John Paton

Wu Ningkun




INT: Was Dulles... there seems to be a general perception that Dulles was a hawk, but now there seems to be a revisionism that he wasn't so much of a hawk. How do you feel about this?

RB: I'm not very happy with these labels of "hawk" or other labels. It seems to me most serious policy-makers are much more complex than that, and so it was with Dulles. Dulles was certainly strongly opposed to the communists and determined to try to prevent their expansion and taking over of other countries and so on, but he was also a cautious policy-maker. He was also a realist: he had no illusions, for example, about the return of Chiang Kai-shek to the continent, to the mainland China, but it served American interests to have him, have Chiang Kai-shek, continue to espouse a policy which ensured that he would be, helpful in defending Formosa or Taiwan, which was seen, for example, as a part of the American island chain of defence in the Pacific. And so, frequently it was politic to, be more black and white than he really thought in his actual making of policy. I think, also, there was another factor here: he had seen how Acheson had been chewed up becau... by... by other political figures, but also had lost support publicly, and he felt, I think, that Acheson had not succeeded in bringing the public along in support of the policies. And I think Dulles felt that that was partly because he hadn't explained them in a way which was likely to appeal sufficiently to the public, and that in order to do that you had to cast them in more black and white terms, more dramatic terms, of the... of the confrontation, of the conflict, and you also had give a somewhat moral overtone to the positions that the West was taking, all for the purpose of bringing in democratic opinion along in support of a long-term policy of containment. So I think that he was,... partly motivated by the effort to see if he couldn't keep public opinion in support of the necessary policies, although the policies themselves were more subtle and more sophis-ticated than necessarily these somewhat more simplistic explanations of them, which I think he thought were necessary to simplify in order to have them understood and supported.

INT: The Chinese never forgot his unwillingness to shake Zhou Enlai's hand at Geneva. Was that a sort of moral statement or a political statement?

RB: I think it was both. I think (Clears throat)... You may remember that at the end of the China Geneva meeting, when they were trying to decide how to resolve the Indochina crisis in the first time round, in '53-'4... in 1954,, the situation was that the French had reached the... the decision that they were definitely simply got to get out, no matter how, and the British were practically as determined to make any kind of deal which was necessary to get out. Dulles was anxious to try to see if he couldn't preserve the southern part of Indochina and to... and to bring about essentially a split of the area, a partition in which the Chinese and the Soviets and the Vietnamese would accept less than the whole of the area. But he felt that he was alone virtually in this, that he had very few cards, because the United States had decided it was not going to intervene to try to contest the... the Vietnamese. And so his strategy in that meeting, in that conference, the Geneva Conference, was to separate himself somewhat from the French and the British, expecting that the French and the British would become obviously so eager for a settlement that the British... that the Soviets and the Chinese and the Vietnamese would push him to the wall, and he was anxious that this... that they... all of these fellows should fi... feel that they were not so sure about the Americans. They didn't know the Americans might not intervene, and in fact he and Eisenhower try to keep alive the idea, if they push this too far, we just might be forced to intervene - not by... specifically... but by the general creating of an atmosphere, a climate. And so he was anxious that in his dealings with Zhou Enlai, he should give this feeling of a certain amount of withdrawal, of not being friends, not just a group of people coming together to make a deal, but that he... he was going to be an outsider to some extent. And he played it that way all the way through. He was there for the immediate, the beginning of the... of the... of the conference, but he then went home and left (B..?..) Smith, which gave the whole thing the impression that there wasn't anybody there who... for the Americans who could quite make a deal. And furthermore, he throughout tried to create this feeling: "Don't push... don't push us too far, because whatever they may say, we are not necessarily going to go along." And I think it was... I think it was effective. I think... I think the deal was better than was otherwise possible if it had been wholly in the hands of the British and French. But this... this shaking hands was obviously just symbolic, it was just sort of a way of showing "Don't... don't think we're in your camp," so to speak.

INT: What did the United States Government, what did you in the United States Government think the Chinese were up to in the first Taiwan Straits crisis? What did you think their plan was?

