26. Memorandum of Conversation1


April 16–17, 19642


  • U.S. and GRC Policies in East Asia


  • President Chiang Kai-shek
  • Madame Chiang
  • Shen Chang-huan, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • James Shen, Director, Government Information Office, Interpreter
  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Jerauld Wright
  • William P. Bundy
  • Ralph N. Clough

After an exchange of pleasantries, the President remarked that the time was short and suggested that the Secretary open the conversation.

Sino-Soviet Dispute

The Secretary responded that he appreciated the opportunity of meeting with the President and wanted to hear him speak on the questions that were on his mind. But, the Secretary said, at the top of his own mind now was the feeling that we were at the beginning of large events in the world. The situation was beginning to show mobility. It was too early to see what the final results of this would be, but it appeared that important changes were in the making. He therefore very much wanted to discuss with President Chiang what was going on inside the Communist world, the implications of the dispute between Peiping and Moscow, and what all this means to the security problems which we and the GRC have in the Western Pacific.

The Secretary said the quarrel between Moscow and Peiping seems to us very deep. Personal relations between Mao and Khrushchev could not be worse. They were using stronger language about each other than the Communists had ever used regarding free world leaders.

[Page 42]

In one sense this was a quarrel over the leadership of the Communist world, but it also affected state relations, border problems, trade and security questions. It must, of course, be kept in mind that it is always possible for two dictators to reverse their positions completely and come together as Hitler and Stalin had done prior to the Second World War. In another sense, the Moscow-Peiping dispute may be a family quarrel which may not affect relations with the free world. If one or the other came into military conflict with the free world, there was still a question whether either could afford not to support the other. This is a question we cannot yet answer. However, we may get the answer in the course of this year.

The Secretary said that he knew the President had given a great deal of thought and study to Soviet affairs, including recent developments between Peiping and Moscow and would be much interested in hearing the President’s analysis of the situation.

The President said that the Secretary had briefly outlined two possibilities. First, that Peiping and Moscow might each go its own way, and second, that this was a family quarrel and the two might come together again. Which development did the Secretary consider most likely?

The Secretary replied that he frankly didn’t know the answer to that question. As late as yesterday Khrushchev had said that this quarrel would bring no benefit to the free world and that the Communist bloc would come out of it stronger than ever. U.S. experts on Communist affairs believe that the dispute goes much deeper than personal relationships. It involves party relations, ideology, state relations and questions relating to nuclear weapons. This combination of differences points in the direction of a complete break. However, the Secretary said he didn’t think we could predict now what would happen. The whole problem of what to do about the dispute is now being discussed within the Soviet world. There is a great reluctance to permit a complete break to occur. A complete break would be a great advantage to the free world, but we cannot yet say what will happen.

The President said he was glad that the Secretary had mentioned Khrushchev’s statement. He said his own general yardstick for interpreting Communist statements was to look for the opposite meaning from what was said. If the Communists alleged there would be no split, then there probably would be one. The words of Communist leaders cannot be taken at face value. The more they talk in terms of possible rapprochement, the more likely there is to be continued conflict.

The President said it was also significant that Khrushchev should have referred to his conflict with Mao as a family affair. Historically Communists would rather compromise with an outside enemy than one inside the party. The cases of Trotsky, Hitler and Molotov all demonstrated this. A struggle inside the party would be fought out to the very [Page 43]end. The President concluded that since the Secretary had indicated to Ambassador Tsiang that he would like to discuss Sino-Soviet affairs, he had put down some of his ideas in writing, and would have an English translation read (see Document A attached).3

The Secretary commented that these were interesting observations concerning the largest problem we had before us in the world today. He inquired whether there was any evidence of traditional regional differences within the Peiping regime, or was the leadership relatively united?

Possibility of GRC Operations Against China Mainland

The President responded that there were ample signs of distrust among middle echelon cadres in the provinces toward the Central Government. There was not the same degree of confidence as before between the regions and the Central Government, but things were kept under control by stringent measures. The President said he knew that within the central leadership a small number of persons had come increasingly in recent years to distrust Mao, but there was still no outward manifestation of this.

The Secretary said that elementary arithmetic demonstrates that the problem of feeding the Chinese people is becoming more difficult year by year. The situation must eventually develop to the point where these strains will become almost impossible to handle.

