Dragon Under Glass: Time for a New China Policy
A China-watcher since he grew up there as the son of missionaries and attended the University of Nanking, Mr. Thomson sees signs of a new approach in our relations with Communist China. THE UNITED STATES AND CHIN A IN WORLD AFFAIRS, a series of studies undertaken by the Council on Foreign Relations, provides the basis, he says, for a mature Far Eastern policy. Mr. Thomson, who now teaches history at Harvard, writes out a background of experience in the White House and the Department of State during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.
THE Atlantic FOUNDED IN 1857
BY JAMES C. THOMSON, JR.
IN EARLY January, 1962, the snap and crackle of thawing intellects was almost audible in the Secretary’s conference room on the seventh floor of the State Department. The occasion was a “policyplanning" meeting, the focus a weighty paper on the Sino-Soviet split. As the discussion progressed, one high official after another grasped and articulated the new reality (some for the first time): that “the Bloc” was no longer a bloc, and that the world would never be quite the same again.
Not for the first time, State’s consensus had come late. The new reality was already old hat to many outside the government. But State’s discovery raised a flood of internal questions. How to deal with bipolar adversaries? How to approach fractured Communist parties in third countries? Should we try to manipulate the split or lie low? And of central importance, what to do about mainland China?
Some there were who used the new perception to argue (yet again) for a new approach to China. The time was now ripe, they felt, to pursue a multiple strategy: containment, yes, but no longer isolation. Surely it was time for us to move from posture to policy — to end the travel ban, as a first step, to press for “contacts”; at the very least, we should shift the onus for Peking’s isolation
to Peking (or, in the then current jargon, “get the monkey off our back”).
The Secretary of State thought otherwise. Why not encourage, he mused, a series of studies of the China problem in all its ramifications, to be undertaken on the outside? By something solid like the Council on Foreign Relations, perhaps under a private foundation grant?
To those who sought action, the proposal, however unassailable, had the earmarks of evasion. Published studies would take three years at the least. Why wait? What more did we need to know? A. Doak Barnett had already explored the ground fully in 1960 with his Council on Foreign Relations study, Communist China and Asia: Challenge to American Policy, not to mention the reams of internal papers on the subject.
Mr. Rusk prevailed, of course. And the Establishment responded gracefully.
The result is now, in part, at hand: six solid volumes in a series on The United States and China in World Affairs, one of which appeared in late 1965, four in 1966, and one in May of this year. There are five more to come — on “Asian security and American policy, U.S. negotiations with the Chinese Communists, Taiwan and the Nationalist government, Communist China’s foreign policy, and the political development of Communist China.”
So in late 1967, the 1962 project is at midstream in terms of output. Time, surely, to make a preliminary judgment.
The judgment is not hard to make: the first six books are a uniformly first-rate contribution to public education on the China problem. The Council has done well in its choice of authors. Most of the credit must go to the project’s original editor, the gifted Robert Blum, former president of the Asia Foundation, who died in 1965 before any of these books were published and was succeeded by MIT’s Lucian W. Pye. Blum is the author of the incisive pivotal study which bears the series’ title, a book which Doak Barnett has brought to posthumous completion.
To be specific, political analyst A. M. Halpern has skillfully edited sixteen essays on how other nations view China, thereby placing the SinoAmerican relationship in its proper global perspective. Economist Alexander Eckstein follows with a highly readable analysis of China’s economy, and in particular, its foreign economic relations. Veteran Far East correspondent A. T. Steele then offers a probe in depth of American attitudes toward China, both traditional and recent, and of American knowledge (and, most dramatically, American ignorance) on China. Historian Lea Williams gives a useful and encouraging account of the 13 million Chinese beyond both Chinas—the overseas communities in Southeast Asia. And retired Marine General Samuel Griffith provides a masterful, absorbing history of that vital instrument of Chinese power, the People’s Liberation Army.
