328. Paper Prepared by Alfred Jenkins of the National Security Council Staff1


A Rebalance of Power

The U.S. Dilemma

The Timing of Policy Departures

The Dog-eared Shopping Lists

The Dubious Case for Movement

China is our central problem in Asia, and in some ways the knottiest on earth. Under present circumstances, however, progress in solving that problem cannot be made by direct approach, as some would have us try. Any approach must be in the context of Asia-wide revolutionary pressures, and with attention to the persistent Asian power imbalances which make the region unstable.

A Rebalance of Power

The last three wars in which the United States has been directly involved began for us as Asian wars. While the origins of all three were complex, a major factor in each instance was a neglected imbalance of power in the area which made for fundamental instability. In each case the United States finally had to fill the vacuum. Many argue that we did so belatedly each time—after war was inevitable. It is true that we gave signals prior to each conflict which could be, and doubtless were, interpreted by the adversaries as indicating that we did not plan to provide a counterbalance, and therefore that expansionist moves could be made with impunity. Then when aggression took place, we found it necessary to oppose it, at great cost.

Some of this cost may be laid at the door of our relative ignorance—at least until fairly recently—of the nature and importance to us and to the rest of the world of the various revolutions in Asia, peaceful and otherwise. New political institutions, forced economic modernization, and rapidly shifting social patterns have been superimposed on the old ways, and power centers have shifted, with the creation of explosive tensions. [Page 710] Americans have not been very familiar with the old ways, which has complicated the job of understanding the reasons behind present-day actions and reactions.

Still, in recent years our understanding of these intrusive Asian developments has grown rapidly. It is ironic that just at the time when we have achieved fuller appreciation of what must be done in Asia, both the willingness and the capacity of the United States to continue to carry the major burden there has come into question (quite apart from the correctness of our having carried it thus far).

We cannot allow another Asian power vacuum to arise. The fact remains that the next war in which our forces will be directly involved, if it comes, is more likely to come in Asia than anywhere else. Berlin, Hungary and Czechoslovakia underline the reluctance of the superpowers for a test of force in Europe, and another Near East conflagration would stand a good chance of being a proxy war. Not so in Asia. There we are intricately engaged, and must continue to be, though at a reduced level as soon as this is possible. The present balance of power, by courtesy of very heavy American presence, is unnatural to the area. If it persists for much longer, we will be asking for cumulative trouble. We must contrive a rebalance, with China principally in mind.

Japan and China, the key countries of East Asia proper (excluding the two superpowers whose interests in Asia are great) are both in an unnatural state of affairs, which cannot last.

Japan, though the third largest industrial power on earth, is all but unarmed. It is unthinkable that, considering the enormous bulge of its economic muscles, Japan will for many more years accept a situation where others can say “No!” and Japan cannot say “But, yes!” When the psychological and constitutional blocks to the inevitable transformation in Japanese defense doctrine start to give, they may dissolve more rapidly than now seems likely. Japan is bound increasingly to resent our filling its defense needs, even if we do so by insistent invitation while Japan is gleefully obsessed with the economic advantage which our defense affords. Despite the present easily documentable demands of efficiency and economy for bases in meeting our commitments in the area, we will do well in our long-term interest to insure that we act a bit harder to get: that we are sought, rather than tolerated until we are not tolerated. Until Japan rearms, as it will, we must use our leverage to press for very sizeable economic and indirect military contribution to the non-communist Asian balance. This is not only necessary in the overall East Asian context, it is also the very essence of a sensible China policy—especially so long as the China problem is not subject to direct approach.

