Impressions and Appraisals in Hong Kong

May 19–May 23, 1962

by Albert Wohlstetter

I am putting the following note of explanation at the head of each of the accounts of various segments of my recent trip through the Far and Middle East and Europe:

This is one of a series of impressions gleaned during a long trip. As will be evident, the series combines a wide variety of matters: reports on conversations with American or foreign military or diplomatic officials, meetings with reporters, encounters with refugees, judgments on personalities and the immediate environment, half-formed surmises on strategic and political issues, tentative judgments as to useful topics for research, etc., etc. I have not attempted to sort these out, since to do this would probably preclude my getting much of it down. Rather, the impressions and offhand appraisals are put down nearly raw. I expect to exploit this near-raw material myself. It might conceivably be of interest to others, and in this hope I am circulating it. But it is closer to a diary than the conventional trip report. Hence the title, "Impressions and Appraisals."

The circumstances of the trip, the rather extensive preparation for it, and the time at which it occurred, made it a most stimulating and useful one from my own point of view. The timing was nearly pure luck. John Dewey remarks somewhere that "when there is any thinking going in, there is something definitely wrong." There was a good deal definitely wrong in Asia and the Middle East this spring, and I found many thoughtful people pondering the troubles. Trouble was popping all over; a mass exodus from China into Hong Kong, the movement of American forces into Thailand, protests against this movement in Japan, similar protests in Malaya about the movement of British units, war in South Vietnam, the West Irian madness at its peak in Indonesia, the worst financial crisis since the early 1950s in Iran, a six-week cabinet crisis in Turkey, etc., etc.

It was particularly useful to be pursuing several basic questions sequentially through a succession of countries affected by these questions. Nonetheless, the things I learned in various countries are partially separable, and to make it easy to get these impressions out, they are being published country by country, though not always in the sequence in which I made the trip.

One final note: many senior military and foreign service officers spoke to me with great candor and in confidence. Their remarks therefore should not be quoted and these reports are limited in circulation.

Hong Kong, May 19–May 23

I arrived in Hong Kong in the late afternoon of Saturday. I put through several calls to people to whom I had introductions or to whom letters had been sent. The first to Marshall Green, the American Consul General. Green suggested that we get together the first thing Sunday morning for a long talk. We did that. We met at the American Consulate in his office and talked for nearly four hours. Green, who was the American Minister in Korea at the time of the military take-over last spring, seemed to me to be very intelligent and imaginative, as well as most generous of his time. After describing to him briefly the Third Area Conflicts Program and the purposes of my current trip, I suggested that we might discuss subjects in the following order:

First, the current mass exodus from China into Hong Kong; the political significance of this — what it indicated about the Chicom regime; why the Communists seem to be cooperating, at least passively, in the exodus; British attitudes; U.S.; Taiwanese, etc.

Second, I asked whether there had been any re-evaluation of the political stability of the Chinese Communist regime. I said that in the past it seemed to me that most of the best informed and intelligent opinion had pretty much accepted the regime as unchallengeable — unlikely to be bothered by any internal dissidence. I cited, for example, the Conlon Associates report to the Fulbright Committee done at the end of 1959 as illustrating this. By that time the myths of enormous economic advance had already been partially deflated. However, the possibilities of internal discord were dismissed out of hand. I mentioned the Conlon Associates report simply because on the whole, I thought it was one of the best of the Fulbright reports, done by a very able group of men. What are the current estimates of the political stability of the Chinese regime? Have there been any changes since the Conlon Associates report?

Third, I asked about the possible effect of the strains of engagement in a war in Laos: (a) How well can China handle such a war, assuming that there is no revolutionary challenge to the regime? (b) What would be the effect of such a war; how well could China handle it, given the economic crisis it's in? (c) What would be the effect of the strain of any large-scale engagement on the possibilities of revolt against the regime? (d) What, in turn, might be the effect of such a revolutionary challenge on the conduct of the war?

Fourth, I asked about the role of Chiang Kai-shek, and specifically about his program of parachute drops of fairly large groups of men — 100 to 200 in number. How much political preparation had there been for this? What was his estimate of their effect in the current situation, or given war?

