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82. Memorandum From James C. Thomson, Jr., to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)0


  • Secretary’s Policy Planning Meeting, January 2, 1962: Discussion of the Sino-Soviet Conflict and U.S. Policy1

In your meeting with Mr. Bowles earlier this week you requested that I pass on my recollections of the discussion that took place at the Secretary’s Policy Planning Meeting on January 2. The paper under discussion was “The Sino-Soviet Conflict and U.S. Policy.”2 Here are the major comments, gathered from my notes on the meeting:

The Secretary termed the paper a highly important document and asked Mr. Rostow to make some introductory comments.
Mr. Rostow said that the Moscow-Peking split is clearly an historic and unprecedented development; however, (a) no one knows what to do about it, and (b) there is urgent need for a hard intelligence effort on the subject as we have little knowledge of the Chinese agricultural situation, of differences within the Chinese leadership, or of the impact of the split on other Communist parties.
Mr. Rusk proposed (a) that the Department arrange for the Council on Foreign Relations to put together at once a study group on the 22nd Party Congress whose major aim would be to examine, under this cover, the Sino-Soviet split; (b) that the Department establish a study group within NATO on the same subject for the same purpose; and (c) that we submit a sanitized version of the paper under discussion to Capitol Hill for use by the Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs Committee chairmen. Mr. Hilsman commented that such studies were already under way, to some extent, at Harvard, Columbia, and Brookings.
Mr. Rusk asked to what extent the split involved a move toward the type of diversity we face within NATO. Mr. Bohlen commented that [Page 177]the evolving situation was not in fact a parallel to the divisions that exist within NATO.
Mr. Rostow stressed the complex implications of the split for U.S. policy. He stated that it was essentially a favorable event for us, but in concrete situations it posed a variety of new and difficult problems (e.g., Southeast Asia).
There was a general discussion as to what constitutes a “complete break,” and whether a complete break is what we want to bring about. Mr. Rostow said that we must be careful not to build our intelligence effort around the concept of a “break”; there are too many varieties of breaks possible; we need a graduated system of analysis.
Mr. Talbot noted the effects of the deepening rift on bilateral conflicts in his region and elsewhere. For instance, we see India moving somewhat closer to the USSR while Pakistan shows some signs of accommodation with Communist China. The result, he said, will be intensification of bilateral conflicts in many parts of the world. Mr. Rice agreed that global competition between China and Russia would be an inevitable outgrowth of the break.
Mr. Bohlen said the essence of the quarrel is that the Russians have become the Mensheviks, while the Chinese are Bolsheviks. Mr. Bohlen added that the serious implications of the conflict are well understood by such orthodox leaders as Molotov: If you start changing the ideology you inevitably end up by changing the structure. Such a realization accounts for the opposition Khrushchev is encountering within the USSR.
Mr. Chayes said that, historically, the break must be in our favor, as are all breaks in monoliths. He raised the question of the rift’s effect on Outer Mongolia and the off-shore isles.
Mr. Rusk asserted that this paper could be taken as a strong argument for establishing diplomatic relations with Outer Mongolia.
Mr. Rostow discussed Yugoslav interest in polycentrism within the bloc. The Sino-Soviet conflict provides a temptation to Yugoslavia to “play the game” within the bloc; but such activities tend to destroy the position the Yugoslavs have built as a Communist neutral. In this regard, he pointed out that the Yugoslavs are reestablishing relations with the Indian Communist Party.
Assuming that we favor polycentrism, Mr. Martin asked why we should consider providing any assistance at all to the Chinese Communists. Economic adversity would tend to increase tensions between Peiping and Moscow and therefore operates in our favor. Perhaps we should aim to support right-wing deviationists (Tito) but not left-wing deviationists (the Chinese).
Mr. Rusk agreed. He pointed out that Peiping combines old-fashioned Chinese imperialism as well as left-wing Communist deviationism.
Mr. Tubby suggested that, in view of the break, we place more emphasis on our struggle against Chinese nationalism and Russian nationalism rather than our struggle against communism.
Mr. Harvey commented that there had been two types of Soviet attempts to force their decisions on the Chinese: first, by making USSR party decisions binding on other parties (rejected by the Chinese), and second by making Communist World Congress decisions binding on other parties (the Chinese say such decisions must be unanimous to be binding). As a result of these two failures, Mr. Harvey said, the monolith no longer exists.
Mr. Rusk said that this might be true, but what if their objectives remain the same? Mr. Harvey replied that their objectives are no longer the same.
Mr. McGhee said that the West is moving from diversity towards unity while the Communists are disintegrating from a monolith into diversity. He added that the resulting internal competition within the Communist system now acts as an escape valve for energies that were originally focused entirely on us.
Mr. Rostow said that there are three elements of such competition within communism: (a) competition in third countries through local Communist parties; (b) competition over the central issue of who gets nuclear weapons and what type of control is to be exercised over them (a national fight on degrees of sovereignty similar to conflicts within NATO); and (c) probable competition within the Chinese Communist hierarchy, which is not likely to retain its present monolithic form as the old leaders are replaced.
Mr. Hilsman added that INR is preparing two relevant studies, one on Chinese Communist leadership, and one on Chinese nuclear capability.3
Mr. McGhee said that the new era of diversity affords us possibilities for leverage within Communist parties outside of the bloc.
Mr. Rostow said that the paper implies one major decision which may be forced on us any day now: what do we do if Mao dies and there is a crisis within the Chinese leadership? Do we give them a vision of the possibility of better relations with us if they calm down? Or do we buckle them in even more tightly with the Russians?4
Mr. Rusk said that we face two immediate needs: (a) a review of possible USSR divergencies on specific issues that have arisen since 1950 (for instance, the Korean war negotiations); and (b) a study of the rift’s effect on post-Goa bilateral situations (such as the conflict between Guatemala and Great Britain over British Honduras). He added that we must be careful not to overemphasize Chinese Communist military and economic power. The key question is “power where”? Relative Chinese power on the North India border, for instance, is considerably less than Chinese power elsewhere. Also, we must relate our evaluation to the resources available and the jobs to be done. Mr. Rusk added that we should give some attention to the tradition of the turnover of governments in China throughout the centuries: for instance, what constitutes the Mandate of Heaven, and when does a government lose it?5
Mr. Rice responded that the Mandate of Heaven will be lost when the party,6 army, and security forces are no longer responsive to orders from the top. There is no evidence as yet of such a development on the Mainland.
Mr. Rusk raised additional questions regarding the possible recrudescence of Chinese warlordism and regionalism. He felt that such factors should be studied in the perspective of Chinese history.7