The second of the great Asian nations, too, is in a highly unnatural and unstable state. China has already become powerful in Asian terms, but it is “contained.” That containment has been necessary, given China’s [Page 711] advertised intentions and demonstrable actions in line with the Maoist prescription for world revolution. However, China when strong has always had a sphere of influence on its periphery not unlike that which other strong nations throughout history have insisted upon. In China’s case this natural penchant is strengthened both by its historical “center-of-the-universe” syndrome and by its determination to overcompensate, if possible, for the “century of ignominy” which it suffered at the hands of western predators. A century ago China failed to provide itself with gunboats, so it had to take alien semi-masters, both theological and secular—and both bearing a monopoly on truth to a Kingdom which had considered itself the source of truth and righteousness for at least four thousand years! Unmistakable paranoia understandably results.

Post-World War II events have decreed that this weary problem—China and the attendant regional power imbalance—is excessively ours. However, even if Asian self-interest should demand it, and even if both our will and our resources were abundant to the task, a long-term overweening American presence would become an affront to Asian sensibilities of perhaps irreparable severity.

The U.S. Dilemma

We cannot afford to lessen our support prematurely; likewise we cannot afford to project present clear requirements very far into the future. We must reduce the problem (principally China) or further share the burden of coping with it—or both.

We are making progress—too slowly to dissolve the dilemma, but not without success—in sharing the burden. The positive aspects of our Asian policies post-World War II have been directed to this end. We have successfully bought time for non-communist Asia, and more has been made of that time than we had any right to expect from the tatterdemalion array of weak, inexperienced, mostly newly-independent nations scattered around China in the wake of World War II. Regional strength and cooperation are growing, but not fast enough to ease the faster growing insistence of our dilemma.

Diminishing the problem itself is the more attractive tack. But our would-be leverage with China remains unfeared. So long as the Maoists are in control, there is no meshing of gears to be had. In the Maoists we are confronted by secular religionists, who have insistently cast us in the devil’s role for their own purposes. No compromise is possible with a set of absolutes; and logic is irrelevant in negotiating with a faith. Taiwan is a major practical issue between us, but if we could hand it over gratis the Maoists would still lock us in their “inimical embrace,” because of the ideological demands of their continuing revolution and their simplistic faith.

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The Timing of Policy Departures

The immediate question with respect to United States policy toward China is whether the supposedly inevitable, definitive failure of Maoist policies has now set in, to the extent of presaging a “change of dynasty.” The answer, unfortunately, is that we do not know, and may not know for months to come.

What we do know is that the two great erstwhile strengths of the Maoists—Mao’s prestige and the loyalty of the masses—have suffered deep erosion during the past two years of lunacy. We know from the reports of individuals from the mainland and from the cries of the regime’s press and radio that cynicism, despair and simple exhaustion are left in the trail of Mao’s second major attempt to remake Chinese man and re-invigorate his revolution. We know that the intellectuals and many students are fed up, and that vast numbers of cadres who worked hard to make Mao’s kind of China work are angered at being bitterly struggled against. We know that Mao was virtually deified in the anxious attempt to make failure impossible, yet he has not succeeded. And when a god fails, business as usual thereafter is improbable.

On the other side of the coin, the vast country has not come apart. Economic and social damages have been serious but not catastrophic, and could be recouped if order and authority are restored. Most of the Army seems responsive to central direction. And most importantly for our purposes, there is no sign yet of meaningful change in either domestic or foreign policies—only in tactics, which have become less frenetic.

China is desperately trying to re-establish its old position and stature in a nuclear world. In a sense it is trying to do what the rest of the world is so anxious about its not having done: become a part of the modern world. The tragedy is that it is not doing so cooperatively. So far it has been unwilling to join the world except on its own terms, which are absurd. It wants literally to become the “center of the universe” again, and to refashion the rest of the world in its own image. Its efforts to regain its central position have produced crazily compressed time schedules, costly disruptions, and superhuman requirements for discipline and austerity.

An original purpose of the Cultural Revolution was to frighten, goad and inspire the populace into meeting these rigorous requirements. The movement got out of hand, policy differences and power struggles intensified, and a crisis of authority resulted. The Army was reluctantly brought into play and hundreds of thousands of fractious Red Guards packed off to work in the countryside. The biggest casualty to date is the self-confidence of the cadres and officials. The regime now intends to rebuild the party, chastened and cleansed, with the Army maintaining discipline meanwhile. That is where we are today, and it is still premature to attempt judgment on the future.

