Washington, March 3, 1961, 1-3 p.m.
The President opened this subject with a reference to recent public British statements bearing on the Chinese representation matter, a subject which we had not yet had opportunity to discuss in depth privately with the British. He emphasized that however the matter might be handled in the United Nations, it was important to assure that there be no abandonment of the Republic of China on Formosa. Referring to the loss of support for the moratorium procedure, the President said that in connection with the other means of handling this question there were three important dangers from the American viewpoint which must be avoided.
First, the matter must be dealt with in such a way as not to cause loss of support in this country for the United Nations, which could be the outcome if the Chinese Communists were to gain admission. Second, China questions must be dealt with in such a way as not to cause deep divisions within our nation, and he mentioned former President Eisenhower's strong views on the China question and the risks that a national debate on the subject might entail, including the risk of mounting isolationist sentiment. Third, he pointed out the damage which would be done to United States prestige if we were to suffer a defeat on this issue and implied that a weakening of United States leadership would have most unfortunate effects not only within this country but abroad in the free world as well. He emphatically agreed with a remark that along the periphery of Asia a weakening of the United States position or a defeat could have the most serious repercussions as respects the continued independence of the smaller countries, which, of course, would affect the security of other nations as well.
The President said that he thought of the China issue in terms of United States national interest and he was not particularly concerned by legalisms or theory in relation to the China problem. He had come into office with perhaps a more open mind on this issue and had been prepared to take such steps as might be possible to bring about a less tense atmosphere and to make it possible to seek some sort of a developing relationship. If he had found that there were, in fact, possibilities, he would have been prepared to tackle the very deepseated and emotional opposition throughout this country from such groups as the Committee of One Million,11. Reference is to The Committee of One Million Against the Admission of Communist China to the United Nations. Numerous petitions that the committee sent to Congress in the spring and summer of 1961 to be forwarded to the White House are in Department of State, Central File 303. because he felt that if he could show that new steps were in the national interest they would be accepted in the end and that they would be the right thing. However, it quickly became apparent that the Chinese Communists were just as hostile to the new administration as they were to the old, and were attacking him personally already. Their attitude indicated that they did not wish to be on better terms with us but preferred to maintain an intransigeant position. The possibilities, therefore, seemed very limited indeed. Thus, the United States position remained substantially unchanged and certainly there was no question at all of diplomatic recognition.
Mr. McIntosh inquired whether there was any interest here in an idea emphasized in the London Economist, of using Japan to explore some approach for better relations with Communist China, thus avoiding a direct commitment of United States prestige. The President answered in the negative and commented briefly on the Japanese position, which was one of desiring some sort of relation with its neighbor, China, but not at the risk of alienating the United States and impairing Japan's security. The President went on to indicate that we were going to make some limited exploratory gestures such as by raising the question of exchange of journalists in the Warsaw talks but we had to recognize that all the indications were that the Chinese Communists were not willing to take a position which could facilitate a solution of major questions such as the Chinese representation issue.
Prime Minister Holyoake wondered whether the question would get any easier with the passage of time and whether we might not have to recognize early in the new administration that the seating of the Chinese Communists would have to be faced. The President replied that this would depend on what the consequences might be in terms of our national interest and particularly the effect on Formosa and the Asian countries. If it were worthwhile, he would, he replied, be willing to face this difficult issue domestically. He referred in this connection to the strength of feeling in Congress among members of both parties.
* Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/3-361. Secret. Drafted by Parsons and approved in the White House on March 27. The meeting was held at the White House. A memorandum of conversation between Prime Minister Holyoake and Secretary Rusk is ibid.
1 Reference is to The Committee of One Million Against the Admission of Communist China to the United Nations. Numerous petitions that the committee sent to Congress in the spring and summer of 1961 to be forwarded to the White House are in Department of State, Central File 303.