memorandum from Rusk to Kennedy prepared by McConaughy. Rusk elaborated on the points in McConaughy’s draft and added the second and last paragraphs. (Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Kennedy/Johnson Correspondence with Chinese Officials)
  2. The draft letter, prepared in the Office of Chinese Affairs, was sent to the White House with a July 6 covering memorandum from Battle to Bundy. (Ibid., Central Files, 611.93/7-661) The draft was enclosed with Kennedy’s July 9 weekend reading and returned to the White House with a note by Kennedy: “Chiang’s letter shows the depth of his feeling on Outer Mongolia, and the draft answer is, in my view, an excellent example of how not to deal with the problem.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China)
  3. Not attached to the source text; see footnote 1, Document 39.
  4. The final letter from Johnson to Chiang, July 12, was almost identical to the draft cited in footnote 1 above. It assured Chiang that U.S.-GRC relations would continue to be governed by the letter and spirit of their joint communique but was otherwise non-substantive. It was transmitted in telegram 28 to Taipei, July 14. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.93/7-1461)