Together with Robert Blum, these authors are as knowledgeable and literate a group of scholars as one could hope to find on their respective facets of the China problem. And each book is what one should expect: a gold mine of information and analysis, well assembled, readable, and, implicitly or explicitly, with a clear line of argument. Furthermore, McGraw-Hill has wisely made the knowledge and the argument available to a wider public through simultaneous paperback release.1
What is the line of argument? To the surprise of very few who have looked closely at America and China and how it all happened, the message is that Communist China is here to stay, in one form or another; that it is radically alien in tradition and outlook from most of the rest of the world; that its pride and its poverty, in John Fairbank’s phrase, make it a very difficult neighbor for all of the rest of us; that the real issue is not how to
isolate it or smother it or make it go away, but how to ease it into some sort of rational and mutually acceptable relationship with the other three quarters of mankind.
THESE books, born of policy immobilisme in Washington, raise anew and sharply the question of China policy. They also provoke reflections on that curious and unique phenomenon of modern history, the Sino-American relationship.
Historians keep telling us that we cannot understand the present without understanding the past — and if we didn’t believe them, they would have to go out of business. But usually they are right. And on China their injunction has special validity.
The shock wave that Communism’s victory in China sent through Americans eighteen years ago this autumn can be understood only in terms of history. No other nation in Asia had been on the receiving end of so much American goodwill, good works, and philanthropy. No other nation had been the focus of more persistent and grandiose American illusions. From the late eighteenth century onward, we had sent first our traders, then our missionaries — evangelists, doctors, educators, technical experts —and our diplomats as well. An “Open Door” to China came to mean 400 million potential customers, 400 million potential Christians — our special receptacle for the outflow of our altruism, and our special protectorate against the obvious greed of the European and Japanese predators. We admired Chinese culture, liked the Chinese people, delighted in Chinese food, and deplored China’s patent incapacity for effective self-government. China made us generally feel good: it fed our sense of benevolence and moral superiority. Our emotional investment in China was uniquely high, far out of line with our strategic or economic stakes.
No wonder, then, that it shocked us to “lose” China to an alien ideology and a strong, hostile regime that bit our helping hand. No wonder that we reacted with bitterness in a headhunt for the treacherous bureaucrats and professors who had brought on this calamity — and in so doing discarded or maimed a generation of our nation’s most precious expertise.
Yet, as usual in history, there is at least one other side to the story: the Chinese side. What to the West was the century of China’s “opening” — China’s exposure to the benefits of Western civilization—was something rather different to China. It was a century of national trauma: of the collapse of a 2000-year system of values, social structure, and political authority — the collapse of one of mankind’s most durable creations, the Confucian state — a collapse induced by Western guns and ideas and institutions. Out with the state went its all-encompassing ideology. In its place came the prolonged agony of a search for something new to fill the vacuum, to regenerate the nation, and to repel the foreign intruders.
From the 1890s onward, Americans in China certainly perceived the agony and the flux. But few of them perceived the depth and consequences of national humiliation. Few perceived the potential power of awakened Chinese nationalism. Few understood the process of revolution in China. And few were prepared for America’s eventual identification as the Number One Imperialist, the principal heir to a century of pent-up resentment.
It would be naïve to say that Communism’s victory in China was inevitable. Other ideologies had at least a fighting chance. But certain components of Marxism-Leninism did give it an advantage over its competitors. Communism offered an explanation of China’s past, a program of action for China’s present, and a blueprint for China’s future. And most important, to those of us who have to live in the same world with China, Communism prevailed.
So relations between China and America are in part a product of this century of collision between China and the West. But they are also a product of the special circumstances of the Chinese civil war.