The President said this was but one of the Communists’ numerous weaknesses. In addition to economic weakness, there were political and social weaknesses too numerous to cite. There were also signs of wavering and disloyalty within the armed forces, whose rations were being steadily reduced.

As evidence of differences within the regime, the President referred to the liquidation of Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih, and the opposition to Mao of Peng Te-huai and his associates. Lin Piao, the present Chief of Staff of the armed forces, was practically paralyzed by illness. The President said he knew that Lin in his heart was opposed to Mao. Lin was a graduate of the fourth class of the Whampoa Academy, where he had been a classmate of General Liu An-chi, commander of the GRC Army. During the Japanese War, Lin had lived for some time in Chungking.

The Secretary said he would like to comment on the question of possible operations against the mainland which the President had raised. He would like to repeat his opening remark that we were at the beginning of a period of great change and could not be certain what the outcome would be. But his judgment today would be that in the face of the large [Page 44]Chinese Communist forces on the mainland the GRC could not establish itself militarily on the mainland without large-scale assistance from other countries, particularly the United States, and involving U.S. military forces and possibly nuclear weapons. He said, if he had to make a judgment today—who knows what might happen in six months—he would say that Khrushchev would have to support Mao. This could lead to the whole Northern Hemisphere going up in flames.

Nevertheless, the Secretary said it was essential to follow most closely the Sino-Soviet dispute because of its implications for the security situation in Asia, as well as Europe, Africa and Latin America. If either Khrushchev or Mao should die the situation could change suddenly and dramatically. There might be a complete reshaping and realignment of the situation.

The President said that he was opposed in principle to the use of nuclear weapons, particularly in settling the China problem. He didn’t want to give the impression that he was advocating immediate action against the mainland. He had a concept he would like to explore. It was not his intention to request U.S. aid to go back to the mainland right away.

The Secretary said it was important for the United States and the GRC to keep in close touch in assessing the situation so as not to miss an opportunity which might be provided by the rapidly changing situation. Think of the difference if the free world had done what was needed in China in 1931! Subsequent history would have been entirely changed.

The President said, as he had stated, he had a concept as to how to proceed against the China mainland which he would have read in English translation (see Document B attached).4

The Secretary commented that these were very important and far reaching proposals. He was sure the President would not wish him to comment on them offhand, as they were deserving of careful study. The Secretary went on to say that the reason he had asked the President about the possible existence of regional differences within the Communist regime was related to the President’s own interest in South China. A major crisis could develop with Communist China in Southeast Asia. He wanted to tell the President seriously that if the situation in Vietnam deteriorated, the United States course of action would not be to pull out, but to take additional measures. These additional measures might very well involve danger and damage to South China. In view of the pressing internal economic problems in South China, perhaps something could be offered if that area wished to pursue a policy of peace. A combination of opportunity, pressure and danger might cause South China to break [Page 45]away and cooperate with the GRC. The Secretary said he didn’t know whether this was possible, but these are things we should be thinking about.

The President responded that he felt very strongly that without the active participation of the GRC no movement in China’s southern provinces could arise. The people in these provinces might suffer from bombing and other measures, but the end result would only be more hatred of the United States rather than a move for independence. The key factor would be participation of the GRC.

The President said he had mentioned earlier that the GRC would need U.S. support and assistance in initiating a large-scale anti-Communist movement on the mainland. Opportunities must be created rather than waited for. Guerrilla activity in certain provinces needed to be started. All this must be done first. Any help given by the United States would involve no risk to the United States. The President felt opportunities could be created in the southwest provinces bordering Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Burma and India. This area was too far away for the USSR to take any interest in and therefore there should be no concern regarding Soviet intervention. The President then said he would like to know exactly what U.S. policy, strategy and tactics were in South Vietnam.