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Such is the recognized importance of China in our scheme of things, however, that Americans have tended not to forgive those who later prove not to have been prophetic, even prescient, about developments in Chinese affairs. A number of Foreign Service Officers put out to pasture can attest to this fact. We cannot well weather another orgy of national self-flagellation at having seemed to guess wrongly as to the likely course of a quarter of mankind, or as to the appropriate United States response.

We have long said that at the propitious time we should insure that Peking is aware that it has policy options other than continued rabid anti-Americanism and anxious self-isolation from world currents. We have rightly attempted some steps toward that assurance. But it is not yet time energetically to woo China into the world.

The satisfactory articulation of China with the rest of the world is conceivable only on terms consonant with the sort of world envisaged in the United Nations Charter: one of cooperative diversity. That sort of world cannot be created in safe durability without the participation of the quarter of mankind which is Chinese, but Maoist China will not join that sort of world.

In recent years, as our policy toward China has become less rigid, there have been three circumstances in which it would make sense for the United States seriously to seek accommodation with the mainland regime.

A “matured” communist China, post-Maoist whether post-Mao or not, without pretentions of leading global revolution, and sufficiently “revisionist” in its dogma to permit of greater articulation with the rest of the world.
A true “change of dynasty” wherein the successor regime would follow policies consonant with the sort of world we seek to build.
A China still Maoist-Stalinist but so militarily powerful that extraordinary efforts must be made to bring about those restraints which greater articulation with the rest of the world might afford.

None of these situations has yet come about, although the first may be slowly developing, and the second is, for the first time, barely conceivable for the future.

As for the third, it is true that the Chinese Communist armed forces remain a formidable force, despite Cultural Revolution preoccupations. They pose a potential threat to other Asian nations, but not directly to us. If China’s nuclear potential develops as expected, its world status and its blackmail potential toward some may be enhanced, but it is not likely to pose a significant threat directly to the United States until it develops a strong naval tradition. This may come, but it will take a long time. We have a fairly comfortable grace period in which we do not, for instance, have to allow Peking to “shoot its way into the United Nations” or make other comparable forced accommodation, come what may.

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Nor is there any reason compelling us to wink at the true nature of this regime:

  • —By any measure it is tyrannical. It has made little pretense of developing a legal system of any sort. Both truth and justice have been what the vagaries of central doctrine have dictated at any given time.
  • —While in some ways the “common man” has seemed to be remembered in favorable contrast to earlier times, there has been in fact little human dignity and virtually no freedom. Not only has there been no freedom of expression, there has been no freedom of silence. All have had to be vocal in worshiping the “thoughts” and the person of a deified leader bent on sinocentric world revolution.
  • —In the so-called land reform movement of 1951–52 the regime put to death, or allowed “the masses” to put to death untold millions (best estimate 12–15 millions) of its own people; and a great many have lost their lives in Mao’s self-serving Cultural Revolution.
  • —The regime massively supported North Korean aggression and materially backs North Vietnamese aggression. It raped Tibet with near-genocidal thoroughness, and attacked India.
  • —It has done all within its limited power to further communist revolution in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It continues to train guerrillas for “people’s wars,” particularly in Southeast Asia.
  • —Like the Soviet Union, as we have recently been reminded, Peking puts the “laws” of global “class struggle” above the tenets of the United Nations and of international law. Any act which is “anti-imperialist,” such as the seizure of the Pueblo in international waters, is by simple definition “correct.”

It is understandable that there is a wringing of the hands that China is not yet brought into the family of nations. But how is it to be done? China, under present management, is the first to say that such is inconceivable—except on terms so provincial and anachronistic, so hostile to all that has been built toward world order since World War II, so antithetical to the true revolution in human freedom of the past two centuries, that the very resignation of these positive traditions would seem to be involved in the acceptance of Chinese terms.