Twenty-five years ago last December, Pearl Harbor brought the United States into a sudden firm alliance with the embattled Chinese Nationalist government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. But that Nationalist regime, eroded by internal weaknesses and Japanese aggression, became in time a faction, not a government, and in due course was overwhelmed by its opponents. Yet unlike most defeated parties in civil wars, the Nationalists retreated in 1949 to a defensible chunk of territory, the island of Taiwan, separated from the mainland by a hundred miles of water. We were confronted, then, with an unfinished civil war in which our wartime ally was down but not out. Meanwhile, on the mainland, the victorious Communists were showing marked hostility toward Americans, whose nation had aided their Nationalist enemies.
Perhaps even then some accommodation might have been reached — there was talk of de facto U.S. recognition of Peking in the winter of 1949-1950. But with the outbreak of the Korean War in the summer of 1950, and with the Chinese Communist intervention later that year (once American forces moved north toward the Chinese frontier), hostility between Washington and Peking was embedded in concrete for years to come. Truman interposed the Seventh Fleet between the mainland and Taiwan, Eisenhower concluded a military alliance with the Nationalists, threats to the offshore islands were weathered — and America had intervened to freeze the unfinished civil war.
Such was the background to our China policy after 1951. The components of that policy are familiar but worth citing:
First, nonrecognition of Communist China.
Second, opposition to Peking’s membership in the United Nations.
Third, military containment of Communist China through a network of bases and alliances.
Fourth, systematic isolation of Communist China through a total embargo on trade, prohibition of travel by Americans, and vigorous persuasion of others to follow our example.
And finally, military, economic, and political support for the Nationalist government on Taiwan as the only legitimate claimant to China’s place in the world community.
Underlying that policy were a handful of sometimes conflicting assumptions:
That Communist China was a Russian puppet or satellite - “a Slavic Manchukuo,” as Dean Rusk termed it in 1951.
That close containment and isolation would cause the weakening and eventual collapse of the Peking regime.
That the Chinese people could not and would not tolerate Communism for long.
And that a reinvigorated Chiang Kai-shek would someday lead his armies in a victorious return to the mainland.
Despite both the policy and the assumptions, there were two significant departures from rigidity during the 1950s. The first came as an outgrowth of the Geneva and Bandung Conferences in 1954 —
1955. At the urging of third parties, American and Chinese Communist diplomats began a series of regular ambassadorial meetings, at Geneva and later at Warsaw. Some progress was made on the agenda’s first item, a mutual exchange of detainees; but a deadlock and polemics ensued, and have characterized the 130-odd sessions in the twelve years since they began. Nonetheless, some might argue that such regular ambassadorial talks constituted a form of de facto recognition; at least we no longer claimed that Peking wasn’t there.
The second departure concerned a possible exchange of journalists between mainland China and America. First proposed by the Chinese in 1956 at a time of relative thaw, the exchange was rejected outright by Secretary Dulles. By late 1957 pressures from the American journalistic community forced Dulles to relent grudgingly; but by then the Chinese, shifting to militancy and vexed at the United States, began to draw back from their proposal. On the American side, however, 1957 was a small turning point: from that time onward an increasing number of American journalists held passports valid for travel to Communist China. Very few were admitted. Edgar Snow got there from time to time, but as a “writer,” not a “journalist,” a distinction important to Peking in its efforts to isolate us.
So MUCH for the twin legacy of our traditional relations with China and our involvement in the Chinese civil war. And so much for the policy that evolved out of this legacy.
How do you judge the success of a policy? One test: does it achieve its objectives?
In one sense our China policy has achieved some of its objectives over these seventeen years of containment and isolation. We still do not recognize Communist China. China is still excluded from the United Nations. We have built a fairly successful wall of military containment. We still do not trade with the mainland. And Taiwan is apparently friendly, stable, and a considerable success story in terms of economic growth.
But on the other hand, Communist China has not collapsed. Peking has somehow maintained effective control over 700 million people for almost two decades, a feat of government probably unmatched in history. Nor is Peking effectively isolated. Communist China is now recognized by forty-nine nations and trades with many others, with the bulk of its trade now shifted to the nonCommunist West. And Peking has learned how to test and develop nuclear weapons. All this despite the violent break with the Soviet Union. There have been setbacks, of course; also internal convulsions— most dramatic and mystifying, the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” But for a “Slavic Manchukuo” this is really not so bad.