I suggested that these were all useful questions to discuss, but that he could choose any one of them in any order he pleased. Green said he thought this was a very logical progression and that we might very well begin with the exodus to Hong Kong and follow roughly that order, though we might not stick to it faithfully.

Exodus to Hong Kong

Green said that the British and U.S. views were "pretty close" on the causes of the exodus. First, it was one more manifestation of the erosion of political discipline. Historically, the Kwantung population has fled to Hong Kong. Up to recently the Chicoms used force to stop them, and they came mostly by way of Macau rather than directly over the land border. In the last few weeks the Chicoms haven't tried to hold them back at all. When the English turn the escapees back to China, the Red guards in a perfunctory way direct them home — point where they're supposed to go, but then allow them to turn right around and make another attempt. Second, we might ask why. There are two factors: one the peasant, the other the Chinese Communist government. The peasant is hungry and disillusioned; the government has been turning the city people back to the farms. These city people have no skills for farm work for the most part; they don't help — they just mean more mouths to feed. Most important, they are evidence of the failure of their "Great Leap Forward." The peasants that are emigrating are not starving. They are lean. They hear that the Chinese Communist government is conniving in the emigration, and this is a change. The government forces used to shoot those trying to escape. Moreover, they hear that some people are getting through. Green said, in confidence, that the U.K. has accepted 40 to 60 thousand during the last year and expect 100 thousand this year.

The other factor is the government. The government at the present time seems to shrink from using force against this large popular movement. Moreover, they seem to feel that if the émigrés are accepted by the English, this might relieve the problem a bit. On the other hand, if the English turn them back, it will teach people that Hong Kong is no escape. On both assumptions, however, it's clear that the exodus will exhibit the deterioration of the regime.

There has been a large deterioration. There has been a weakening of the resolution of the government in important points. The middle officials, the matrix of administration at lower levels, and even some top officials, but the middle officials especially, when the "Leap" went sour, got blamed by top officials; the cadres got upset; there was a great deal of stifled recrimination and widespread demoralization.

In sum, the interplay of (1), the farmers' desire to get out, which was stimulated most immediately by the back-to-the-farm movement, together with (2) the weakening of discipline in the middle and even some higher levels of the government, are a good part of the explanation of the exodus.

British Attitudes and the Stability of the Chicom Regime

The British tactic is to put the people back and hope thereby to shift the onus onto Peking. Moreover, they hope that this very public evidence of the weakening discipline in the government in China might goad Peking to cooperate in keeping the barrier between China and Hong Kong intact.

I observed that there were a good many people on our side who breathed a sigh of relief on August 13 when the Berlin Wall went up. In this case it seemed that we were building the wall ourselves and simply hoping to get the other side to cooperate in keeping it intact. I confessed I found this point of view uncomfortable.

Green agreed. He said they've been coming through — they used to come through at 500 per night and now it's 5,000, still mostly by way of Macau.

The ones that the Kwantung government officially condones (and there are some daily with exit permits) are increasingly younger men, and some are among the better educated. Are they agents? Some probably are, hoping to get to Taiwan.

Most, on the other hand, are not condoned; enter illegally. Green said he saw and talked to 80 the other night, who came through in five junks. It was a very simple method by way of Macau, they just bribed the guards.

I asked about high-level defectors. Green said not much. And appeared to me not to want to pursue the matter. Later Jacobson simply said that there had been none.

I asked about the Peoples' Liberation Army, that is, the Red Army. He said that its integrity was thin. There had been no crippling deterioration yet. They were given special rations and many privileges. They were determined, well-trained, and in the face of an invasion by Chiang of the mainland in force, Green doubted that there would be any desertion on a large scale. In fact, he thought that the PLA would crush the invasion.

While this is true, on the other hand, the PLA was largely peasant (Jacobson later told me 80 per cent) and were receiving constantly letters and other news from their families. Some soldiers send food back to their families. Are these letters causing them concern enough to affect their military capability? Perhaps. The government, at any rate, was pouring out torrents of words to buck them up, which suggested that they were in doubt themselves.