U.S. Policy in South Vietnam

The Secretary replied that the most immediate purpose is to help South Vietnam deal with the Viet Cong insurrection which is supported by and to some extent supplied by North Vietnam. We estimate there are 25 to 30 thousand hard core Viet Cong and 60 to 70 thousand irregulars. The Viet Cong have more strength than these numbers would indicate because they interfere through terror with the villagers’ cooperation with the government. They come by night, terrorize the villages and leave the people fearful of cooperating with the government. North Vietnam is providing four types of assistance to the Viet Cong. These are (1) full support in stimulating and agitating through political and propaganda means to try to create the impression that the Viet Cong are the winning side. (2) We have very good information demonstrating that the operating control of the Viet Cong forces is centered in Hanoi. (3) Relatively small numbers of cadres are being infiltrated from the north into the south. Last year perhaps 1800 of such highly trained individuals were sent. Each is worth 25 to 30 times his own weight because of his ability to train and organize local bands. (4) The north is also supplying relatively modest amounts of arms, particularly some of the most sophisticated weapons introduced to deal with the tactics of the Vietnam Army. These include anti-aircraft machine guns for use against helicopters, a few 75 mm recoil-less rifles and communications equipment. Arms are not being supplied in large amounts. Most arms used by the [Page 46]Viet Cong come from the stock of English, French, Chinese, U.S. and other weapons accumulated over the past 20 years.

Vietnamese Government forces are much larger than the Viet Cong forces, consisting of 200,000 regular troops and 170,000 irregulars. Government forces have superior weapons and equipment, mobility and unlimited economic support. Nevertheless, their task is very difficult because they need not only to deal with the Viet Cong but also to pacify areas. The Viet Cong hit and run tactics are very hard to cope with.

The President interjected “You say, in other words, the Chinese Communists are not directly involved?”

The Secretary replied that no Chinese Communist personnel had ever been found in South Vietnam. There was not even evidence of large numbers of Chinese Communist military or technicians in North Vietnam. Some weapons had been captured which were made in China in 1959, 1960 and 1961, but there was no evidence of direct Chinese Communist involvement in South Vietnam at present.

The Secretary referred to the substantial Chinese community in South Vietnam and said we were very grateful for the work the GRC had done with this community. There might be a few of these people who have been influenced by Peiping, but on the whole, they support the government and are no problem.

The Secretary said that we were trying very hard on the political front to deny Laos as an infiltration route from North to South Vietnam. All signatories to the 1962 agreements on Laos agreed that Laos would not be used as an avenue for this purpose. Of course, this agreement has been violated. We have been working with the signatory countries trying to get compliance with the agreements. If Laos could be stabilized the situation in Vietnam could be improved. Not all of our action is political. We are also engaged in certain activities on the ground to increase the difficulty of using Laos as a route to South Vietnam. Not all of these activities appear in the press. We are working very hard on this problem.

The President said with regard to the situation in South Vietnam, the important thing is to know the real enemy. The enemy is not the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, but the Communists in North Vietnam. This must be recognized before tactics to be used can even be discussed. To move a step further, we should know that the real masters of North Vietnam are the Chinese Communists. They pull the strings. If there were no Chinese Communist regime on the mainland there would be no North Vietnam, and if there were no North Vietnam there would be no Viet Cong. Regarding the question of how to win the war in Vietnam, the President said he had put his thoughts down in a paper which he asked be read (see Document C attached).5

[Page 47]

Madame Chiang said she understood the strategic hamlets had not been very successful.

The Secretary said it depended on the area. In the south the GVN had tried to go too far too fast. Its tactics were now being changed. The Secretary assured the President that his suggestions would be given very careful study. The United States was deeply concerned regarding the security of Southeast Asia. We could assure the President that we did know who our real enemies were. A great deal of sober thought would be given to this problem in the weeks ahead, and as the President knew, he was himself going to Saigon the next day for a first-hand look. He said we would be in touch with the GRC concerning the President’s suggestions.

The Secretary continued that since World War II the United States had taken over 160,000 casualties in the cold war against the Communists, most of these in the Far East. We are not going to deal with large masses of men on the Asia mainland with conventional U.S. forces. We cannot ask that of our people. This means frightful destruction if the United States becomes involved militarily in this area. Consequently, we are not prepared to move too far or too fast in the direction of precipitating that kind of war. It may be that Southeast Asia cannot be made secure unless the Chinese Communists are hurt and hurt badly, but this would build up a legacy of hate against the United States. Even many of those who hate Castro advise us not to invade Cuba and kill 40 or 50 thousand Cubans, because of the scar this would leave on our relations with Cuba.

The Secretary said he could not quarrel with the President’s identification of the enemy and his analysis of cause and effect. The question is, at what point do we face up to the costs involved, costs which may be frightful? This we must consider most carefully.

