John Paton

Wu Ningkun




INT: I just want to take you back to the Great Leap Forward. How did you actually learn that China was in this economically (Overlap) (.?.) state?

MG: (Overlap) Oh, it was very easy to learn that, because we had in our staff... we had 20 foreign service officers, plus Chinese, who were doing nothing but translating the Chinese press and periodicals and bulletins and things like that. They were smuggled out of China: they came out with lots of refugees, and there was no difficulty in getting lots and lots of things. That was one thing. The other thing is that (Clears throat) we learned from these Chinese refugees how they were living in China. Now a Chinese refugee, when he came to ... to Hong Kong, he didn't know anything about government, he didn't know anything about the larger picture, but what every Chinese knew was about his stomach, whether he was getting fed, whether his family was getting fed; and through combining lots of information on that score, we could figure out that the annual production of food in China - now I'm talking about basic food, grains and potatoes - was running at 160 million tons a year during the Great Leap Forward; that this, according to our own agricultural specialists, was at least 30 million tons below what it should be for an adequate diet. We knew that there was starvation; people said so, but these figures attested to it. Now another thing we had was lots of information on the weather: we could tell the weather patterns all over China, and we got that, of course, from refugees, we got it [from] other sources, and the weather conditions would obviously affect production of food. So we had lots of information. I might say it wasn't always easy to market our wares, because there people like Joe Allsop and other columnists who would either exaggerate it one way or the other. I think we were right on the mark, because when Lord Montgomery called on Zhou Enlai some years later, Zhou Enlai said, "You know, in 1961 we were down to 160 million tons of grain." He used that very figure that we had already used. So it shows that our intelligence was pretty good.

INT: And how had you learnt that there were problems between the Chinese and the Soviets?

MG: That's an interesting question, (Clears throat) and my views may not be conventional. I think I was in on this from the very beginning because in our bureau I was at that time regional planning adviser and I was very close to our intelligence people, and some of our intelligence people were extremely well informed. They also... there was... the Rank Corporation in California had set up a special section there, headed by Alice Sieh, whom I knew very well, who was of Chinese origin, she was American; and they were already aware that something was happening between the great communist giants, and it would seem to them - and I think events subsequently bore it out - that it all started with Sputnik, which, as you know, went up in nine... in September 1957. There were two Chinese delegations that went to Moscow shortly after that, and according to our intelligence, they were seeking Soviet support for China's similar conquest, not so much of space but in the latest technologies that the Soviet Union obviously had, in order to achieve this great sputnik. And so there was a clear warning on Sputnik, that it was going to involve frustrations from China, especially when these two delegations came back empty-handed, and when all of a sudden a new propaganda theme appeared on Chinese international broadcasts, and that was calling for a nuclear-free Far East. Now this was not the Chinese line, because obviously they wanted to develop their own nuclear weapons; this was a line parleyed to them by the Soviets. So again the Chinese, for a short time, used that, and then realized they weren't going to get anything from the Soviets, and therefore had dropped it. And that was another indication that things were changing. One of the things that John Foster Dulles did when Sputnik went up, is he sent a circular message around to all the bureaus, including ours, asking if there were some ways in which we can counteract this tremendous Soviet propaganda triumph. In our bureau, the important thing was to reassure our allies in that part of the world that we were still... could support them, and that Soviet breakthroughs in outer space and so forth were not going to change that. And so the Sinpac at that time, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific, was Admiral Stump, and he came out with a brand-new idea, and that was to hold what he called an annual "clam-bake" in the Far East, where we would have these military maneuvers that started in the Philippines and Clarkfield and Civic Bay, and then they moved up to Okinawa, and to which we invited all the top military representatives of the country in that part of the world, to show how we could bring support immediately to bear from even the continental United States within a day or two, to support a threat in any region. So that's the way we counteracted. But I merely mention this because... I'm getting away from your point, but it was simply that Sputnik was an extremely important factor in the whole issue of the Sino-Soviet relationship. That's where it started. Now, of course, you had antecedents of that: you had a Russian fear, not just a Soviet, a Russian fear of "the yellow peril" - they talked about it openly; and so there was always a fear that China, whose population at that time was five... 600 million, now it's 1.2 million... two billion, that they were simply going to... like the earlier Mongol hordes, they were going to sweep over Western Europe.

