85. Editorial Note

A memorandum of February 6, 1962, to President Kennedy from Chester Bowles argued that the Chinese food crisis might offer an opportunity to lessen “the danger of Chinese expansionism” and offered the non-Communist world an opportunity “to gain some important leverage in its economic relations with the Peiping regime.” He suggested beginning with “a highly confidential effort to explore Chinese Communist attitudes.” He was about to leave on a trip to the Middle East and Asia, and he suggested that he stop in Rangoon to discuss the subject with Burmese Prime Minister U Nu. (Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, China Security)

Bowles states in a memoir that he met with Kennedy before his departure and asked him if the United States would be prepared “to sell a limited amount of wheat to the Chinese on an emergency basis for hard currency and without political conditions” and “if China would agree not to attempt to change its existing borders by force (without necessarily forfeiting its claims to territories outside its present borders),” whether it would be prepared “to offer much larger quantities of wheat on a continuing, low interest, long-term basis?”

According to Bowles, Kennedy “readily agreed” to the first proposal, suggesting as much as 3 to 5 million tons. Concerning the second proposal, Kennedy said that “if some reliable means of communication could be opened up,” he would consider an agreement to sell 10 to 12 million tons of American wheat annually on a long-term, easy-credit basis, “provided China agreed to abandon its present military-political pressures on its neighbors.” Bowles states that Kennedy agreed that Bowles could advance these proposals with U Nu, describing them as proposals that he had discussed in general terms with the President but which had not been formally approved. Bowles was not able to meet with U Nu, however; the latter’s government was overthrown the day before Bowles was scheduled to leave New Delhi for Rangoon. (Promises to Keep: My Years in Public Life, 1941-1969 (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pages 470-471)

According to Kennedy’s Appointment Book, Bowles met with Kennedy for 25 minutes on February 6. (Kennedy Library) No other record has been found of the conversation.