315. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Far East and Southeast Asia


  • United States Side
    • George W. Ball, Under Secretary of State
    • W. Walton Butterworth, United States Ambassador to Canada
    • G. Griffith Johnson, Assistant Secretary, E
    • William R. Tyler, Assistant Secretary, EUR
    • William H. Brubeck, The White House
    • Willis C. Armstrong, Director, BNA
  • Canadian Side
    • Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada (part of the time)
    • Paul Martin, Secretary of State for External Affairs
    • Charles S. A. Ritchie, Ambassador of Canada
    • R. Gordon Robertson, Clerk of the Privy Council
    • Tom Kent, Coordinator of Government Policy
    • A. E. Ritchie, Assistant Under Secretary of State for External Affairs
    • H. Basil Robinson, Minister, Canadian Embassy
    • O. W. Dier, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister

While President Johnson and Prime Minister Pearson were talking together in President Johnson’s office,2 the Under Secretary proposed to Mr. Martin that they discuss certain subjects of mutual interest.

Mr. Ball mentioned the intention of President De Gaulle to recognize Communist China.3 He said it looked as though this were now inevitable, [Page 672] and that this could “upset a few apple carts.” He said that according to our information De Gaulle probably intended to make an announcement, and then go into the matter further in his press conference. Mr. Martin said that this indeed seemed to be the case. He said he thought that, however disagreeable such a development was bound to be for the United States, he hoped that the United States Government would not unduly dramatize the occasion by reacting too violently. He asked Mr. Ball what he thought would be the effect on Southeast Asia and the Far East generally of De Gaulle’s decision. Mr. Ball said that it would be considered by Saigon as a clear indication of a trend toward some kind of neutralist solution in Southeast Asia, and that this would gravely affect the morale of the government and people of South Viet Nam and thus hamper current United States efforts to help the Vietnamese to achieve victory over Communism. He said the United States reaction would undoubtedly be very severe. It would also seriously complicate the situation in the United Nations, in the event that African and other countries followed France’s lead. He said that President Johnson was concerned by what the position of the Canadian Government would be in the United Nations on the recognition issue.

Mr. Martin said that the Canadian Government felt that there was much to be said for the basic premises underlying De Gaulle’s views. He said it was not possible to isolate Communist China forever. He said that contacts had already been established between Ottawa and Peiping. As an example he cited the forthcoming exchange between the Canadian Press Agency and the New China News Agency, whereby each would have a representative in the other’s country. He said it was important to watch carefully how things would develop. The Canadian Government was fully aware of the possible implications of the French move for the United States and for the Alliance as a whole. He could not at this time say what the evolving posture and attitude of the Canadian Government would be in the future. He could not honestly say now what the Canadian Government would do eventually in the General Assembly. He hoped that such a situation would not arise until after November. He said that Canada wanted to establish increasing contacts with China because it sincerely felt that it was not a practical or farsighted policy to continue to ignore the Chinese indefinitely. Mr. Martin went on to say that when he had talked with French Foreign Minister Couve de Murville in Paris,4 he had not said as much as he had just said to Mr. Ball. He did say to Couve that he hoped that the French Government would carefully weigh the effect on the Alliance [Page 673] and on the US attitude of its proposed action. However he had not told the French that what they intended to do was wrong. He said the Prime Minister and he had told the French that the Canadian Government at this present time had not changed its policy on the question of recognition of Communist China, or with regard to Communist Chinese admission to the UN.

Mr. Ball said that it was still not clear what Taiwan planned to do if France recognized Peiping.

Mr. Martin said he was pessimistic on the chances of survival of the present government in South Viet Nam. He said that it did not enjoy the confidence of the Vietnamese people.

Mr. Ball refuted this assertion and went on to say that an attempt to find a neutralist solution in that part of the world would be tantamount to facilitating a take-over by the Chinese Communists. He pointed out that the circumstances which had made desirable a solution of neutrality for Laos were peculiar to that country, and did not constitute a precedent for a neutrality formula for South Viet Nam.

Mr. Martin asked Mr. Ball for his opinion about the Soviet proposal for a conference on Cambodia in April.5 Mr. Ball said that we preferred not to have such a conference, but that we did not want to seem to be in direct opposition to Sihanouk’s suggestion.

Mr. Ball pointed out that there were two points which could together be extremely harmful for the US attitude toward the United Nations: first, financial problems in relation to Article 19 and, second, a vote in the United Nations to admit Communist China.

