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90. Draft Message From President Kennedy to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)0

In your conversations with Generalissimo, I hope you will make it clear that you come with my full authority and that you and I have discussed together the question of ChiNat return to the mainland. You may want to begin by indicating that you and I have repeatedly shown our own support for GRC and therefore count on full understanding by Generalissimo of our position, as follows:

We continue to assume that all discussions of return to the mainland are governed by the understanding in the exchange of notes between U.S. Secretary of State and Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs dated December 10, 1954. We know that understanding on this point has been excellent so far, but we should never omit straight-forward repetition of it.
We believe that most careful study is necessary of both intelligence and operational planning for proposed new venture. You may draw, if you wish, on the Cuban misadventure as proof of the dangers of [Page 193]bad intelligence, and of decisions based more on hope than reality. You should emphasize our insistence on continued detailed study and exchange of views.
Our earlier approval of 20-man drops1 was heavily connected with the fact that we were not involved. 200-man teams with U.S. air support are a wholly different matter, and while we too will await results of further study, you should indicate that support for such drops would be a major shift in policy for us and would have to be supported by compelling evidence.

If you concur, you should indicate that it still seems best to us to think in terms of smaller actions which might in themselves increase our knowledge of the possibilities. The smaller the action, and the more completely it is handled by the GRC, the more likely our agreement.

You should of course make it clear that we would like nothing better than the downfall of the mainland regime, and we are fully aware of the advantages such a change would bring in the whole world situation. But it is one thing to desire a result and quite another to make sound judgment on proposed measures to bring that result about.

The more you can learn from the Generalissimo about his precise estimate of the situation, the better, but you should make it clear to him that solid evidence is more interesting to us than eloquently expressed hopes.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China, Return to Mainland, 1/62-5/62. Secret. Filed with a March 9 covering memorandum from Bundy to U. Alexis Johnson that reads as follows: “This draft has the President’s approval, and, subject to any changes that you may suggest, I hope it may go promptly to Governor Harriman.” The source text and the covering memorandum bear no indication of approval or objection and no transmission time. The message was not sent through Department of State channels; it was presumably sent through [text not declassified].
  2. An unsigned paper, evidently a draft of a March 30 memorandum from Hilsman to Harriman, states that a plan developed by the GRC [text not declassified], providing for six 20-man teams to be airdropped into South China, was approved in the third week of July 1961 by “a U.S. intragovernmental committee” (presumably the Special Group) and by the President. (Department of State, FE/EA Files: Lot 65 D 235, GRC Mainland Recovery, January 1962) Hilsman’s March 30 memorandum omits this point but states that the United States had suggested 20-man probes in mid-1961 in response to GRC plans for 200-300 man airdrops; a few months later, when preparations were complete, the GRC declined to carry out the probes on the ground that they would be too small to be useful. (Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Kennedy-Johnson Administrations, Subject Files, China) See the Supplement.