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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963
Volume XXII, Northeast Asia, Document 4


4. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Parsons) to Secretary of State RuskSourceSource: Department of State, Central Files, 611.93/2-1961. Secret. Drafted by Officer in Charge of Chinese Political Affairs John H. Holdridge.

  • SUBJECT
  • Review of Warsaw Ambassadorial-Level Talks and Suggested Approaches to Chinese Communists at Forthcoming Meetings

In my memorandum of January 24 (Tab C),11. The tabs are not attached to the source text. In the reference memorandum, not printed, Parsons suggested postponing the next ambassadorial meeting in Warsaw from February 2 to March 7 so that Rusk could have time to review the course of the talks and determine what use he wished to make of this channel. (Ibid., 611.93/6-3061) I stated that FE would prepare for you a study summarizing the recent course of the ambassadorial-level talks in Warsaw between the United States and the Chinese Communists, together with suggestions for possible ways in which we might proceed in forthcoming meetings. The promised summary (broadened to include a brief review of all major developments which have occurred since bilateral talks began in June 1954) and the suggestions on possible approaches in forthcoming meetings are transmitted herewith (Tabs A and B, respectively).22. Neither printed. Tab A was a summary of bilateral talks. Tab B discussed possible approaches for the talks. In case a decision was made to introduce new subjects for discussion, it suggested probing the Chinese position on disarmament and nuclear control, sounding out the Chinese reaction to a possible U.S. offer of food assistance, and introducing the topic of an interchange of scholars. It also suggested reintroducing the issue of a possible exchange of newsmen, noted that progress on the issue of renunciation of force was unlikely, and recommended raising the issue of the five U.S. civilians imprisoned in China and U.S. military personnel missing since the Korean conflict as a matter of record although it was not expected that discussion would be fruitful.

In my opinion the over-all review of the record demonstrates that Peiping has not regarded the ambassadorial-level meetings primarily as a channel in which to adjust differences with us through genuine negotiations, but rather as a vehicle for demanding major political concessions from us—first, the withdrawal of United States forces from the Taiwan area, and to a lesser extent, the granting of some form of de facto United States diplomatic recognition to the Peiping regime—as the price for any concessions on its part. Our own immediate objectives have been much less: namely, securing the release of American prisoners and an agreement renouncing the use of force. When it became evident to the Peiping regime in the latter part of 1955 that we were not prepared to pay its price, Communist China simply ceased to honor the sole agreement reached in the talks (a commitment by each side to release “expeditiously” all detained personnel of the other side) and became increasingly intransigent in its insistence that no improvement in its relations with the United States could be effected except on its terms. In particular, I call your attention to Peiping's statement of September 13, 196033. For text, see Peking Review, September 14, 1960. that it will no longer discuss “minor matters,” but will devote itself to such “fundamental issues” as securing United States consent to “withdraw all its armed forces from China's territory Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait area.”

Nevertheless, it is my belief that despite the rigid and hostile stance of the Chinese Communists, we have derived the following distinct political and psychological gains from the talks:

1. We have been able to cite to United States and world public opinion that we are not “ignoring 650 million people,” as has frequently been charged, but have actually been dealing with the Chinese Communists on a regular basis on matters of common concern. (Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this argument has been watered down by the obvious sterility of our exchanges with the Chinese Communists over the last two years.)

2. As a result of long and patient negotiations with the Chinese Communists on various issues, we have been able to an appreciable extent to place the onus for the tense relations between the United States and Communist China where it belongs, on the Chinese Communists themselves. For example, the talks have aided greatly in publicizing the Peiping regime's detention of five American prisoners in contravention of its commitment to release all such persons. The record has also helped emphasize the fact that Peiping in effect demands the surrender of Taiwan in return for any improvement in Sino-American relations, and has made it plain to interested parties, especially journalists, that the Chinese Communists are adamantly opposed to the admission of American newsmen to the China mainland under conditions which would permit objective reporting on conditions there.