On the subject of defection, Green mentioned the fact that Chiang does get feelers all the time, and straight out of Peking. Peking offers to make him governor of some province, or whatever.

I commented that his remarks on the exodus had really answered a good deal of my second question on the stability of the regime. It seems that there was a serious challenge to it at the present time. Green agreed.

War in Southeast Asia

The Chinese capability to fight, he thought, today was very circumscribed. They had a great many logistics problems in Southeast Asia; they would need trucks, convoys, POL, and all this was very difficult for them to come by. They had coolies, of course. I commented on the difficulties of using coolies for very long distant transport, and described a little of the work of Summerfield and Rainey. He said that this sounded reasonable to him and was consistent with the point that he was making, which was that the Chinese for any large-scale combat would be extremely dependent on Soviet help, especially for POL.

They had built a highway through Yunan, then running east to Phong Saly in Laos. He said, however, that he didn't think that there were any Chicoms there in Laos in large numbers in spite of the claims or the Royal Lao.

He said that the Chinese did not want a big war in Laos. They want a guerrilla war there. It isn't just that the Soviet Union is holding them back, if the Soviet Union is doing that at all. In fact, Hanoi is pressing for an expansion of the war, more than the Chicoms or the Soviet Union. Ho Chi Minh is willing to force the pace more than both of them. Green then made some very excellent succinct comments on our policy in Laos. He attributes the expansion, the pressing of the war by the Russians, to our policy. If the U.S. says that it won't fight in Laos, it's easy for all three, Hanoi, Moscow and Peking to work out some sort of cooperation. Nam Tha illustrates this. Our policy meant that the ultimate sanction of U.S. forces was withdrawn. Expansion seemed less risky. If the Soviet Union ever did want a "truly neutral Laos," even temporarily, when a Communist Laos became less risky the Soviet Union ceased to press for "a truly neutral Laos." Russia is competing with China for the title "most revolutionary" in the eyes of Hanoi. Hence Nam Tha. In any case, in Laos the Soviet Union would be likely to make some concessions, assuming there were differences, because the Soviet-China relations were worsening very sharply up to two months ago — so sharply that they decided consciously to avoid any further worsening they could. They want to patch it up. A quarrel in Laos is made somewhat less likely by this.

Green then said that he had heard about the Sigma 1 exercise on Southeast Asia. (Sigma 1 was a Joint War Games Control Group exercise in which very high level Defense, White House, and CIA representatives participated on opposing blue and red policy teams and the chief action officers from State as well as these other agencies took part on opposing action teams. I was the game director and several RAND senior staff took part as consultants or members of the action teams. Bill Sullivan, Harriman's second in the Geneva negotiations on Laos, was Captain of the red action team.) In fact, Bill Sullivan had told Green about it. He stressed that while Bill Sullivan is publicly committed to the Harriman policy and must defend it, he really doubts it. In fact, he sent joint cables from Hong Kong with Green when he was here recently. This was the first of many indications I received during the trip that our current policy is much more amenable to criticism and change than would be suggested either by public statements of principals or by the principals' oral statements during formal official contacts. Green illustrated very articulately a common view of senior Foreign Service Officers in Asia. (But in Washington, too, there are grave doubts. This became clearest to me at Geneva.) Green went on.

In sum, the Soviet Union doesn't want "a truly neutral Laos." They simply don't want to fight us. If we say we're going to fight for Laos, then the Soviet Union might accept a truly neutral Laos. What was wrong with our policy, however, is that we seem to have written off Laos. If we write off Laos, the Soviet Union will move in.

We then discussed the relationship of the defense of Laos to the defense of South Vietnam, and the Sigma 1 exercise. Green told me that he had been in 1958 a policy planner for the Far East. In this job he had had to prepare some six different scenarios for limited wars in the Far East. One in Korea, one in Indonesia, one in Thailand, one in Laos, another in the offshore islands, one on Burma. Green says that he thinks very highly of this method and of the necessity of trying to work out some detailed possible contingencies. He said that the scenario for the offshore islands was hardly finished when the trouble popped there, and it served as a basis for our actual conduct in the crisis. Moreover, in getting the scenarios up Green had worked with a good many of the people who had to play a role in cooperation in the actual crisis.

