306. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Removal of travel restriction to Mainland China


Under the applicable passport regulations the restrictions now in force against travel by American citizens to Communist China, Cuba, North Korea, and North Viet-Nam will expire on March 15, 1968. They may, of course, be renewed by appropriate announcement.

This memorandum is directed to the question whether the restriction on travel to Communist China should be continued. For the reasons stated below, we believe that it should not. A separate memorandum is being forwarded recommending renewal of the restrictions on Cuba, North Korea, and North Viet-Nam.



Last March we recommended to you that restrictions on travel to mainland China be continued in view of the unsettled political condition inside China and the xenophobic behavior of the mobs of Red Guards which were at the time committing excesses or threatening foreigners then resident in Peking and elsewhere. The official announcement stated that travel was being restricted “in view of the present unsettled conditions within mainland China and the risks and dangers which might ensue from the inadvertent involvement of American citizens in domestic disturbances.”

In the course of the last six months, the general political malaise in Communist China has not eased; and its violent manifestations have [Page 667] been widely evident in many provinces. At the same time, (1) the regime has given evidence of an ability to maintain order in the main cities to which foreigners have been permitted to travel; (2) it has successfully managed a large trade fair in Canton in November–December 1967 which was attended by thousands of foreigners; (3) it has resumed admitting foreigners, such as the recent groups of Australian and New Zealand students, who were conducted to a limited number of cities with virtually no untoward incidents; and (4) it has exerted strong and successful efforts to prevent a recurrence of the overt anti-foreign demonstrations which marked the January–August period last year.

Peking continues to be sensitive, as do other communist states, to activities by visitors, including technicians working in Communist China, which in other countries might be considered totally innocent. Several of these, including British and Japanese, have been detained under house arrest in the last six to eight months. Peking also continues to exert pressure on the British by holding a British newspaperman under house arrest and denying members of the British mission in Peking permission to leave the country. Individual British and other diplomats as well as most other foreign residents in Peking, however, are in general being treated politely and are free from serious harassment. We have no reason to believe that if American citizens were issued visas they would be treated any differently in the cities to which they would be permitted to go. The possibility can obviously not be excluded that the Chinese might detain or arrest an American visitor for innocent activities such as photographing in unauthorized areas or an unintentional “insult.” While these hazards are, in certain respects, similar to those confronting American travelers in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, we recognize that they differ in degree. In the USSR and in Eastern Europe (apart from Albania and Eastern Germany), the United States has diplomatic and consular establishments able to attempt to protect such travelers, and the citizens of those countries also travel in the United States.


On balance, however, we cannot say today—as we did a year ago—that there are unusual “risks and dangers of inadvertent involvement of American citizens in domestic disturbances.” Moreover, the standard set down in the only major travel-control case we have won in recent years (Zemel v. Rusk) authorizes restriction of travel “when it can be demonstrated that unlimited travel to the area would directly and materially interfere with the safety and welfare of … the nation as a whole.” We cannot fairly claim today that removal of restrictions to mainland China would have the serious consequences contemplated by the Zemel rule.

Our policy regarding passport validations for travel to Communist China is now so liberal as to enable virtually any individual who has [Page 668] some reason other than simple tourism for traveling to qualify. This gradual and progressive liberalization of our China travel restrictions (which contrasts sharply with the strict limitations imposed on travel to Cuba, North Korea and North Viet-Nam) has met with general approbation from the public and has been challenged by virtually no one. It demonstrates that we do not really consider the risks of American travel serious enough to outweigh the benefits of opening a wide and mutually profitable range of peaceful contacts between the U.S. and Communist China.


There are two additional considerations relating to our general travel-restriction policy which weigh in favor of removing the restriction on travel to China:

The recent court decision in the Straughton Lynd case—which the Department of Justice has refused to take to the Supreme Court—virtually eliminates all our enforcement power in the travel-control area. American citizens are now free to go to North Viet-Nam, North Korea, Cuba and China, if they can get in, so long as they do not use their passports in doing so. All that stands behind our passport limitation is moral and patriotic suasion, and the effect of that obviously diminishes the more thinly it is spread. We would be best advised, therefore, to concentrate our exhortation to American citizens on countries or areas such as North Viet-Nam or North Korea—where we have vital interests in restraining travel—and not fritter it away on China.
The same considerations affect the travel-control legislation we have sent to Congress. We have heard from the Hill that Congressmen and Senators are concerned that the proposed bill grants excessively broad authority to the Secretary of State. The best refutation of that claim is to demonstrate that even when our authority is entirely unlimited by statute—as it is now—we have exercised great self-discipline in imposing travel restrictions.


The practical consequences of removing the restriction will probably be minimal. Peking has generally refused to permit American citizens with validated passports to visit its territory, and we do not anticipate that it will immediately change its position. It has, of course, allowed in those American citizens—such as Robert Williams and other extremists—whom it favors. Eliminating the restriction will not, we believe, substantially increase this traffic because all those who were invited were able and usually willing to visit China without State Department authorization. And in light of the Lynd case, they all now have the legal right to go.

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A disadvantage of dropping restrictions altogether is that we will no longer have a clear record of those individuals who have indicated their interest in travel to mainland China. We doubt that this is a serious problem, however, and believe that any individual who would have applied for a validated passport will let it be known he is going to the mainland if he actually receives a Chinese visa. Those individuals, on the other hand, who would earlier not have wished their passage to the mainland to become known and would have traveled clandestinely may continue to do so.


Our justification for limiting travel last year was couched in terms which should have given the GRC warning that our policy might well be changed in the future if the specific circumstances we cited were subject to change. We would plan to inform the GRC, South Viet-Nam, South Korea and the Japanese Government, as well as the UK—which will be responsible for protecting American citizens, in advance of our announcement dropping travel restrictions to mainland China.

We believe appropriate members of Congress should be informed in advance of our plans if you approve our recommended course of action.


That you authorize the omission of Communist China from the list to be published in March of countries to which travel restrictions will be renewed.2

  1. Source: Department of State, ACA Files: Lot 72 D 175, Travel Controls (Gen.), Jan-Dec. 1968. Secret. Also sent by Deputy Legal Adviser Murray J. Belman and Acting Administrator for Security and Consular Affairs Barbara M. Watson. Drafted by Kreisberg and SCA Deputy Administrator Nathan Lewin. Cleared by Assistant Legal Adviser for SCA Frederick Smith, Jr., Jacobson, Shoesmith, and INR/REA Deputy Director John Holdridge. Macomber did not concur. He stated in a March 8 memorandum to Rusk that the proposed policy change would meet conservative opposition without gaining liberal support for the administration’s Vietnam policy. (Ibid.) A handwritten note from Katzenbach attached to the source text reads: “Dean—I do not think this is the time for new initiatives on China. NdBK.”
  2. Rusk disapproved on March 11.