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80. Special National Intelligence Estimate0

SNIE 13-3-61


The Problem

To estimate Communist China's objectives in the Far East, its assessment of its own position, and its capabilities and likely courses of action over the next two years or so; and to consider how these might be affected by the contingency of an open break in relations between the Chinese and Soviet Communist Parties.

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1. Communist China almost certainly does not intend to attempt the open military conquest of any other Far Eastern country during the period of this estimate. Communist China's leaders believe that they can eventually achieve their objectives in the area at far less cost and risk through the techniques of Communist political warfare. When Peiping believes the circumstances are right, it will endeavor to supplement the more conventional forms of political warfare with guerrilla and terrorist action by indigenous forces, supported and guided by Peiping. (Paras. 23, 25)

2. In any case, the Communist Chinese will seize every opportunity to undermine US standing and to generate anti-American feeling in the Far East. They will strive to promote discontent and instability in the pro-Western countries of the area. (Para. 24)

3. Peiping has no compunctions about openly using its military forces to extend its control when it can do so with little or no risk. It will continue its refusal to renounce the use of force for the seizure of Taiwan and the offshore islands, but we believe that concern over retaliation by the US will deter it from attempting a military conquest of Taiwan or the offshore islands during at least the period of this estimate. However, the Chinese might undertake limited military action in the strait area to test Nationalist Chinese defenses and to probe US determination or to call world attention to what it terms “the danger to peace caused by the US occupation of a part of China's territory.” (Paras. 26-27)

4. Peiping's reluctance to launch a military invasion in the Far East will almost certainly not prevent it from reacting vigorously to any US or SEATO action which Peiping believed threatened its security. For example, if SEATO (or US armed forces alone) came to the defense of Laos or South Vietnam, Peiping's reaction would probably be to increase its aid to the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese while deploying substantial Chinese regular forces along its own southern border. In the more extreme situation where a SEATO or US action constituted a threat to North Vietnam which the North Vietnamese forces could not counter, the Chinese Communists would almost certainly intervene overtly with their own forces;1 should such action appear to threaten the Communist position in northern Laos, the Chinese Communists would probably intervene overtly with their own forces. (Para. 28)

5. If Sino-Soviet relations were to deteriorate, for example to the present level of Albanian-Soviet relations, Communist China's military [Page 174]capabilities would be somewhat reduced and Peiping would have much less confidence that it could count on the Soviet nuclear umbrella. Perhaps most important, such an open Sino-Soviet break would also reduce Communist China's capabilities for political warfare, at least in the short run. The very foundations of communism would be shaken and Sino-Soviet rivalry for dominant influence in the other Communist parties of Asia would have a disruptive effect on these parties and would substantially weaken them as instruments of subversion for the time being. (Paras. 30-31)

[Here follow paragraphs 6-31, comprising the Discussion portion of the estimate, in six sections entitled “Objectives,” “Peiping's Estimate of the Situation,” “Capabilities for Military Action and Subversion,” “Foreign Policy,” “Likely Courses of Action,” and “The Contingency of a Sino-Soviet Split”; and a military annex with three tables and a map.]

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 110, SNIE 13-3-61. Secret. According to a note on the covering sheet, the Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence agencies of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Joint Staff participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the USIB concurred in this estimate on November 30 except the representatives of the AEC and the FBI, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside their jurisdiction.
  2. Peiping's probable reactions to a number of intermediate courses of US action in South Vietnam are considered in SNIE 10-4-61, “Probable Communist Reactions to Certain US Actions in South Vietnam,” dated 7 November 1961. (Top Secret, Limited Distribution) [Footnote in the source text. SNIE 10-4-61 is ibid.: Lot 90 D 99.]