The Role of Chian Kai-shek, Air Drops, and the Return to the Mainland

Green said that he'd begin this part of our discussion by saying that he wishes that Chiang could keep his mouth shut. Supposedly one of the reasons for the continual pronouncements that he is just about to go back to the mainland is to bolster the morale of his troops in Taiwan. Green doubts that this is really necessary for morale. Chiang wants to get U.S. material support; he wants to drag us into a battle. And Chiang is a good bluffer.

We have tried to persuade him that he should wait, that opportunities will come. But he is getting old. The current shortages and enormous difficulties in China spur him on. And then he fears that the Chicoms may get a nuclear capability, and even if it's nominal, this would mean that Chiang would lose face.

Green doesn't think that the Chicoms are worried about Chiang Kai-shek. They might even like it if he tried an invasion. On the other hand, they do fear the U.S. We could open a huge beachhead in Fukien.

The Soviet Union would stay out if the Chinats and the Chicoms were engaged, in Green's opinion; but if the U.S. were involved also, the Soviet Union would move in.

All of this has to do with the kind of mainland attack that Chiang has been talking about. On Southeast Asia, Green said, we do tend to take too "British" an attitude. South China is much less vital than Manchuria. The Korean war was fought near the industrial heart of China. The uncoordinated return to the mainland by Chiang Kai-shek would be a disaster. On the other hand, Southeast Asia must be saved. One of the troubles with Chiang Kai-shek's continual talk is that it doesn't strike terror. Another is that it makes it hard for us to use him in Southeast Asia. If he were quiet, we could use him.

We have to take compensatory moves in Laos. The Chicoms, on the other hand, can't afford to react too strongly in Laos. Chiang could be used, if he were more controllable and intelligent, to deter the spread of war in Laos by the threat of bigger air drops. Moreover, if the Chicoms did spread the war in spite of these threats, we could actually increase the drops.

One of the major problems is that Chiang, while he has talked a lot, has done no political preparation. In Fukien, Chekiang, and North Kwantung he may have a little attraction. But the growing anti-regime feeling is not connected with Chiang. It's a reaction against the regime rather than for Chiang.

The Great Leap Forward has fizzled. It would take a generation more than we had expected. And not only we, they. Some of the Chicoms admit this. China, therefore, won't pose the threat that we thought it would as a model for Asia.

In the West, when we're in a lot of trouble in a depression, we tend to unite, but in a family society like China when you have the sort of trouble they have, it just tends to disintegrate, to dissolve back into families. China is coming apart at the seams. It's more likely to erode steadily than to suddenly give way. It may be that some of the military, or a group supported by the military, will defect. On the other hand, the Chinese government might simply accommodate. There might be a succession of different Chinese Communist regimes. There will be no over-all rapprochement between the Soviet Union and China while Mao is alive and in power. When Mao goes, Liu will succeed for a short time. Then there will be another regime which is very likely to accommodate to the Soviet Union.

The people are apathetic. They're neither for nor against Chiang. And the PLA remains strong despite the strains on it. Chiang should orchestrate his efforts with ours in Southeast Asia. He should be getting intelligence, cadres into China and working with the people there.

We have to tread lightly on this whole question of starting an invasion. In 1959, because we thought that the Chinese Communists were sure to be successful, and we wanted to oppose any move they made of an expansion, we said "All wars are bad." This of course means that a war by us as well as by them, an invasion by Chiang, is bad.

We have to remember that we have problems, a great many of them, in the world. Even if there were no communists at all, we'd have problems of the economic and political development of the backward areas, and the like. Our successes have been created by the communists. Unfortunately, they have not been created by us. This suggests that organic processes inside communist societies should not be interfered with; rather, we should accelerate the divisions inside, not mechanically intervene.

In the last ten years our record hasn't been so bad, simply because they've made a considerable number of failures. The greatest difficulty in the Far East is not communism, but apathy on both sides of the curtain about political and economic self-development.