Furthermore, one must add that our China policy has been bought at a high cost in terms of our relations with other nations. As Dr. Halpern’s study indicates, most of our major allies have never shared our assumptions about Communist China. Most have been baffled and irritated by what they regard as our irrationality and obsessiveness about China. Some have broken with our policy. And many follow it only with restiveness and misgivings.
Perhaps, then, a more pertinent question about our China policy is not whether it has achieved its objectives, but whether its objectives are still appropriate.
Here, in company with the late Mr. Blum and many others, I would strongly argue the negative of the case. Putting aside the fascinating but futile question of what we might or should have done a decade or two ago, I would say that our China objectives of the fifties are largely irrelevant to the present decade and the years that lie ahead.
Let me suggest an overall perspective: There are at least three international problems of overriding significance that must command the best energies and inventiveness of mankind in the remainder of this century. One is the control of nuclear weapons. A second is the control of population growth. And a third is the moderation of the Chinese Communist revolution in its relations with other nations, and the assimilation of Communist China into the world community.
The dangers of nuclear proliferation and the population explosion are reasonably self-evident. An unmoderated and unassimilated China presents a less dramatic but equally real threat to world peace: the threat of a quarter of mankind, at the heart of Asian civilization, isolated, excluded, poor, resentful, hostile, messianic, and at times, paranoid.
By moderation and assimilation I mean efforts to induce a gradual lessening of China’s antisocial behavior within the international order and efforts designed to establish mutual confidence. This is a two-way process that will require adjustments on both sides, including recognition of China’s legitimate national interests and great power status.
How to moderate — how to assimilate? Here our experience with the once tightly closed societies of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe should be instructive. Two key words might be de-isolation and erosion — de-isolation through increased exposure to the realities of the outside world, through involvement in the economic, political, and cultural processes of the outside world; and erosion, of rigidity, doctrine, and fear, through what has been termed “the free flow of ideas, people, and goods.” it would be foolish to assume that the application of our European experience to Communist China will achieve easy or quick success. Ail historic analogies are inexact, and China is not Eastern Europe. At best — an important caveat — American policy may only be marginal to the outcome, for we are only one of a host of factors that will affect China’s future.
But I can see no acceptable alternative to a U.S. strategy toward China that would have as its goal the moderation and assimilation of that nation. To fail to develop such a strategy is to abdicate America’s responsibility as a great power.
WHAT, ideally, should be the ingredients of this strategy?
A first element must still be modified containment: through the deterrence of any real threat of Chinese aggression, and through economic and military assistance to those nations on China’s periphery that seek and can use our aid — assistance tailored to their inevitably differing needs.
I emphasize the term “real threat” because too often we have tended to focus on China’s bellicose words to the exclusion of China’s relatively cautious deeds in the military sphere. We have focused on China’s pronouncements in the field of foreign affairs without understanding China’s overwhelming preoccupation with the problems of internal, domestic affairs. On the pretext of containment, we have also indulged in provocative military actions close to China’s frontiers that serve no useful military purpose and only increase Peking’s paranoia. Such actions are not a legitimate part of containment; containment’s chief objective should be to remove temptation.
But containment is only a shield or a posture. A successful strategy requires more than that. What sort of things?
A second element should be unilateral action by the U.S. government to remove all controls on the travel of Americans to Communist China, and simultaneously, an expression of willingness to admit any Chinese visitors permitted by Peking to come to America. Travel, human contact, and cultural exchanges are essential to the lessening of ignorance and distortion on both sides of the Pacific.