(Ran out just before end)

INT: Just tell me again, Ambassador Green, about... you said that the Soviets had a great fear - it wasn't the Americans' fear of the Chinese: the Soviets feared the Chinese as...

MG: The Soviets had what?

INT: Feared the Chinese, the size of the country...

MG: That's right, that's right.

INT: Could you just tell me that again?

MG: They had this long-standing fear of simply the huge numbers of Chinese and the outward thrust that they thought would therefore result. They also saw the Chinese as developing their own nuclear weapons, as becoming a third great power in tworld. And they wanted to keep them in line and they didn't want them to reach that stage. And of course, that became worse and worse, so that by 1969 our CIA estimated that the chances of an iron bomb attack by the Soviet Union on China was one in three, to show you how real that fear was. And meanwhile, in 1969, the Chinese were building at a furious rate these great huge underground shelters in their cities. So there was a real fear of war that was building up. And it all tracks back to... we're talking about '57... it grew and grew. And when I was Consul General in Hong Kong, one of our greatest difficulties in translating the Chinese press was the fact that the language that they used to describe the Soviet Union had become so scatological that we just couldn't wire that back to Washington.

(Something inaudible in b/g)

MG: (Laughs) Furthermore, some of the words don't exist in English, that they used, and so it was a baffling problem for our translation staff to keep up with the language used in this cold war verbal battle.

INT: ... Your talking about the nuclear thing reminds me that one of our consultants, John (unclear), has written... and he's not the only one, there's another book... the scholars have written that there was a plan by the United States, in conjunction with the Soviet Union, to bomb the Chinese nuclear facility in Sanjiang. Is that something you've ever heard of?

MG: Absolutely not. I wouldn't think so. I'm sure that's wrong, I'm sure that's wrong. As a matter of fact, we ran a number of war games, starting around 1969 onward, and I was involved in these war games. Now all I can say is that in these war games we have hypothetical situations, and I won't go into what they were, I'll just say: the general conclusion was that if the Soviet Union gained an upper hand in a war against China, it was in our interests to support China so that it prevented China from being overtaken by the Soviet Union. So it was very clear in our own thinking, under these realistic wartime scenarios that the United States would not want to see China overtaken by the Soviet Union; otherwise we were faced by a huge monolith, one single monolith, not one quasi-monolith and one little bit lesser monolith.

INT: But there was also, I think, in 1969 a fear that the Soviets would themselves attack the Chinese nuclear... they would invade China. Was that something that...

MG: Well, I just referred to that, the iron bomb attack upon...

INT: Sorry.

MG: ... the nascent nuclear facilities. China actually acquired a nuclear capacity, or exploded their first bomb in 1964, so they already, by then, had a nuclear industry, but it was a nascent one, it was just beginning. And the idea was that the Soviets could bomb these industries, confine it to that; it would be as kind of a surgical operation, and it would be (probably attended?) by all things that it was surgical, it didn't involve other things. But of course, it would be a casus belli. And meanwhile, the Soviets were amassing troops, 40 divisions, along the Siberian border with China, and this was seen as a mortal threat - with good reason, because they were equipped with the latest and best in weaponry. And so China was trying to be cowed into submission through this kind of threat process. And China's reactions, of course, were that they looked to the United States. That was the beginning of the rapprochement. Now it was interesting... if I may go back to 1965, when I was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and I remember that early that year there was a Chinese broadcast that was really reflecting on the efforts that we'd been making, as I described earlier on, for having a better discourse with China and to have a somewhat better relationship. Their response was in a broadcast, and it said: "When the time comes for the better relationship with the United States, we will do it all at once; else, by doing it piecemeal, we'll undermine the revolutionary fervor of our people." Now this is a terribly important statement, and I drew attention to that in a major speech I made in Princeton that year. Now "When the time comes, we'll do it all once"... well, the time came in 1969 - at least that was the beginning. It took them a little while to mature, but by the time we had made the secret approaches to them by 1971, it was on. Now the question is: if we hadn't invaded Cambodia, it could have come sooner. I won't get into that, but we might have been able to swing it with Peking earlier. I don't know. Anyway, "When the time comes, we'll do it all at once"... and it's interesting that they should have made that statement way back in 1965.