Nearly four hours had passed by this time, and Mrs. Green had been waiting below for over three-quarters of an hour. I suggested that the time was getting late and Green then discussed my schedule for the rest of Sunday and the next day with me. He thought that it would be possible to get his deputy, Jacobson, on the phone, and if he could, he suggested we get together Sunday night. Jacobson is his acting deputy. His former title was Political Reporter. Mr. Green suggested some others in the American Embassy he thought would be good to talk to, and he indicated that he would set it up. He also discussed some of the foreign correspondents in Hong Kong who he thought were worth talking to, and people at some of the other consulates. He indicated that he would like to talk to me again himself the following day. In particular, he indicated that he would like to have a chat about Korea, which had been his last post. I indicated that this would be extremely interesting to me.


I went back to my hotel, and a short time afterward was phoned by Mr. Jacobson. I suggested dinner and he picked me up at 7 o'clock. It was still light and we drove around Kowloon and the new territories for an hour or two. Jacobson commented on the various scenes. Hong Kong is extraordinary at the present time. The new territories are supposed to revert to China by agreement in 1997. However, current anticipations of people investing in Hong Kong is that it will last no more than seven years. In spite of this there is an enormous amount of investment activity, office buildings, private housing, government housing for the Hong Kong police, and of course refugee housing, all going up in huge quantities. Moreover, new new territory is being built all the time as well. That is, a good deal of the bay is being filled in, hills are being 'dozed and being pushed into the bay to extend the territory. More to revert. It suggests that if we knew the world were coming to an end in six or seven years, we'd all put up reinforced concrete steel and glass structures.

The standards of the buildings architecturally are very high. I would surmise that some first-rate British modern architects or a consortium of Europeans are involved. The office buildings and multi-story auto parks, the private housing, are for the most part very clean examples of architecture of the international school. Esthetically on a level far higher than the run of the multi-story structures that are going up in Los Angeles today, for example. This includes the government housing for the Hong Kong police, and even the enormously densely populated public housing blocks for the refugees are good examples of their type.

The living standards of refugee housing as distinct from esthetic standards, of course, are something else again. One hundred and fifty-four square feet are allotted for a family of five, where children less than 12 years old are counted only as a half. One housing block at this rate contains something like 5,000 people. The continuous strip balconies are loaded with laundry almost continuously. The families pour out onto the balconies, into the recreation areas on the roofs, and into the streets below. The ground level is reserved for stores, which are hives of activity.

The British, typically, had been proceeding in a completely empirical manner as far as the refugee problem is concerned. They thought the problem transient. The refugees would return. But they were brought up short in 1954 by an enormous fire. This forced them to take seriously the refugee housing program. By this time also the British realized that émigrés were for the most part not going to return. Up to now some 600,000 refugees have been housed and there are another 400,000 to go, not counting the current exodus. These lives in little shacks, squatters' huts, up on the hills. We visited these too, the great squalor contrasting with the verdant hills. Swarms of children.

The American Consulate conducts a flag count every October when the Chinats and the Chicoms have their national days coming in successive weeks. The British are not entirely happy about this flag count, but they tolerate it. It has yielded very interesting results. In spite of the fact that the communists are highly organized and clearly in some cases act under compulsion, there has been a steady rise in favor of the people showing Chinese Nationalist flags during the last three years until now, when the flags are counted by establishment rather than individually. The ratio is 10-to-one in favor of the Chinats. Jacobson explained that the job is done by the establishment rather than individually, since this is the only significant thing. The Chicoms act in a disciplined fashion and an entire establishment will have its flags out. Even so, the ratio of 10-to-one undoubtedly understates the relative popularity of the Chinat-Chicom flags. The ones displaying the communist flag are especially people who are engaged in business with the Chinese mainland or unions that are dominated by the communists and in which the membership tends to show the flag as a matter of safety and job security.

I suggested that I would like very much to hear Jacobson's judgment as to what the continuing deterioration of the situation in China means to the stability of the regime, but first I was curious about the economic investment in Hong Kong. Jacobson said that private housing was being amortized in some five years. This, if the expectation of seven years actual life is accurate, would give them two years of grace. A short while ago the amortization was on a three-year basis.

