(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this volume.)

Since 1861, the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents comprising the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991 (22 USC 4351, et seq.). Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.

The documents in this volume are drawn from the centralized indexed files of the Department of State and the decentralized Bureau, Office, and other lot files of the relevant Departmental units. The volume also includes records from the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. In addition, the editor made extensive use of the Presidential and other papers at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas. Almost all of the documents printed here were originally classified. The Information Response Branch of the Office of IRM Programs and Services, Bureau of Administration, Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies or governments, carried out the declassification of the selected documents.

The following is a summary of the most important of the issues covered. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.


U.S. policy toward China during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration remained essentially what it had been during the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations—non-recognition of the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.), support for Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government and its possession of China’s seat in the United Nations, and a ban on trade and travel to the P.R.C.—but the consensus that had once supported U.S. policy was eroding. President Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, preoccupied with Vietnam, resisted changes in U.S. policy, but even Johnson privately acknowledged that the United States would eventually have to recognize the P.R.C. (2)

The First Chinese Nuclear Explosion

The People’ Republic of China exploded its first nuclear device on October 16, 1964. The Johnson administration viewed the long anticipated Chinese entry into the nuclear club as a challenge to its efforts to contain Chinese influence and prevent Chinese aggression in Asia. U.S. analysts who examined the subject in detail concluded, however, that the Chinese would have neither the weapons nor the delivery systems to be a serious threat to the United States and its allies for the foreseeable future; the psychological impact of the first P.R.C. nuclear explosion would be greater than its military significance. (14, 25, 30, 43)

Johnson administration policymakers rejected the possibility of preemptive military action against Chinese nuclear facilities. Rusk and Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy tried to sound out Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin on the possibility of U.S.-Soviet discussion on the significance of China’s becoming a nuclear power. Dobrynin refused to be drawn into discussion, however; he told Bundy that Chinese nuclear weapons would have no importance against the Soviet Union or the United States. (49, 54, 61)

The administration tried to blunt the psychological impact of the Chinese explosion by eliminating the element of surprise from the Chinese announcement and assuring the U.S. public and foreign leaders that it did not significantly change the power equation. Rusk stated publicly on September 29 that a Chinese nuclear explosion might be imminent. Preliminary reports of a Chinese test reached the White House on October 16, as Johnson and his top advisers were meeting to discuss Khrushchev’s fall from power. Johnson announced the explosion to the press later the same day. In the next few days, Johnson attempted to reassure the public that the events in China and the Soviet Union did not pose a major threat, and U.S. emissaries tried to reassure Chiang Kai-shek and other Asian leaders of continuing U.S. support. (57–60, 62)

The Chinese Representation Issue

The United States was under growing international pressure to shift its position on the Chinese representation issue to permit PRC entry into the United Nations. The Johnson administration was divided. In September 1964, Rusk sent a personal message to all U.S. ambassadors urging them to do everything possible to maintain the Nationalists’ international position. Representative to the United Nations Adlai E. Stevenson, however, thought the United States should prepare to modify its policy. The Canadian Government, which had previously supported the United States on this issue, was pressing for a change to a two-China arrangement. (47, 63, 65, 68, 72)

At a White House meeting in November 1964, Stevenson told the President that the U.S. position was badly eroded and in another year would be irretrievable. He thought the best solution was to begin to shift toward a two-China policy, which the Communists would not accept anyway. Bundy reminded Johnson that the Chinese seat on the Security Council was also at stake. President Kennedy had told Chiang he would use the veto if necessary to keep the Communists out, but Bundy questioned whether the United States would want to do this year after year. Rusk declared that if the United States appeared to falter before the Soviets and Chinese Communists, it would be interpreted as a reward and would increase the chances of Communist military aggression. Johnson said he was impressed by Rusk’s remarks. He alluded to the possibility of Congressional opposition to a policy change, but he declared that what gave him pause was Rusk’s statement that a change “would be a pay-off for the Soviet and Chicom hard line.” Stevenson argued that that he and others had long felt that the Chinese Communists could best be managed by bringing them into the community of nations. Johnson declared that he did not pay the foreigners at the United Nations to advise him on foreign policy, but that he did pay Rusk and was inclined to listen to him. (66)

The Chinese representation issue was not debated by the General Assembly in 1964, but the vote in 1965 was closer than ever before. There was a tie vote on a resolution to admit the PRC and expel the Nationalists, and a resolution declaring Chinese representation an important question requiring a two-thirds majority passed by only seven votes. U.S. representatives at the United Nations feared that the U.S. strategy of requiring a two-thirds majority for a change in Chinese representation was no longer viable. They anticipated a major battle at the next General Assembly. (143)

In April 1966, Stevenson’s successor at the United Nations, Arthur J. Goldberg, urged Johnson to adopt new tactics. He proposed encouraging the Canadians to introduce a “successor state” resolution in the General Assembly, recognizing both the Communists and the Nationalists as having U.N. membership. He expected the Communists to reject this arrangement and would therefore bear the responsibility for their continued absence from the United Nations. Rusk endorsed the proposal, but Johnson hesitated. He agreed, however, that Ambassador Walter P. McConaughy, newly arrived in Taipei, should sound out Chiang Kai-shek on the subject, which Rusk could take up with him when he visited Taipei in July. (144–145, 149–150, 154)

McConaughy broached the subject with Chiang Kai-shek on July 1, telling him that the old tactics on the Chinese representation issue were no longer viable and that new tactics were necessary. Chiang declared that any two-China resolution would force Nationalist withdrawal from the United Nations; no compromise with a rebel regime was possible. When Rusk made a similar approach, Chiang told him that he had already given his views to McConaughy. After Rusk returned to Washington, the proposed policy shift was shelved. (162–163, 170) As the time for the General Assembly grew closer, Goldberg renewed his argument for a new approach, but Rusk still opposed it. Johnson again supported Rusk; after a luncheon meeting between the President and his top advisers, U.S. policy remained unchanged. (179, 182–184, 185)

Early in November, the Canadians gave the Department of State a proposed resolution requesting the General Assembly President to explore possibilities for a solution of the Chinese representation issue. The resolution’s preamble suggested an interim arrangement with both Chinese governments seated in the General Assembly and with the PRC in the Security Council. Rusk and his advisers concluded that the best way to counter this was to support a proposal by Italy and Belgium to establish a study committee to examine the issue. This proposal, they realized, would almost certainly eventuate in a two-China recommendation, but they considered it preferable to the Canadian draft resolution, which prejudged the outcome. Goldberg discussed the situation with the President at the LBJ Ranch, and Rusk pressed Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson to drop the Canadian draft and instead support a study committee resolution. (194, 197, 200–202)

Nationalist officials were indignant when McConaughy told them the United States found it necessary to support a study committee resolution. Foreign Minister Wei Tao-ming told McConaughy that a study committee resolution would be even worse than a two-China resolution. If such a resolution were adopted, the Nationalists would have to consider withdrawal from the United Nations. A few days later, McConaughy cabled from Taipei that a decision had been taken at the highest level to withdraw from the United Nations if a study committee resolution passed. Rusk instructed McConaughy to express Rusk’s surprise and dismay at this decision to Chiang Kai-shek, but Chiang would not budge. (204, 209–210, 212–213)

Rusk concluded that it was time for the President to weigh in. On November 26, Johnson sent a letter to Chiang declaring that withdrawal from the United Nations by the Nationalists would be a “tragedy” for them and the United States. He told Chiang that Rusk would visit Taipei the following month and urged him not to take any irrevocable steps until then. Rusk reiterated the U.S. position in a letter to Foreign Minister Wei. He reminded Wei that in 1964 he had reaffirmed Kennedy’s 1961 assurance that the United States would use the veto if necessary to keep the PRC out of the Security Council, but he noted that if the Nationalists withdrew, there would probably be no opportunity to use the veto. On November 29, the Acting Foreign Minister told McConaughy that the Nationalists would not withdraw if the study committee resolution passed but would merely walk out temporarily. (217–219)

Meanwhile, however, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong had unleashed the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards were on the march in China, and in the face of the growing turmoil, support for a change in Chinese U.N. representation diminished. On November 29, the General Assembly defeated a resolution to admit the PRC and expel the Nationalists by an 11-vote margin, adopted the important question resolution by 18 votes, and defeated the study committee resolution by an even wider margin. (220) The administration was never forced to take publicly the position it had with so much difficulty persuaded the Nationalists to accept. Because of the disorder on the mainland, the Chinese representation issue did not pose a major problem for the administration during its last two years.

The United States and the People’s Republic of China There were pressures both inside and outside the administration for modifications of other aspects of U.S. policy toward China. In June 1965, after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee urged steps to permit some direct contacts with the China mainland, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs William P. Bundy proposed modifying U.S. travel restrictions to permit travel to the mainland by scholars and representatives of humanitarian organizations. Rusk rejected this proposal but endorsed an initiative to permit travel to the PRC by physicians and public health specialists, a group that was unlikely to request such access in large numbers. Johnson initially rejected even this modest step but authorized it two months later. (87, 89–90, 94, 98, 112)

Meanwhile, U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict heightened the concern of U.S. policymakers at what they perceived as an aggressive Chinese foreign policy. At an August 1965 meeting between Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, the emphasis was on containment. The central question, Rusk declared, was how to persuade the Chinese leaders that they were on the wrong track. Such steps as admitting China to the United Nations would send exactly the wrong message. It had required a trillion dollars in NATO defense budgets to stop the Russians in Europe, he said, and it would require a major decision by the United States and its allies to stop the Chinese. McNamara agreed, adding that the U.S. government had not really faced the problem of generating sufficient power to “convince the Chinese of their error.” (99) A 1966 State-Defense study defined Chinese objectives as regional hegemony and world revolution. The three options for dealing with the Chinese which it laid out were disengagement, containment, and showdown. The middle option was recommended. (161)

Congressional hearings on U.S. policy toward China early in 1966 increased pressure for a more flexible policy. The witnesses included a number of prominent academic specialists on China, who provided an extensive critique of U.S. policy. The Johnson administration responded by taking up one of the themes sounded in the hearings by critics who urged a policy of containment without isolation. (129, 131, 135, 136) In a major speech on U.S. policy in Asia in July 1966, President Johnson declared that “reconciliation between nations that now call themselves enemies” was an essential component of peace and that “the greatest force for opening closed minds and closed societies is the free flow of ideas and people and goods.” (168) The change was rhetorical rather than substantive, but it was enough to raise the anxiety level in Taipei. (138, 142)

The Cultural Revolution

U.S. policymakers viewed the outbreak of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1966 with fascination and some perplexity. With only limited information available, U.S. analysts were uncertain of the meaning of the events they could observe. Alfred L. Jenkins of the NSC staff commented that there was “something awesome in the spectacle of the oldest civilization on earth methodically digging up its roots to the tune of raucous, uncivilized ballyhoo and bedlam.” (184) Consul General in Hong Kong Edward E. Rice commented that no developments in China in recent years had been at once so important and so clouded in obscurity. Was it an ideological purge, a policy dispute, a power struggle? It was all three, he concluded. (160) A CIA appraisal presented the crisis as the last stand of Chairman Mao, who was seeking to suppress forces for change inside the Communist party. It commented, “Mao is worried about his revolution for it is clearly failing.” (172)

It is evident from reports sent to President Johnson that he was particularly interested in developments in China because of their possible impact on the situation in Vietnam. Chaos in China might reduce Chinese support for North Vietnam; conversely, an out-of-control China might lash out in Southeast Asia. Bundy’s successor, Special Assistant to the President Walt Rostow frequently sent summary reports and occasionally sent lengthy analyses of the Chinese situation to the President. He forwarded an August 1966 analysis from Hong Kong to Johnson, with a brief summary noting that Mao had chosen Lin Biao (Lin Piao) as his successor and that if Lin could consolidate his position, he was “bad news.” (176) He sent another with the optimistic comment, “I cannot help believing that this wild trouble in China may make it easier for Hanoi to get out of the war.” (188)

As the turmoil in China reached new heights at the beginning of 1967, Rostow told Johnson that civil war had become a “distinct possibility” and sent him a CIA analysis comparing the situation to another period of Chinese disunity which was a precursor of dynastic change. (229, 232) A panel of academic experts that met at the Department of State in February agreed that no one could foresee what China would be like in a year’s time. (236) A few weeks later, however, Jenkins reported that Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (Chou En-Lai) had succeeded in gaining the support of the Chinese military for more moderate policies to preserve unity and restore the damaged economy. Rostow forwarded the memorandum to Johnson with a note commenting that the Chinese had “stared at the possibility of famine” and had drawn back. (244)

In the following months, reports to Johnson noted growing Army influence amid continuing disorder. (253, 265, 267, 269, 275, 279) A Department of State analysis which Rusk sent to Johnson in early 1968 observed that the Cultural Revolution had succeeded in crushing organized opposition to Mao but at an immense cost. It concluded that Chinese leaders were trying to control the forces they had unleashed and to recreate a basic structure of power to replace the one they had weakened. (305) In mid-1968, reports noted increasing economic dislocations caused by the turbulence. A few weeks later Jenkins reported that the military was taking action to stop factional fighting. As the end of the year approached, he thought something akin to pre-Cultural Revolution “normalcy” was gradually returning to Peking. (316, 320, 324, 333) In fact, the disorder was subsiding. Although it would be several years before the Cultural Revolution completely ran its course, there would be no return to the tumult of the previous two years.

The Warsaw Talks

The ambassadorial talks in Warsaw between U.S. and PRC representatives were held with decreasing frequency, with five meetings in 1964, five in 1965, and only six in the following three years. Since the Chinese continued to hold to the position that no progress could be made until the United States agreed to withdraw its armed forces from the Taiwan area, and the Johnson administration regarded the entire Taiwan issue as non-negotiable, the talks went nowhere. Nonetheless, U.S. officials viewed them as a potentially useful channel of communication as well as a defense against charges of inflexibility and lack of realism in U.S. policy. The United States acquiesced only reluctantly in Chinese insistence in prolonging the time between meetings, and U.S. representatives were instructed to be sure that Washington would not be blamed for any break in the talks. (22–23)

As U.S. involvement in Vietnam increased, the administration sought to use the talks to assure the Chinese that the United States did not want a confrontation with China, as well as to convey U.S. firmness with regard to Vietnam. To insure that the message was understood, they tried to lower the level of polemics. Ambassador to Poland John M. Cabot, the U.S. representative in the talks until late 1965, reported a “collision course atmosphere” at the July 1964 meeting, however, and declared that the September meeting was the most vitriolic in months. (35, 37, 39–40, 53)

At subsequent meetings, China’s representative Wang Guoquan (Wang Kuo-ch’uan) routinely castigated the United States for “aggression” and various alleged actions in Vietnam. (71, 78–79, 84, 91, 101, 114, 137, 155, 180, 234, 270, 295) U.S. officials continued to try to lower the level of rhetoric. When Cabot’s successor, John A. Gronouski, was instructed to return a Chinese letter referring to a U.S. proposal as a “sheer swindle” aimed at covering up “crimes of aggression,” he pointed out that the ambassadorial meetings were generally conducted in an atmosphere of polemics and invective which would normally be grounds for a U.S. representative to walk out. Wang had made statements to him, he said, which he would not have accepted if made by a Polish official. He recommended against returning the letter, and the instruction was withdrawn. (181)

In early 1966, after an Embassy officer taped a radio broadcast of a session which was apparently broadcast inadvertently by a Polish transmitter, U.S. policymakers considered the possibility of moving the talks from the Polish palace where they had been held since 1958 to the U.S. and Chinese Embassies. They decided against proposing such a move, however. Gronouski thought it was useful for the Poles and the Russians to be aware of the degree of Chinese inflexibility. (114, 124, 130) In the spring of 1966, U.S. officials briefly considered proposing a meeting at the Foreign Minister level but rejected the idea, fearing that because of the situation in Vietnam, it would be construed as a sign of weakness. (152–153)

Relations With the Nationalists

French recognition of the P.R.C. in January 1964 provided the first challenge to U.S. relations to the Nationalists. After trying unsuccessfully to dissuade the French from taking this step, which it feared would trigger an avalanche of shifts of recognition from Taipei to Peking, the Johnson administration tried to minimize its impact. (1, 3) Each Chinese government had always insisted that any nation with which it had diplomatic relations must acknowledge it as the sole government of China. U.S. officials thought the French expected the Nationalists to break relations, enabling them to establish diplomatic relations with the P.R.C. while placing the onus for the break on the Nationalists. The administration sought to forestall this by persuading Chiang Kai-shek not to break relations with France. (2, 4–8) In Chiang’s view, this issue was one that threatened his regime’s very existence, but pressed hard by Johnson and Rusk, he delayed breaking relations. Finally, when the French Chargé in Taipei declared that a P.R.C. representative would soon arrive in Paris, making the Nationalist Chargé superfluous, the Nationalist Government withdrew its Chargé. In the end, however, the dreaded avalanche of P.R.C. recognition did not occur. (12, 13)

The problems administration officials encountered with Chiang Kai-shek on the French recognition problem and the Chinese representation issue revealed the gulf between Chiang’s thinking and theirs. Chiang maintained his faith that the Nationalists would eventually regain control of the mainland. If any U.S. policymakers had ever believed this, they no longer did. A September 1964 policy paper ruled out U.S. adoption of a “two-China” policy but recommended that U.S. economic, political, and security policies should be designed to facilitate the survival of Taiwan as an independent entity. (48) In March 1965, James C. Thomson of the NSC Staff returned from a visit to Taiwan disturbed by the effect on the relationship of the “unquestioned myth” of return to the mainland. “On the face of it,” he wrote, “the situation is rather eerie; the GRC [Government of the Republic of China] knows that we don’t believe it; and we know that they know we don’t believe it; and we suspect that some of them don’t believe it; but no one says it. The result is that our every relationship is affected by the unmentionable dead cat on the floor.” (83) [Emphasis in the original.]

Since 1962, Chiang had been pressing for U.S. support for Nationalist operations to stimulate resistance on the mainland. The Kennedy administration, convinced that such efforts would fail but fearing that a complete rebuff might lead Chiang to launch a suicidal attack, had temporized, acquiescing in small-scale raids but rejecting any larger-scale operations. The Johnson administration at first continued this policy. When Secretary Rusk visited Taiwan in April 1964, Chiang suggested consideration of operations against the mainland. Rusk discouraged him, telling Chiang that in his judgment the Nationalists could not establish themselves on the mainland without large-scale assistance from the United States, the involvement of U.S. troops, and possibly the use of nuclear weapons. Chiang backed away from his suggestion, saying that he was opposed to the use of nuclear weapons, especially against China. Rusk told Chiang the United States wanted to keep in close touch and suggested the growing conflict in Southeast Asia might lead to changes in the situation. (26)

In September 1965, when Chiang’s son, Defense Minister Chiang Ching-kuo, visited Washington, he gave Secretary of Defense McNamara a paper laying out a “concept” for the seizure of China’s five Southwest provinces. McNamara was clearly skeptical, but Chiang assured him the proposal would not require the use of U.S. ground forces or nuclear weapons. Four months later, the Embassy in Taipei gave Chiang Ching-kuo the U.S. reply rejecting the plan. In the U.S. view, it would require U.S. naval, air, and logistic support, including air strikes against mainland bases, meaning war with the PRC, which the United States did not want, and it was based on the expectation that a Nationalist invasion would inspire popular uprisings, an expectation which U.S. intelligence analysis did not support. (104, 110, 119–120)