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 661.93/1-1262. Thomson was Special Assistant to the President’s Special Representative and Adviser on African, Asian, and Latin American Affairs, Chester Bowles.
  2. Another record of the meeting, drafted by Mose L. Harvey of the Policy Planning Council, is ibid., S/P Files: Lot 69 D 121, Secretary’s Policy Planning Meetings. See also James C. Thomson, Jr., “On the Making of U.S. China Policy, 1961-9: A Study in Bureaucratic Politics,” The China Quarterly, No. 50, April/June 1972, pp. 226-227.
  3. Reference is to a December 19 draft prepared in the Policy Planning Council. It declared that the Sino-Soviet conflict had reached a “critical stage,” that the basic issue was one of supremacy within the Communist camp, that its ultimate source lay in a clash of national interests, and that it was likely to continue, perhaps until there was a “decisive break” in the world Communist movement. (Kennedy Library, Thomson Papers, Box 15, Far East, Communist China, Sino-Soviet Conflict and U.S. Policy, 4/30/62) Related drafts are in Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, USSR, 1961.
  4. Neither found.
  5. A marginal notation in Harriman’s handwriting reads: “Stalin—’We can’t supply’ capital needs”.
  6. A marginal notation in Harriman’s handwriting reads: “Can’t consider China in any more exactly [illegible] context”. Another reads: “Never before a Communist Party organization.”
  7. A marginal notation in Harriman’s handwriting reads: “Party selects leader.”
  8. A marginal notation in Harriman’s handwriting reads: “Is there any sign of warlordism? Isn’t he over hopeful?”