The President said he had earlier indicated his objection to the use of nuclear weapons in this part of the world. He was also sure that other people in this area would object. Their use was wholly unnecessary. Vietnamese manpower should be used in Vietnam, and Chinese manpower in China. U.S. military manpower would not be required. Even to think of using nuclear weapons was open to question. It was unwise. It would hurt the United States more than anything else and it was unnecessary. He said he was speaking very frankly to an ally and his desire was to be helpful.6

Chiang’s Views of U.S. Policy

The President added that it was for the sake of the real interests of the United States that he spoke the way he did and he had also put down [Page 48]on paper some thoughts regarding U.S. policy. He was afraid these were rather critical, but if the Secretary did not object, he would have them read.

The Secretary said that we value the criticism of a friend.

The President said he had taken into consideration the real interests of the United States. He hoped the criticism would be taken in the spirit it was offered, as the views of a friend. He wanted to emphasize that only the armed forces of the GRC could liquidate the Chinese Communists (see Document D attached).7

The President said he was afraid he had overdone his criticism. The Secretary replied that he took no offense, because the President’s criticisms were directed at some very fundamental questions. He said the United States does not want to take any action on behalf of others if others are able to take care of their own independence and security. If you scratch the skin of any American you find beneath it an isolationist who would rather be home than anywhere else, but we feel we have learned since 1931 that aggression, if unchecked, becomes a threat to all, and free peoples must stand together to resist it. It was not until 1948–1949 that we began really to learn the lesson of the period beginning in 1931. We now have 48 allies in various parts of the world. Yet we don’t control one of them. Sometimes we have the feeling that others control us.

The President said the Secretary must not misunderstand. It was Chinese Communist propaganda which alleged that the United States controlled the policies and actions of others. Take, for example, the United States presence in Taiwan. The United States certainly did not control things here, but this was the Communist propaganda line and it was sometimes taken seriously. Neither did the President have the slightest intention of suggesting that the United States return to isolationism. The world needs the United States, but the United States need not be directly involved in fighting. It should support others to do the fighting.

The President continued that it seems to be present U.S. policy to help nations fighting Communism to maintain the status quo. This indirectly enables Communist regimes to maintain control of the people. The resentment of the people that the U.S. is taking no steps to free them is bound to increase. Chinese Communist propaganda can then exploit this resentment against the United States by accusing the United States of aggression.

The Secretary said that if what the President had in mind was the capability of engaging in military action against the Communists without U.S. participation, this needed to be looked at with great professional [Page 49]competence to determine the capability. However, the United States cannot escape responsibility for assisting such action. No United States Government could accept supporting such an action and then backing away in the face of failure.

The President said he was glad to hear the Secretary’s comments. To make a long story short, the results would depend upon U.S. policy and the methods employed. He hoped in the evening to have an opportunity to discuss the matter further. He also wanted to take up certain questions which President Johnson had said in his letter could be taken up with the Secretary.

The Secretary expressed his appreciation at the great thought which the President had put into his preparation for today’s meeting

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2384/E. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Clough, and approved in S on May 6. The meeting was held at President Chiang’s Shihlin residence.
  2. Rusk visited Taipei April 16–17. He sent a telegram briefly summarizing his visit as Secto 60 from Saigon, April 17. (Ibid., Central Files, POL 1 CHINAT-VIET S) A record of his initial conversation with Chiang Kai-shek on April 16 is ibid., POL 15–1 CHINAT. Other documentation pertaining to his visit is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2375, 2380, and 2384/E. A record of an NSC meeting on April 22, during which he reported on his trip to Manila, Taipei, and Saigon, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, pp. 258262.
  3. See A–942 attached—Tab 2, page 3. [Footnote in the source text. Airgram A–942 enclosed GRC records of Rusk’s three conversations with Chiang, which the Foreign Ministry had provided to the Embassy. The four documents that Chiang and his interpreter read during this session were incorporated into the GRC record of the conversation.]
  4. See A–942 attached—Tab 2, page 8. [Footnote in the source text.]
  5. See A–942 attached—Tab 2, page 11. [Footnote in the source text.]
  6. This is apparently the exchange that Rusk described in As I Saw It, pp. 288–289, although Rusk states that it occurred in his “final meeting with Chiang Kai-shek” in 1968. Rusk’s last meeting with Chiang was in December 1966; he did not visit the Republic of China in 1968.
  7. See A–942 attached—Tab 2, page 16. [Footnote in the source text.]