The exchange had brought to a head the fundamental but usually submerged issue of the basic divergence between U.S. and Nationalist objectives in Asia, Thomson observed. U.S. policymakers had long understood that the Nationalist desire for war with mainland China and the U.S. desire to avoid such a collision were at cross purposes, but they had usually been able to mute and disguise those differences. The latest proposal, with Chiang Kai-shek’s personal imprimatur, had been turned down flat. Thomson recommended the generous application of “soft soap.” (121)

The 1966 Congressional hearings on China, the Chinese representation issue, and reductions in U.S. military aid added to Nationalist concern about a possible shift in U.S. policy. The Johnson administration continued to attach importance to good relations with the Nationalists, however. The war in Vietnam increased the importance of the intelligence relationship, and the Nationalists made airbase facilities on Taiwan available to support U.S. forces in Vietnam. Rusk’s visits to Taipei in July and December 1966 provided some reassurance to Chiang. (132–134, 138, 142, 165, 169, 196, 222, 224, 293, 308)

In early 1967, with the Cultural Revolution at its height, Chiang renewed his plea for support for a return to the mainland. He sent a message to Johnson urging that the Sino-Soviet split and mainland unrest created a “golden opportunity” to rid the mainland of the Communist regime, destroy the Chinese nuclear threat, and end the Vietnam war. If he returned to the mainland, Chiang argued, the people would rally to his cause. He would need only U.S. approval and logistic support. (245) Johnson decided the time had come to put an end to ambiguity. He sent a firm message to Chiang declaring that the course he advocated would run counter to U.S. policy of seeking to limit the war in Vietnam and end it by negotiations. Instead, it would risk a wider war with “incalculable consequences” for the people of Asia and the world. The American government and people, he declared, “would not only disapprove such an action but would oppose it.” (249)

The Final Months of the Johnson Administration In mid-1968, Chiang Kai-shek, disturbed by press indications of possible changes in U.S. China policy, especially a New York Times editorial hinting at abandonment of the offshore islands, pressed for a U.S. public statement that U.S. policy on the islands had not changed. Without a statement, he argued, press stories might incite a Communist attack on the islands. Rusk replied that there was no change in U.S. policy but that it was not in the interest of either country to encourage controversial public discussion on the subject. (315, 318) Chiang then requested a squadron of the latest high performance fighters, F–4C Phantom jets, and, until the squadron could arrive, the stationing of a U.S. squadron of F–4Cs on Taiwan. There was no reason to believe that a PRC attack on the offshore islands was imminent, Jenkins told Rostow. He thought Chiang wanted a new, high-profile U.S. commitment of support before the next administration took office. Chiang’s requests were rejected, but U.S. policymakers sought to reassure him by agreeing to station a few high performance fighters on Taiwan for a few days each month through the end of 1968. (319, 321, 325, 327, 329)

The Cultural Revolution had lessened pressure on U.S. policymakers for changes in policy toward the P.R.C. In early 1968, President Johnson, after meeting with a panel of academic China specialists, requested his advisers’ views on the situation in China and any possibilities for change in U.S. policies. Rusk, Jenkins, and the China experts agreed that China was far too chaotic for any attempt at rapprochement to be reciprocated but that steps to liberalize trade and travel regulations might be useful. They disagreed on the Chinese representation issue, with the experts favoring a change in U.S. policy, while Rusk opposed it. (299, 302–303, 305) Despite the seeming agreement on liberalizing trade and travel regulations, Rusk rejected an initiative to remove restrictions on travel to China, and in the final weeks of the administration, Johnson rejected a proposal for a small change in trade restrictions. (306, 336) Nonetheless, as Jenkins observed, the groundwork had been laid for future change. (328)

Questions Concerning Tibet; Possible Recognition of Mongolia

Questions concerning Tibet and U.S. policy toward Mongolia are covered in separate compilations. The Johnson administration continued its predecessors’ policies of assistance to Tibetan refugees in India and limited support for the Tibetan resistance. (337–343) The administration considered but did not pursue the question of recognition of Mongolia. (344–347)