There are sincere and able people in the United States Government and in the academic community who say that we must try harder. Some seem to think that if we would only turn the other cheek we would get kissed. Unlikely. Others do not expect early response, but believe we should go the extra mile as a test.

I, myself, favored more attempted movement in our China policy up to the summer of 1966. But that was:

  • —before the Cultural Revolution reversed the earlier trend in China toward more rationality;
  • —before acute policy differences surfaced within China—differences which greater U.S. policy flexibility might have helped induce, had such been necessary;
  • —before Mao began to destroy Maoism (it now seems) more effectively than the rest of us could contrive;
  • —before China was weakened at least temporarily, giving the rest of the world a chance to watch its writhings in relative safety for a time, and hope with some realism for a change;
  • —before Czechoslovakia; and the simple reaction of home-spun wisdom: “You can’t trust those communists!” That sentiment reaches to China in today’s climate, and must be heeded by policy makers.

The Dog-eared Shopping Lists

The deal-with-China shopping lists of those of us who are Sinophiles, or those who are simply very worried about China’s isolation, have been passed around town and the academic community for years. It seems that each time serious thought has been given to some of the more meaningful of the proposed steps, Peking has comported itself in such a way as to make the steps appear not to be in the U.S. interest. The present period of extreme Maoism would seem to be an especially unpromising time for forward movement. The situation is fluid, however, and could change fairly rapidly, or it could simmer along for some while.

The shopping lists vary with advocates, but they variously include:

Recognition? Peking would not recognize Washington. It would cheerfully accept our compliment, but keep us cooling our heels outside the Gate of Heavenly Peace.

Entry into the United Nations? Under present Peking management, this as a minimum would be at the cost of the seat of a well-behaved member and ally, and as a maximum at the cost of warping the United Nations out of recognition.

Unrestricted travel? This should probably be accepted now in any case, but especially since the Supreme Court has taken the teeth out of this sort of travel restriction. It could be done at any time, if there were sufficient excuse through some particular turn of events. It probably should be done quietly next March, when the annual listing of restricted countries automatically comes up. It will not enhance our relations, since Peking fears an exchange of people. It is in the category of harmless tidiness, with an eye for the future.

More contact between newsmen, scholars, scientists, etc.? On balance, this could only be to our advantage, for we are the stronger society with the more viable ideology. We pushed contact belatedly, not in the post-Bandung period when it might have worked (or if not, might have proved an interesting embarrassment to Peking) but prior to and during the Cultural Revolution, when it had no chance. We will have another chance, but the time is not yet here.

Trade on the level of that with European communist countries? This deserves more thought. Some of the arguments in favor, with comment:

  • —The Cultural Revolution is wearing itself out, and more practical people are coming to the fore in China. They should be encouraged by tangible moves such as lowered trade restrictions. (It is premature to [Page 716] make the judgment concerning the emergence of more practical leadership. U.S. top-level statements expressing hope for eventual reconciliation and our conduct at Warsaw should be adequate signaling to “the more practical people.”)
  • —We should bring our treatment of Asian communist nations in line with our treatment of European ones. (But the communist-fed war we are now fighting is in Asia.)
  • —The majority of State’s China Panel members believe that timing is not important; there seems never to be a “good” time to alter our policy on trade, but it must be done in the long-term U.S. interest. (To do it now would be ill received in America and most of Asia.)
  • —President Johnson is well known for standing firmly against communist advance in Asia, and he could take this step without being accused of being soft on communism. (During Vietnam? and post-Czech occupation?)
  • —We would not be announcing the resumption of trade, but simply removing impediments, to influence the “good guys” in China. (So long as the Maoists are in control, it could actually discourage the good guys.)
  • —This step would reassure Hanoi that the rigidities of our stand do not flow from any doctrine of blanket hostility to Asian communism, but relate to North Vietnamese aggression against South Vietnam. (We are not hostile to Asians, but we need not apologize for being hostile to the policies of Asian communist nations.)
  • —China gets everything it needs anyway from Japan and Western Europe; American business is at a disadvantage. (There is considerable truth in this, but there is little clamor in American business circles for trade with China—presumably because of recognition of the larger issues involved.)
  • —It is important, through contact, to make inroads into the dangerous provincialism of China’s leaders. (So it is, but we have tried in other ways, and been rebuffed.)