Expectations about the life of the community, in other words, have lengthened a bit. Jacobson believes that while the enormous construction activity seems hardly rational, actually it's part of the reason that the communists allow Hong Kong to continue. So long as investment is pouring in and continuing to enhance its value when the communists do take over, this is one argument for their holding off. A nice question of strategy for both sides, affecting both optimum investment and amortization rates as well as the best time to end the game.

On the question of the stability of the Chinese communist regime I remarked that it was unfortunate that some of the right-wing and even some less extremist statements about Liberating Communist Satellites, unleashing Chiang Kai-shek, and so on, had been advanced with so little thought, simply as campaign slogans. Perhaps as a reaction, it was the tendency for most moderate and informed people to avoid the subject altogether. Yet it was related to some very live sorts of questions. From time to time large cracks appear in the wall and we are sometimes faced with the issue for policy as to whether and what sort of support we might give to indigenous rebellion against totalitarian rule. Up to a few years ago the almost universal opinion of intelligent and informed writers on China was that the communist regime in china was unchallengeable. I knew that the Hong Kong consulate was our major listening post for China and was continually engaged in evaluation of the political conditions of the Chinese Communist regime. I wondered whether they had had a chance to stand back and observe how their evaluations of the stability of the regime may have changed in the course of the last few years.

Jacobson said that these evaluations had changed a good deal. He believed that if the very serious deterioration that had been going on for several years continued, there was quite likely to be a shake-up, either a palace revolution, or an expulsion of the critics. Expulsion of the critics, he said, was quite likely, especially if the critics were right. Peng Te Huai came into disfavor in 1959 because he had been right.

If this year's harvest is as bad as last year's, a shake-up is quite likely. If the Peoples' Liberation Army, which is still 80 per cent peasant, continues to receive news of their own families' suffering, there might be increasing disaffection. Elements of the PLA might join with critics of the current policy. I asked whether all this would be within the palace, so to speak. And Jacobson said he thought it would.

Jacobson said he didn't believe that we could exclude from our policy some support for indigenous revolt where such support could actually help it.

The current exodus is without question a protest. Three thousand were leaving per day, and this has come up to five thousand. Taiwan offered the previous day to accept one thousand per year. A local newspaper writer observed that this would handle the May exodus by the end of the century. The British fear that millions would come out if the British let them come into Hong Kong. Disaffection is extremely widespread.

The opinions that I referred to about the unchallengeability of the Chinese communists were formed when everyone was impressed by the peoples' militia in China. So many millions were in the militia. However, it's hard to say whether this was a sign that the regime could not be challenged, or whether it was itself something that might be used as a challenge. In fact, the militia were never given arms, precisely because of the possibility of widespread disaffection with arms conveniently at hand.

Jacobson stressed that nonetheless insurgency was extremely difficult under a totalitarian regime. He discussed the confession meetings which used to be held several times a week, but which are now tapering off a little. In these confession meetings the participants are supposed to list the things that they did wrong or that they know others of their neighborhood did wrong. If a provocateur suggested to some peasant that he join forces in a protest movement under cover, the peasant is then faced with a dilemma at the next confession meeting. If he denounces the man, this of course puts an end to the possibility of that specific protest. On the other hand, if he doesn't denounce the man who proposed the resistance to him, he might just turn out to be a provocateur who would then denounce him for not having mentioned this at the meeting.

Nonetheless, there is a breakdown of discipline very generally, and the exodus is one sign of this. The government seems to have permitted this as a safety valve. There are other signs of relaxation. Beggars are reappearing for the first time. It was proudly boasted that there was no stealing or tipping before. Therefore in hotels people never asked for keys. Now people are asking for keys because they need them. There is a lot of stealing. Moreover, they are giving tips and the tips are being accepted. And there is a lot of beefing when the tip isn't large enough. Prostitution is reappearing. Kids are writing anti-Mao slogans on walls. These are just a few of the signs of the spreading demoralization.

