296. Letter From the Ambassador to Poland (Gronouski) to Secretary of State Rusk1

Dear Dean:

It has been some time since I felt it worthwhile to bother you with a separate personal reaction to one of our meetings with the Chinese. As you know from the formal reporting of the last two or three meetings, the Chinese posture of sterility and rigidity did not encourage me to believe that a new initiative on our part would have any significant impact.

The atmosphere and substance of the January 8 meeting, however, was enough improved over the preceding two or three sessions to raise my hopes a small notch. The “signals” that intrigue me include the following: (a) By holding this meeting, despite the absence of Ambassador Wang, by volunteering that the Charge contact is a temporary exigency, and by readily agreeing to a reasonable date for the next meeting, the Chinese made clear their desire to maintain their contact with us; (b) They reverted to their pre-cultural revolution position that Taiwan is [Page 633] the sole issue poisoning relations between China and the U.S., as against their position over the past couple of years that their conflict with us involved differences encompassing the whole world revolutionary movement; (c) They devoted their entire opening statement to strictly bilateral issues—Taiwan and an itemized listing of air intrusions, attacks on ships, etc.—and during rebuttal made only perfunctory references to Viet-Nam, avoiding the several issues which I expected them to vigorously exploit, including the current Cambodian troubles and McNamara’s ABM speech; (d) There was a sharp downturn in invective as compared to each of the other meetings in which I have participated, and a complete absence of reference to the cultural revolution and the sayings of Chairman Mao; (e) The routine follow-up meeting the next morning between Kreisberg and Anderson (my counselor and interpreter) with their Chinese counterparts2 was pervaded by a surprising atmosphere of relaxation. There was an unusual engagement by the Chinese in conversation on general interest subjects such as American balance of payment problems, the source of our oil supply, and details of their interpreter’s vacation in China (including his labor experience on farm and in factory), all in a tone of genuine interest rather than criticism.

Lord knows, one swallow does not make a summer, and tone and atmosphere are no substitute for action. Yet I cannot help but think that the items catalogued in the last paragraph add up to a significant departure from the past performance. Why I do not know, although one can hypothesize that this has something to do with the improved position of Ch’en Yi and the Chinese Foreign Ministry professionals and a corresponding downgrading of the influence on foreign policy of hard-nosed Cultural Revolution types.

I believe, therefore, that this would be the appropriate time for the President or you to again make a major speech designed to appeal to and encourage the moderate element in Communist China. If the Chinese posture at this meeting was designed to signal a positive change in China’s policy toward us, and I do not believe we can lightly discard this hypothesis, it is important for us to quickly respond. Such a response would implicitly let them know that we recognize and appreciate this change, and could emphasize the clear benefits that would accrue to them were relations between China and the United States improved. Aside from a general reiteration of the theme of your statement to the Zablocki Committee in 1966 and the President’s State of the Union message last year, I would hope that the speech I am suggesting could offer some [Page 634] additional areas in which we could move without serious political risk or weakening significant U.S. interests.3

Best regards.

Sincerely yours,
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, China, Vol. XII. Confidential; Official-Informal.
  2. At these follow-up meetings, both sides exchanged the texts of their opening statements. A memorandum of the conversation at the January 9 meeting was transmitted in airgram A–421, January 11. (Ibid.)
  3. The source text is filed with a January 18 covering memorandum from Jenkins to Rostow stating that Jenkins agreed with Gronouski’s basic thesis but did not think the timing was right for a top-level speech. He suggested that a speech by William Bundy scheduled for February 16 might be “a good vehicle to satisfy Gronouski’s desire to probe a little.” He concluded: “It seems to me that affairs on the mainland are still much too messy for us to use our bluest chips in the game. Let’s save ’em a while longer.”