We should keep clearly in mind that the very degree of success of our present policies toward China recommends caution in altering them, until the nature of China itself is more clearly altered:

—So far we have “contained” Chinese expansionist tendencies remarkably well, thereby buying valuable time for non-communist Asia.

—Although not subject to documentary proof, we can be sure that our firm stand in Vietnam and our reasonable posture of desiring contact and eventual reconciliation with mainland China have combined to exacerbate policy differences in Peking, contributing to the disunity and weakness of our self-proclaimed adversary.

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—In its 19-year history the regime has never had such fundamental troubles at home, or stood so low in international esteem. It is no longer a model for developing countries.

—We have prevented Peking from ousting the Republic of China from the United Nations, and from entering itself, where, particularly in its recent mood, it would have been a disrupting influence of serious and perhaps disastrous proportions.

—For the first time there is a better than fair prospect that the very nature of the regime, because of its failures, will have to change.

Until the nature of the change is more evident, it is a time for close scrutiny rather than overtures.

The Dubious Case for Movement

Nevertheless, those who advocate movement in China policy now have a case which should not be lightly shrugged off. Essentially, they argue that we are already very late in being more forthcoming, and we take insupportable risks in not seeking accommodation more actively.

Many of Communist China’s leaders who oppose Mao (including house-arrested President Liu Shao-ch’i), if not exactly pro-Soviet are at least pro-Soviet aid, which they view as the only hope of a rapid regaining of China’s position in the world. While even after Mao a return to the fraternal Sino-Soviet collusion of the 1950’s is unlikely, a papering over of differences involving some Soviet aid in return for an acceptable degree of political docility on China’s part would have its attraction to both parties, and is not inconceivable. If this should happen, we would be accused because of our “rigid” policies of missing the chance to influence at the right moment the supposed “good guys,” or even of “blind dedication to the fortunes of Chiang Kai-shek.”

So long as China is unarticulated with the world mainstream, the problems posed in the areas of disarmament, non-proliferation and a more workable security mechanism, in or outside the United Nations, are obvious. Sooner or later the weight of these considerations is bound to increase.

The argument that we lose the respect of important friends through our “rigidity” is less cogent than it was before Peking scandalized itself at home and abroad in the Cultural Revolution. Post-Vietnam, and further away from the Czech crisis, if Peking should become appreciably more reasonable we should take stock again.

The death of either Mao or Chiang would also call for careful weighing of possible developments and appropriate responses, depending on the timing and the context.

In sum, our policy toward Communist China in recent years has accomplished in good measure about all that could be expected, short of bilateral accommodations which are just not yet in the cards. Our policy [Page 718] has been consistent but not static. It has steadfastly opposed Chinese meddling and aggression; but it has moved toward seeking contact. The ground is well laid to move further when China is ready, if it seems in our interest.

Meanwhile, the best policy toward communist Asia, beyond containment, is concentration on strengthening non-communist Asia, with a view to ultimate reduction of the U.S. component in the balance of power in the region.

The other side of China policy is Taiwan and its ramifications. I should like to address those tangles, including the offshore islands problem, in another paper.2

Alfred Jenkins
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, China, Vol. XIII. Secret. Jenkins sent the paper to Rostow with a covering memorandum of the same date, stating that it was the sequel to Document 303 that Rostow had requested and that its delay was primarily due to “agonizing over its basic theme and pondering contrary advice from some whom I respect.”
  2. No such paper has been found.