A third element should be similar unilateral action to end the embargo on trade with China in nonstrategic goods. It is high time that we placed our China trade on the same basis as our trade with other Communist nations. History teaches that economic relations can do much to breach the barriers of ideology and misunderstanding. As Professor Eckstein’s study indicates, our current trade controls only handicap American sellers in international competition; they deny the Chinese nothing. Meanwhile, our apparent distinction between good European Communists, who happen to be white, and bad Asian Communists, who happen to be yellow, takes on dangerously racist overtones. (A puzzling manifestation of this distinction is our continuing failure to recognize Mongolia, the only Asian Communist state to sign the test-ban treaty.)
A fourth element should be the encouragement of Peking’s membership in the United Nations (whether or not Peking actually “wants in”) and in all international associations and conferences on a “dual representation” basis which permits continuing membership to the Chinese Nationalist government on Taiwan. We are told that both Chinas would find such an arrangement unacceptable; but there is no reason for the UN’s members to permit their China policy to be manufactured in either Taipei or Peking. Two claimants to the Chinese seat clearly exist; and the smaller of the two, Taiwan, has a population that exceeds that of eighty-five other member states. Until the two claimants can reach an accommodation, if ever, both should be invited to take their seats.
Surely there could be no better training ground for Peking’s rigid parochial bureaucrats in the realities of world politics than the United Nations. It is an ideal forum in which to learn “group play” — a forum in which China’s policies toward the United States, the Soviet Union, and the AfroAsian world would have to be orchestrated with a skill and subtlety that can only be achieved by the muting of fanaticism. Nor is there a better training ground for Chinese diplomats in the realities of American life than residence in Manhattan.
A fifth and final element in such a strategy should be a persistent effort to develop formal and informal mechanisms of bilateral governmental contact between the United States and Communist China. The Warsaw conversations are a good beginning; but they are not enough and have developed a ritualistic sterility of their own (in a Polish palace, in this age of electronic ingenuity, one must assume that each side is speaking to a wider public). We should not fear to make private or public proposals for higher level and more confidential conversations with the Chinese on a host of unresolved issues. We should encourage third parties in their efforts to bring us together.
Missing from this list is the old familiar question of diplomatic recognition. Yet as long as Taiwan exists as an independent entity, neither Washington nor Peking will soon permit diplomatic relations. Informal de facto recognition may already be a fact; but de jure recognition can best come, in all probability, as a longer-term by-product of the other steps listed.
BUT what, one asks, would be the Chinese Communist response to such an overall strategy of moderation and assimilation?
The answer is clear. For the time being, our initiatives would be rejected out of hand and denounced as an imperialist plot. And even in the longer run — assuming an end to the war in Vietnam— such initiatives might well remain obstructed by the two paramount obstacles to a Washington-Peking détente: the existence of Taiwan as a U.S. semiprotectorate; and China’s apparent need for a Public Enemy Number One in its internal and external relations (a role in which Moscow begins to rival Washington).
So why attempt such a strategy?
The reasons relate to three audiences.
The first audience is extraneous to China. It is high time to correct a deep-seated sense on the part of our allies, our friends, and the neutrals that America is somehow demented on the subject of Communist China. I would hesitate to guess at the millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours our government has poured into arm-twisting and persuasion in its attempts to isolate Communist China since 1949. The toll has been far more serious in terms of worldwide assessments of our judgment, rationality, and maturity as a nation. This is a price we should no longer pay. At the least we should shift the onus for Peking’s isolation to Peking.
Our second audience is the present leadership of Communist China and its immediate successors. Whatever their differences on the future course of the Chinese revolution, China’s contending leaders still seem to agree that we seek their downfall and will act to produce it. It is vital that we take actions to demonstrate our true intentions: our willingness to move toward a live-and-let-live arrangement with Peking. It is highly doubtful that our actions will have any effect on Mao Tsetung and his Long March companions. But we should leave open to Mao’s successors the option of an honorable accommodation with America.
