9. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 13–69

[Omitted here is the Table of Contents.]


The Problem

To survey recent Chinese foreign policy and alternate lines of development in the near term; to define the nature of the Chinese threat in Asia, and to estimate Chinese intentions in the area; and to estimate the longer term outlook for Chinese foreign policy.

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The Chinese Communist regime has fallen far short of its aspirations for a position of dominance in East and Southeast Asia and for the leadership of the world revolution. Neither its efforts at conventional diplomacy nor at supporting revolutionary struggles have been pursued consistently or with a regard to objective realities. Mao’s ideological pretensions have earned China the enmity of the USSR, and his bizarre domestic programs have cost China greatly in prestige and respect elsewhere in the world. Yet China’s location and size, and the traditional apprehensions of its neighbors, ensure for it a major impact upon Asia regardless of the policy it follows.
As long as Mao is the dominant figure, major changes in China’s international posture do not appear likely. Mao will remain an insurmountable obstacle to any accommodation with the USSR, and there is little alternative to continuing hostility toward the US. A failure by the Vietnamese Communists to achieve their aims might require some shift in tactics, but the Chinese would almost certainly not launch an overt attack, nor would they be likely to open a major new front of conflict.
Nevertheless, Chinese aspirations for political dominance in Asia will persist. Almost certainly Mao and his immediate successors will not expect to achieve this by military conquest, although force and violence figure strongly in Mao’s doctrines. The Chinese may hope that the possession of a strategic capability will give China greater freedom to support “people’s war” or, more remotely, to engage in conventional war in Asia by diminishing the possibility of nuclear attack on China. Whatever Chinese hopes, however, the actual possession of nuclear weapons will not necessarily make China more willing to risk a direct clash with the US; indeed, it is more likely to have a sobering effect.
Whatever modifications in Chinese policy flow from its advance into the nuclear age, the principal threat from China will for many years be in the realm of subversion and revolutionary activity— mainly in Southeast Asia. In South Vietnam and Laos, Peking must take account of Hanoi’s direct interests. China’s policy toward Cambodia will be largely conditioned by Sihanouk’s attitude. If he moves [Page 24] very far toward accommodation with the US, Peking’s pressures against him—now minimal—would be increased. The Chinese may see Thailand as a more lucrative target for a Chinese-sponsored “people’s war.” Peking is already providing some training and support, but even the Chinese must realize that the Thai insurgency faces a long, difficult fight. The Chinese have a more clear-cut choice in Burma, and whether they significantly increase the insurgency or restore more normal diplomatic relations could be an indicator of trends in Peking’s foreign policy.
The rest of Southeast Asia is less important in Peking’s immediate scheme because the Chinese lack direct access and current prospects for insurgency in these areas are minimal. Peking seeks to weaken and embarrass India, but not to confront it directly so long as there is no threat to Tibet.
It is in the area of conventional diplomacy, which suffered severely in the Cultural Revolution, that Peking could most easily achieve significant changes. Restoration of normal diplomacy would facilitate a trend toward recognition of Peking, and this would in turn put pressure on other countries, particularly Japan, which does not want to be left behind in opening relations with the mainland. Taipei would undoubtedly suffer diplomatic losses in this process.
The departure of Mao could, in time, bring significant change in China’s relations with the outside world. There could be contention and struggle for leadership that would freeze major policies during a long interregnum. But on balance, we believe Mao’s departure will generate a strong movement toward modifying his doctrines.
A less ideological approach would not necessarily make China easier to deal or live with in Asia. Pursuit of its basic nationalist and traditional goals could sustain tensions in the area, and a China that was beginning to realize some of its potential in the economic and advanced weapons fields could become a far more formidable force in Asia than is Maoist China.

[Omitted here are paragraphs 1–43, comprising the Discussion portion of the estimate. These include Introduction, Immediate Prospects, The Chinese Threat in Asia (Military Power, People’s War, Politics and Diplomacy, and China’s Vital Interests: Korea and Taiwan), and the Post-Mao Perspective.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–037, SRG Meeting, China NPG [Part 1], 5/15/69. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the covering sheet, the CIA and intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and the NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the USIB concurred with the estimate on March 6 except for the representatives from the AEC and FBI, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside their jurisdiction. For the full text of this SNIE, see Tracking the Dragon, pp. 527–539. This estimate was included with the materials for the May 15 SRG meeting. According to a March 5 memorandum from Holdridge (then with INR/REA) to George C. Denney, Jr. (INR/OD), this SNIE was discussed by the USIB on February 26 and 28. Holdridge mentioned that the INR/REA staff felt that the original version had “overemphasized the failure of Peking’s foreign policy in Asia and overlooked the major role assured for China by her location, population, and traditional fears of her neighbors.” He also emphasized that “the Chinese may hope that possession of a strategic [nuclear] capability will limit the possibility of a nuclear attack by the U.S. and the USSR and thus give China a freer hand to support people’s war, or more remotely, engage in conventional war in Asia.” (Ibid., RG 59, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 110, SNIE 13–69)