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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963
Volume XXII, Northeast Asia, Document 2


2. Editorial Note

At the 475th meeting of the National Security Council on February 1, 1961, there was some discussion pertaining to China. According to NSC Action No. 2397A, Director of Central Intelligence Allen W. Dulles noted the “serious agricultural situation in Communist China” in the course of briefing the Council on world developments. Subsequently, there was brief discussion of a possible change in U.S. policy to permit U.S. oil companies to provide bunkering to foreign ships carrying food to the People's Republic of China under Chinese charter. NSC Action No. 2397C records this as follows:

“The Council discussed a possible change in U.S. policy relating to the bunkering of Free World ships under Communist Chinese charter, provided such ships were carrying only food and paid cash. The President requested that the Secretary of State study this question further, particularly whether any such change in policy could be at the request of the Canadian Government.” (Department of State, S/S-NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95)

No other record of the discussion at this meeting has been found except handwritten notes by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, which add nothing substantive to this. (National Defense University, Lemnitzer Papers, Box 29)

A memorandum of February 1 from Special Assistant to the President Frederick G. Dutton to President Kennedy states that Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon was requesting the President's approval of a “State-Treasury decision to authorize U.S. oil companies to bunker ships with Chinese Communist charter carrying food from Australia, Canada and elsewhere to the Chinese mainland because of the famine.” He recommended that the request should be informally denied. The memorandum reads in part as follows: “Although a decision either way on this is not critical, I conclude that the action proposed by State and Treasury (a) raises unnecessary possibilities of domestic political attack for the new Administration (without adequate countervailing advantages in a substantive sense), and (b) most decisive with me, would be a poor symbolic or actual first step toward a new policy vis-à-vis Red China. Certainly a better ‘First small gesture’… an important consideration in a change of major controversial policy … could be picked than this one to presage new attitudes toward trade with Red China markets.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China) No formal request from Dillon or from Dillon and Rusk has been found.

Dutton sent a copy of his memorandum to McGeorge Bundy, the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, on February 3 with a handwritten note which reads as follows:

“To Bundy—This was sent to the President at Dillon's request before and without knowledge of NSC interest in the question. The President said that all requests by U.S. companies should be denied when application by them is made. No advance announcement. Fred”

National Security Action Memorandum No. 3 from Bundy to Rusk, dated February 3, reads as follows:

“In the light of information received from the Secretary of State at the National Security Council on February 1, 1961, the President initially requested that the Department of State give further study to the question of the possible change in U.S. policy on the bunkering of free world ships under Communist Chinese charter, when such ships are carrying food and pay in cash, but on further consideration he has now indicated that in his view there should be no such change in policy at the present time.” (Department of State, NSAM Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAM 3)