Our third audience is silent and barely visible: the doubters and pragmatists within Chinese Communism— the technicians, scientists, intellectuals, and lesser officials whose faith in the doctrinaire rigidity of Maoism has been clearly shaken over the years. These are elements whose existence and persistence seem to have given rise to Mao’s attempted purge through the Great Cultural Revolution. To this faceless group in particular, and to its successors, we should send a clear and unequivocal message, by our deeds as well as our words, that America wants no eternal enmity with China. When we fail to send such a message — when we live up to Mao Tse-tung’s distorted image of us — we serve only the purposes of fanaticism and hate.
Now, how well has our nation done in moving toward a strategy of moderation and assimilation, of de-isolation and erosion, in the past few years?
As the Council on Foreign Relations’ first volumes went to press, the blunt answer was that we had barely moved at all.
With the election of John Kennedy in 1960, many students of the China problem had hoped that the old rigidity in Washington would give way to something more creative. But Kennedy, we are told, had resolved to postpone major decisions on China until his second term; the mandate was too fragile, the issue too hot. There were a few modifications of posture during his Administration: a conscious lowering of polemics; a willingness to consider food shipments to the mainland if Peking made a firm request; an attempt to pour more substance into the Warsaw talks; and finally, a remarkably bold and conciliatory China policy speech by Assistant Secretary Roger Hilsman in December, 1963, three weeks after the President’s death. But otherwise little was done to break the stalemate.
Some of the reasons for inaction arc instructive, and some remain relevant even now.
First, there was a deep-seated fear within the Democratic Administration of public, press, and congressional reaction to anything that could conceivably be denounced as “appeasement” of Communist China; the memories of the McCarthyMcCarran witch-hunts were still too fresh. In addition, Peking itself was no help at all: its hostility to Washington seemed to intensify in the wake of the failure of China’s Great Leap Forward. Furthermore, Washington was painfully lacking in senior China expertise, men of China background in the upper ranks of the Executive Branch — a China advocate, a Peking ambassador-inexile — a China-oriented George Kennan, Charles Bohlen, or Llewellyn Thompson, who could argue with authority for a new approach to the mainland.
Another reason was tinged with irony: the SinoSoviet split and the U.S.-Soviet rapprochement after the Cuban missile crisis persuaded some American officials to welcome and embrace Moscow’s view of China; at the very moment that Mr. Dulles’ China policy seemed moribund, Khrushchev gave it a new lease on life. At the very least, our Kremlinologists urged inaction on China lest we rock the boat of Russo-American relations. In addition, of course, the intensification of the Vietnam War diverted most Far East expertise to Southeast Asia; China, except as a potential intervener in the Vietnam War, was largely put aside.
It is disheartening to have to add that a final factor — a paramount obstacle since 1961 —has been the outlook of the Secretary of State. Normally pragmatic and dispassionate on most issues, Mr. Rusk has inexplicably clung to views on Chinese Communism that seem to be those of a zealot. With a remarkable degree of success, he has single-handedly obstructed recurrent attempts within the Administration to bring about modification of our rigidity on China.
Yet despite all these factors, a sea change was nonetheless occurring in Washington during the Kennedy and Johnson years, gradual shifts beneath the surface of the bureaucratic monolith. And that sea change began to show effects at the end of 1965. It is conceivable that the last months of 1965 and the first half of 1966 may prove to have been a significant turning point in America’s China policy.
What are the symptoms of this change?
First, it was in the autumn of 1965 that our UN representative, Ambassador Goldberg, announced America’s willingness, however reluctantly and tentatively, to accept Chinese Communist participation in a World Disarmament Conference.
Second, in December, 1965, the State Departman unveiled its first major modincation of the China travel ban since 1957: henceforth, medical doctors and specialists in public health would be permitted passports for travel to the mainland. This was done, State explained rather nervously and pointedly, at the suggestion of that eminent Republican Dr. Paul Dudley White, President Eisenhower’s physician. But Congress remained silent, and the press applauded. By the early spring State was emboldened to extend the travel modification to virtually every category of citizen except out-and-out tourists.