Mr. Martin asked whether the United States did not think that a Soviet-Chicom confrontation in the UN would be to the advantage of the Free World. Mr. Ball said he doubted this, since they would probably tend to get together on major issues. Mr. Martin asked whether the French initiative would swing the balance in the United Nations in favor of the admission of Communist China. Mr. Ball explained that this would not necessarily be the case. He said the French Government had advised its former colonies in Africa that it would be desirable they should not recognize Communist China when France does so. He said that there would be an obvious reluctance on the part of most of those governments to have a representative of Peiping in their capitals.

Mr. Martin said that Canada was recognizing Outer Mongolia, and that some people in Canada would say that this was a move towards recognizing the Chinese People’s Republic. Mr. Martin referred to the action of 1955 to admit Outer Mongolia to the United Nations. He said [Page 674] he recalled that the United States had favored this, and Mr. Ball concurred, indicating that it was part of a package transaction.

(Later, with the Prime Minister present.)

Mr. Ball said that while the President and the Prime Minister had been having their private conversation the rest of the group had discussed De Gaulle and Peiping. The Prime Minister said that he had also talked about this with the President. Mr. Ball pointed out that if there should develop a trend in favor of Chinese recognition in the United Nations, at the same time as a discussion of Article 19 of the United Nations Charter, it could generate a wave of public opinion against the United Nations in the United States. The Prime Minister said that the President and he shared the view that nobody can do anything with de Gaulle once he has made up his mind, and that the best course in the situation is to minimize the importance of it, as far as public treatment is concerned. The Prime Minister went on to say that he hoped that the recognition of Communist China by France would not have a drastic effect. He said in the long run it might be helpful if the arrangement results in providing a transition toward a two-China situation. He said the President had agreed that it was not desirable to exaggerate the matter.

Mr. Ball spoke of the concern over a possible trend among African states toward recognition and said that we do not want to allow this sort of thing to be built up. We understand that the French Government has suggested the UAM states not follow the French example. The Prime Minister remarked that the French must lack confidence in their own action. Mr. Ball said that some UAM states may resist the temptation to recognize Communist China. He said we certainly hope for a firm line on the Western side, and we are particularly concerned over the reaction in Viet Nam. Certainly the French action would be interpreted in Viet Nam as a further move in the wrong direction.

The Prime Minister wondered whether the greatest embarrassment would be in Tokyo, and the Under Secretary said it was doubtful whether the Japanese could stand against great pressure to do the same thing. Mr. Martin referred to a speech by the Japanese Prime Minister of the preceding day, reported in January 22nd issue of the New York Times, in which the problem was reviewed. Mr. Ball said that we have advised Taiwan to sit tight. There may be no actual exchange of ambassadors between Communist China and France for about three months. The situation is hard for Chiang Kai-shek, because the French have never permitted him to have an ambassador in Paris, only a Chargé. If there is to be a Chinese ambassador, and only a Chargé for the Nationalists, this would be very awkward indeed.

The Prime Minister said that it had been reported in the newspapers, particularly in Canada, that he had told the President that Canada [Page 675] would not recognize Red China without United States consent. This type of newspaper story is exceedingly damaging and he had had to deny it on domestic political grounds. He said he felt the world must some day get out of the difficult situation in which it has painted itself, but that he had no wish whatsoever to add to the difficulties of the United States, especially in an election year. He said that some pressure would develop in Canada but he did not want to do anything now to add to United States difficulties. Mr. Ball said it might be wise to see what happened as a result of French recognition. After all the British had not gained very much by having diplomatic representation in Peiping. Mr. Martin said that this was the sort of thing the Japanese Prime Minister had suggested—wait and see what happened.

At one point during the meeting, Mr. Brubeck, who had been absent from the room briefly, returned to say that the press was inquiring whether it was true that Canada and the United States were discussing the possible recognition of Red China by Canada. The Prime Minister authorized a statement to the effect that this subject had not been considered in the discussions.6

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 3258. Secret. Drafted by Tyler and Armstrong and approved in U. The memorandum is Part 4 of 14. Part 13 is Document 316; the other memoranda of conversation are ibid. The meeting was held at the White House. Prime Minister Pearson visited Washington January 21-23. Pearson’s recollections of the meeting are in Mike: The Memoirs of the Right Honorable Lester B. Pearson, Vol. 3, pp. 119-123.
  2. No record of this private talk was found.
  3. France extended diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China on January 27.
  4. They apparently met during the NAC Ministerial meeting December 13-18, 1963.
  5. On January 22 the Soviet Union forwarded to its Co-Chairman, the United Kingdom, a request from Cambodia for convening the ICC.
  6. For text of the joint communiqué, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 432-434.