RB: Well, of course, it was... all of this kind of thing was speculation by us as to what their motives were, but it appeared that it was... had a number of different motives, a number of different purposes. One was that the... by starting the shelling of the islands, the Quemoy and Ma-tsu, which were in the hands of the... of the Chinese nationalists, they were accomplishing several or testing several, possibilities. They first, I think, wanted to demonstrate that they were not accepting the situation as it existed, in having the Chinese or nationalis...nationalists holding the territory which they did, the principal part of which, of course, was Taiwan... was Taiwan or Formosa, but they also had these little islands which they had managed to hold on to, and by attacking these, or by shelling these, they showed that they didn't accept that as anything final, that they... they were asserting their claim to this territory which was still in the hands of the Fren... of the Chinese nationalists, without taking on very much. And second, I think they thoughtthey might affect the morale of the Chinese nationalists by giving them the feeling that they might be subject to being overrun. I think they also thought they were testing maybe a little bit what would the American reabe if they did do something of this sort, and I think they thought they might create tensions, friction between both the Chinese nationalists and the United States over what should be done with respect to this possible attack on... on Quemoy-Ma-tsu. And finally, it was almost sure to create tension between the United States and its European allies, because the Europeans would certainly not favour any American participation in the defence of these... these islands, or maybe any other part of the Chinese area, and would be fearful that the United States might get diverted to this at the expense of defence in ... in Europe, and that therefore there would be tensions there. So this... this small step, which looked as if it might be a threat to Taiwan, or might be the first stage of a threat to Taiwan, seemed to me to have... seemed to us to have many advantages from their point of view: psychological, political and other.

INT: And what was your response, your collective response?

RB: Well, it was... it presented a very difficult problem, because from the point of view of the United States, the islands, these tiny little islands close to the mainland, were of no conse... no significance as such. On the other hand, the Chinese nationalists looked on them as symbols as to what the United States would do in helping them. Furthermore, Chiang Kai-shek had put an enormous proportion of his,, army on these little islands, and so if they were overrun it would seriously affect the... his... the strength of his army, and the effect on... on the Chinese nationalists' morale, it was feared, might affect their capacity or ability or willingness to try to defend Ta...Taiwan. And as I've said, Formosa was seen, certainly by the military, as a... as one of the parts of the island chain which was the forward defence of the American interests in the Pacific. And so, Eisenhower and Dulles and others were really in a dilemma, because they didn't want to get into a major war with China over these little islands; they thought they would have all the effects that I said the Chinese were trying to accomplish, a deep split within the alliance, and doubts about American public support for any such a thing as this. And on the other hand, if they just said, "No, we won't have anything to do with it," there was a very grave danger, very seriously undermining the capacity to keep Taiwan as a... as an island bulwark. And so they wrestled with the question of "How in the world do we get a stance which is defensible and sensible?" And they ended up with a position in which they had... they finally made a treaty with the Chinese nationalists to defend Taiwan or Formosa, and they said "and any other places which are, mutually agreed, important to the defence of that island," without specifying at all. And so the pe... the stance they took was: "If we are convinced that any attack on these islands would be the beginning or a step toward an attack on Taiwan, then we would be free to get to use force to prevent this," but not committing themselves to do so. In other words, they kept the thing ambiguous as to what they would do, and they hoped that by keeping it ambiguous, they would deter the... the Chinese, who presumably also didn't have any desire to have a major war over these islands and would only proceed if they thought they could get away with them at a small cost.

INT: And what practical form did this help take?

RB: I'm sorry?

INT: What practical form did this American help take, what was the actual military response?

RB: Oh, there wa...wasn't at... The purpose of Eisenhower was to have it not come to a military test and to keep the whole thing at the level of deterrence. And so there was support for... they were... the United States was already giving mil...military and economic assitance to Taiwan,, and I think they probably helped in... in strengthening the forces on the island by giving them equipment and so on. But the purpose was not to become engaged, not to have any... not to have any,, actual fighting start, and to do this by essentially making the Chinese uncertain about what might be the American response, whether or not... And then, one of the elements that they tried to introduce was the idea that, well, there just possibly might be that we would use nuclear weapons. Eisenhower never said he would use nuclear weapons, but he would... he essentially... he and Dulles essentially said, "Nuclear weapons are available, and would be part... part of our arsenal," and essentially that implied that if they were necessary in order to prevail, they would be used. And this, of course, caused quite a lot of debate among the allies and otherwise. But again, he never... he never said, "I will do this," he never threatened to do it; he let the impression be that he was free to do it and might do it, in the hope that the Chinese would be sufficiently deterred because of the uncertainty.