Meanwhile, in the first three months of 1966, two congressional committees performed a service of extraordinary value both to public education and to foreign policy. Congressman Zablocki and Senator Fulbright each presided over hearings on China policy, and out of these efforts there emerged not only a national TV seminar on the China problem but a consensus among the experts as to what should be done about America’s relations with China.
It seems clear that the favorable congressional, press, and public reaction to the Zablocki and Fulbright hearings gave the Johnson Administration a fresh new sense of room for maneuver on the China problem. This sense was confirmed by Harris and Gallup opinion polls in the late spring that showed a high degree of public tolerance on most aspects of our relations with China, including the question of UN membership for Peking. (It was also confirmed by Mr. Steele’s attitude survey, which appeared at this propitious moment.)
The new atmosphere soon produced some surprising changes in the Administration’s rhetoric. In March the Vice President publicly embraced the policy formulation that had emerged from the Fulbright hearings: Doak Barnett’s concept of “containment without isolation.” Even Mr. Rusk’s testimony before the Zablocki subcommittee sounded more conciliatory than usual.
And in a notable nationally televised speech on July 12, 1966, President Johnson himself spoke of mainland China as no President had done in seventeen years. He urged a relationship of “cooperation, not hostility”; he defined the central objective of our China policy as “reconciliation”; he called for the “free flow of ideas and people and goods” in our relations with the mainland; and he suggested that a “peace of conciliation” in Asia could only be sustained “through full participation by all nations in an international community under law.” He sounded, throughout the speech, as if Communist China was here to stay.
This new rhetoric gladdened the hearts of many China-watchers both inside and outside the government. And it has laid the verbal foundation for a new approach to China.
But policy change requires action as well as rhetoric. And it was deeply depressing to many who applauded the progress of 1966 that the Administration failed to deliver in its first concrete test: a shift to a “dual representation” strategy in the United Nations General Assembly last autumn. A “victory” was won on the familiar strategy, though the door was opened a crack to possible future shifts. Peking was kept out for another year; but at what shortand long-term price? Within the Administration the argument last autumn was that “now is not the time.” Why? Because China seemed in convulsion, in a stage of weakness, and perhaps on the verge of civil war. It is ironic to recall that now was not the time in previous years because China looked strong, fierce, and confident. The moral, of course, is that “now” is never the time.
Nor is there any evidence as yet that the State Department intends to act on the President’s clear July reference to a revised trade policy: the “free flow of goods” in our relations with Communist China. Will timidity and inertia prevail here as well?
One final question will surely occur to readers: Why move on China while Vietnam is still aflame?
My own answer is quite simple: Regardless of one’s enthusiasm or lack of it for U.S. policies in Vietnam, China-worriers should be willing opportunists in adversity. And America’s Vietnam posture — our “commitment” there, our “toughness,” our unequivocal resistance to “Communist aggression” — provides us with a unique opportunity to alter our China strategy while minimizing two old familiar risks: that of denunciation for appeasement by right-wing groups at home, and that of denunciation for betrayal by our more nervous friends in Asia. Furthermore, the continuing risks of Vietnam miscalculation in Peking and in Washington require urgent and persistent clarification of our true intentions toward mainland China by deed as well as word.
So the first steps in Washington’s new China approach were fine, and the rhetoric was full of promise. But will the momentum keep up? Will words be matched with deeds?
The answers undoubtedly lie with an increasingly informed public, an aware press, and an emboldened Administration, no easy combination to achieve.
Yet the Council on Foreign Relations’ China volumes can be a significant force in creating such a combination. They come late, to be sure; they offer a consensus long familiar to the universities; they tell us what policy-makers should have known and acted upon. But they form, nonetheless, the basis for a mature Far Eastern policy. To disregard their prescription would be folly.
- I should cite here another valuable new instrument of public enlightenment: the three-volume documentary survey of imperial, republican, and Communist China which Franz Schurmann and Orville Schell have edited under the general title The China Reader (Random House, 1967).↩