3. The talks have apparently acted as a partial damper on Chinese Communist military actions against Taiwan, i.e., since August 1955 Peiping has resorted to force in the Taiwan Strait area only during a period when the talks were not in session, and the subject of renunciation of force was not being actively pursued by us. After having failed to gain Kinmen (Quemoy) through its attacks of August-September 1958, Peiping then took the initiative in proposing that the meetings be resumed.

4. The continuation of the talks minimizes the chance of third parties' attempting to set themselves up as middlemen between Peiping and ourselves, thereby further complicating our relations with the regime.

5. The talks constitute a direct, private means of communications between the United States and Communist China which we have been able to use to bring up a wide array of topics, even after the Chinese Communists released the statement mentioned above refusing to discuss “minor matters.” (In my judgment, for all practical purposes we can disregard Peiping's statement, and my view is shared by Ambassador Beam in Warsaw.)

This last feature of the talks is one which could be of considerable significance to United States policy interests. Should the Chinese Communists ever moderate their hostility toward the United States and sincerely seek to adjust the differences between us, the private nature of the talks might well facilitate progress by obviating any loss of “face” to the regime through such a reversal. By like token, if we ourselves should desire to sound out the Chinese Communist attitude and intentions regarding major world issues (including disarmament and nuclear control), or expand our efforts to find reasonable grounds for an understanding with the Peiping regime, the ambassadorial-level contact provides us with a convenient, rapid, and entirely confidential channel to the leaders of that regime. In my mind these factors alone amply justify continuation of the talks quite apart from the other advantages I have cited. Conversely, cessation of the talks would probably be interpreted by world opinion and by the Chinese Communists themselves as a negative gesture betokening a United States unwillingness to seek settlement of its disputes with Peiping by peaceful negotiations. In the psychological as well as practical sense, we are certainly in a better position vis-a-vis the Chinese Communists with the talks still continuing than we would otherwise be.

Admittedly little of a substantive nature has been gained in the most recent phase of the talks, but I do not feel that we should assess the value of the meetings solely in terms of what tangible results are gained. Moreover, it is conceivable that your assumption of office may provide the Chinese Communists with a justification for responding more positively to our overtures, whether on matters already under discussion or on entirely new subjects. It is in this light that I have appended the list of suggested topics and approaches for use in forthcoming meetings (Tab B) for your comment or approval. The next meeting is now scheduled for March 7, and I would greatly appreciate having your views on the conduct of the talks far enough in advance so that draft instructions can be prepared and cleared with the Departmental offices concerned.44. A February 21 memorandum from Under Secretary Chester Bowles to Rusk reads as follows:

“On the basis of FE's presentation, I recommend that the Warsaw talks be continued provided the Chinese Communists are willing to continue these conversations without insisting upon immediate discussion of the so-called “fundamental issues.” It seems that the conversations provide certain minor advantages to us at the present time and might be even more useful in the future. However, I think it is obvious that we are not prepared at this moment to discuss with the Chinese Communists such matters as the status of Taiwan, disarmament and nuclear controls, etc.”

* Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.93/2-1961. Secret. Drafted by Officer in Charge of Chinese Political Affairs John H. Holdridge.

1 The tabs are not attached to the source text. In the reference memorandum, not printed, Parsons suggested postponing the next ambassadorial meeting in Warsaw from February 2 to March 7 so that Rusk could have time to review the course of the talks and determine what use he wished to make of this channel. (Ibid., 611.93/6-3061)

2 Neither printed. Tab A was a summary of bilateral talks. Tab B discussed possible approaches for the talks. In case a decision was made to introduce new subjects for discussion, it suggested probing the Chinese position on disarmament and nuclear control, sounding out the Chinese reaction to a possible U.S. offer of food assistance, and introducing the topic of an interchange of scholars. It also suggested reintroducing the issue of a possible exchange of newsmen, noted that progress on the issue of renunciation of force was unlikely, and recommended raising the issue of the five U.S. civilians imprisoned in China and U.S. military personnel missing since the Korean conflict as a matter of record although it was not expected that discussion would be fruitful.

3 For text, see Peking Review, September 14, 1960.

4 A February 21 memorandum from Under Secretary Chester Bowles to Rusk reads as follows: