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84. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0

“We have two problems coming up re China: (1) probable ChiCom [ChiNat]approach on return to mainland; (2) question of food sales to ChiComs.

“These are of course two sides of same coin. We shouldn’t start down either road without at least considering the other. Attached is a think piece on first road. I come out negative—but I don’t think we should necessarily turn around and sell food to ChiComs. Will discuss these problems at State, but food issue at least is already on way to high-level decision.”

Return to the Mainland

This one is going to be quite a problem in 1962. Peiping’s still acute economic crisis, the deepening Sino-Soviet schism, the aging Chiang’s own feel that the GRC’s own position is eroding, and finally Chiang’s continuing apprehensions over US policy are all leading him to consider more and more a final gamble. There are renewed indications of GRC preparations for at least probing operations. Now Gimo himself has asked Cline whether time ripe for discussing whole issue with JFK (TDCS DB 3/649, 215 attached).1

Before fobbing Chiang off, let’s at least consider his case. Certainly Peiping is feebler than at any time since it consolidated the 1947-49 revolution. It is obviously on its own, with the Soviets using a slow-down if not cessation of economic and military aid as a means to bring Mao back into line. Food shortage continues into third year, and we recently had good indications [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that even the army’s capabilities have been affected.2 Moreover, the GRC is probably a wasting asset—so we too must consider whether or not to use it before it declines past the point of no return.

Ed Rice’s excellent study on “return to the mainland”3 concluded that it could only be successful if there were a major revolution in Red [Page 182]China (even though one initially regional in character), which Chiang could support. The consensus to date has been that this is unlikely, even in Red China’s present desperate state. But we must now ask ourselves whether GRC action might not precipitate such a revolution.

There are two broad options. One would be a major landing in South China designed to put several divisions ashore with adequate air cover and seize a bridgehead. Into it we would pour more divisions and air support. One bonus effect might be the impact on Communist operations in SEA. But many objections loom. First, Chiang simply lacks the resources (except for an unopposed landing in an area already in revolt). Thus he would need substantial US air cover, air and sea lift, and logistic support. I can’t see this in the cards for us without some tremendous provocation by the ChiComs, such as their overt intervention in SEA.

In any case, if we made a major attempt to retake South China, the Chinese would almost certainly appeal for Soviet aid and the USSR would grant it in good measure. The Soviets would recognize that so long as they confined themselves to defending the ChiCom regime, most of world opinion would be with them; they would not in a period of nuclear stand-off be running unacceptable risk of US retaliation against the USSR itself. So why should they accept the major reverse involved in a successful western counter-attack in China, particularly since they would see an opportunity to re-establish their influence over Peiping. For all these reasons I cannot see us getting involved in even a local war with the USSR over China.

This leaves the option of local probing operations, initially small but if these prove out then on a gradually increasing scale, designed to see whether the GRC couldn’t gin up a local revolution. Although Chiang might ask us to back the first option above, I suspect he would settle for our support or even tacit acquiescence in such probes. The GRC apparently has enough well-trained forces for small scale operations, although they are deficient in lift. There is some appeal in a probing operation designed to find out whether the ChiCom position is as brittle as some think. Moreover, the Soviets might not regard such probes as justifying their counter-intervention, but would prefer to let Peiping stew in its own juice, counting on a Peiping appeal to Moscow if the situation got out of hand.

But let’s look further at this proposition. Assuming that it were successful and that a revolt of some size could be ginned up, we would then be faced with the circumstances described under first option above. The GRC would argue for a major campaign, with substantial US support. So our very success would lead to a situation in which Peiping, humbling itself, would have to turn to the Soviets for aid. Then we’d have a major US/USSR war in China which, even if it did not spread, we’d be unlikely to win. Also, what if the GRC failed, even after an initial success? Assuming [Page 183]that the failure were visible enough, it might mean the end of the GRC’s pretensions as “the only legitimate government” of China. In fact, the backlash of an unsuccessful attempt would only undermine further the GRC’s international position and make it even more difficult for us to preserve it as an independent government on Taiwan. Chiang might be willing to take this gamble, but should we?

There is, of course, a third possible outcome between failure and complete success. In effect the GRC could stir up enough unrest in South China to deplete further ChiCom resources and energies and to make even more difficult Peiping’s economic recovery. However, even this could lead the ChiComs to make their peace with Moscow (at least temporarily—most of us feel that, whatever happens, Sino-Soviet tie will never be the same again).

Note that my argument against unleashing Chiang is not based on any value judgment as to whether the ChiComs are now weak enough to make the odds favorable—it is based on my contention that, no matter how weak the ChiComs are, the Soviets won’t let us succeed. Before discarding the possibility on these grounds, however, let’s ask ourselves what happens once Peiping recovers from its current predicament (as is likely, short of some further pressure on it). Since this recovery will probably coincide with ChiCom acquisition of their first home-grown nuclear weapons, it is a gloomy prospect indeed. Therefore, we should at least consider any option which might prolong Peiping’s time of troubles so as to allow Japanese and Indian strength to grow and to buy time to strengthen such peripheral areas as SEA, Korea, etc.

The above becomes doubly relevant when we might go in the opposite direction and sell food to the ChiComs. Harriman is looking into bona fides of Seattle firm’s claim ChiComs want to buy 400,000 tons of grain on normal commercial basis.4 His inclination is to go ahead, largely because ChiCom dollars spent for food leave that much less for industrial buildup. But let’s think thrice before we start down this road: (a) ChiCom needs are so much greater than piddling 400,000 tons that this feeler, if valid, is just to see whether we’ll play; (b) Gimo will surely blow his top if we start feeding ChiComs when he wants to push them over; (c) what about effect on new trade bill passage if we start trading with ChiComs at this point?

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After considering all these factors, I still come down on the side of keeping the Gimo on a tight leash. Prospects for success in a major spoiling operation directed at Red China are highly problematical, particularly since the Soviets have the counter-option of checkmating us at any time they choose. They might let Peiping stew awhile to teach it a lesson, but if things got bad enough they wouldn’t hesitate to step in. If they did so, we would have succeeded in pushing Peiping and Moscow together again, in effect postponing the day when the two giants of the Communist world may be at each other’s throats instead of ours. Moreover, bad as things are on the mainland, there is no evidence of any feeling that the GRC could make them better (even if we could get across that it would bring with it huge quantities of US food and other aid).

If backing Chiang in a last dramatic gamble is against our interests, let’s start thinking now about the painful task of dissuading him. Drumright and Cline feel that we will shortly get a major approach from the GRC. Instead of waiting for it, there might be some advantage in jumping first by telling them how we look at the situation.

State did attempt a minor operation of this sort in asking Drumright to tell Gimo we hoped his New Year’s Day speech call for “return to the mainland” in 1962 meant no change in policy, and reminding him of the required prior consultation with US.5 Drumright replied that this would only outrage Chiang and revive his latent apprehensions about new administration’s China policy.6 So State told Drumright merely to talk with the Foreign Minister.7 This won’t quite do if we are going to have the necessary impact on the Gimo. We need to be more forthright and honest and to have some trade goods at hand, perhaps more development aid. We may also need a special envoy to carry this word (Harriman?), since Drumright can’t do it effectively.

Recommendation: That we tell State President has noted indications of quickening ChiNat interest in a return to mainland, doubts GRC would have much success, and would like State’s views, including whether we should attempt to forestall any upcoming Chiang approach to him (see attached).8

Bob K.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China, Return to Mainland, 1/62-5/62. Top Secret. Filed with a covering note of the same date from Komer to Bundy which reads as follows:
  2. Dated January 26, it summarized a January 24 conversation with Chiang Kai-shek during which Chiang proposed an exchange of views on the circumstances under which GRC intervention on the mainland might be feasible and necessary or desirable. (Ibid.) The conversation was reported in more detail in telegram 270057Z from CIA to JCS. (Ibid.) See the Supplement.
  3. An appraisal of the documents under reference was sent to Kennedy with a January 9 covering memorandum from McCone. (Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, China Security, 1962-63) A number of them were published in translation in J. Chester Cheng, ed., The Politics of the Chinese Red Army (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1966).
  4. Reference is apparently to a July 14 paper entitled “Unrest and Uprisings in Mainland China.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China)
  5. Reference is to an application by a Seattle firm for an export license to export wheat and barley to China and North Korea. A memorandum of January 25 from Martin and Harriman to McGhee outlined the situation and expressed doubt as to whether a bona fide Chinese order existed. (Department of State,S/S-NSC Files: Lot 70 D 265, NSC Standing Group, January 26, 1962) According to the Record of Actions at a meeting of the NSC Standing Group on January 26, the Standing Group noted that the Central Intelligence Agency would seek to obtain further information and the Department of State would prepare recommendations. (Ibid.) Further information concerning the proposed sale is ibid., Central File, 493.119.
  6. The message was sent in telegram 410 to Taipei, January 8. (Ibid., 793.00/1-862)
  7. Drumright replied in telegram 525 from Taipei, January 11. (Ibid., 793.00/1-1162)
  8. The message was sent in telegram 424 to Taipei, January 17. (Ibid.) Drumright met with Shen on February 9. He reported the conversation in telegram 569, February 13. (Ibid., 793.00/2-1362)
  9. Attached was a draft memorandum from Bundy to Rusk, apparently not sent.