Some of this may be being allowed by the government as a kind of safety valve. On the other hand, it's a very delicate matter to judge. It may be a safety valve; on the other hand, it may have the opposite effect, it might be self re-enforcing.

I asked, "Why did the Chinese communist government cooperate in the exodus of Chinese to Hong Kong?" Jacobson said, "Well, there are several hypotheses." If the cooperation was just passive, then it might be in order to get the United Kingdom to build a Berlin wall. Or, a second hypothesis the people were talking about was that it might get people bounced back over the line. A third hypothesis that had been advanced rested on the assumption that the cooperation of the Chinese government was active. This had it that the idea was to provoke widespread U.S. sympathy and offer some grain to the Chinese government without the government having to lose face. Jacobson expressed no opinion as to which, if any, of these hypotheses he thought was plausible.

The following day, Monday, I met with Rothenberg (now acting Political Reporter while Jacobson is acting as Deputy Chief of the Mission, ordinarily a Soviet specialist who works on Chinese-Soviet relations), T. S. Sun (who evidently performs a function at the consulate of reading very widely in the Chinese literature and spotting the articles worth translation or worth close reading by some of the other language officers), Seasword, and Starbird (who has been handling Chinese-African relationships). Starbird seemed in particular a very bright and able young research man. He did undergraduate work at Yale in Chinese and graduate work at Columbia.

After a general discussion with these men in which I went over some of the same ground as I had with Green and Jacobson, I spent some time with Rothenberg. I raised the question of Chinese attitudes towards arms control as one of the issues I was looking for research problems on, and seeking stimulation on, during my trip. I told Rothenberg about Tom Schelling's observations at the Pugwash conference in December, 1960, on the Chinese attitude towards the test ban agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (they regarded a test ban as an anti-Chinese move by the U.S. and SU). Rothenberg thought that Schelling's observations were quite sound. He believes that a nuclear capability for China is one of the key issues in the Sino-Soviet dispute. I asked about whether there had been any statements on the so-called nth country problem. He said that in fact there had, quite recently. That Chen Yi, in talking with Welton Cole, the Reuters correspondent, and Chou En-lai, in talking with Montgomery recently, both commented on the nth country problem and indicated that increasing n is good, the more the merrier. In short, they took much the same position as General Gallois. I asked where I could find these statements and he said that the Chou En-lai statement was quoted by Monty when he was in China in the fall of 1961, very possibly during September in Peking. Chen Yi's meeting with Welton Cole was on October 5 and could probably be dug up in Reuters dispatches in the following few days. He gave me a reference to a government publication which is probably at RAND, Joint Week 42, October 19, 1961.

On the disarmament negotiations, Rothenberg says the Chinese think that nothing whatsoever will come of them. The Russians probably don't think anything will come of them either, yet curiously, Sino-Soviet polemics act as if the Soviet Union did expect something to come of it. However, in such polemics, disarmament and expectations about it are purely symbolic. I commented that in any case it seemed unlikely that disagreement between the Russians and the Chinese was over whether a workable mutual disarmament of the East and West was in the offing, but rather as to whether the disarmament negotiations were worthwhile as a tactic for inducing unilateral disarmament to some extent on the part of the West.

I steered the conversation back to the demoralization in Red China and the implications for Laos. I mentioned the recent and predictable Chinese reactions to the President's movement of troops to Thailand: "Mr. Kennedy is playing with fire." etc., etc. How serious are the Chinese? Hoe likely is it that they'll get deeply involved in Laos? Rothenberg said that he thought that China was bluffing. Five days before this they had said, "There are Chinese Nationalists in Laos and we cannot be indifferent to that." This was a rather modest basis for objection to the U.S. moves: They needed the cooperation of some hypothetical Chinats. Then the Chinese stepped it up a notch and based their objection not merely on the presence of some hypothetical Chinats, but on the presence of U.S. forces themselves.

In any case, if China actually did get involved in the war, this might be relatively disadvantageous to it. The situation is very different from Korea. Here Rothenberg, Jacobson and Green all seemed to agree that Korea was much more critical for the Chinese, and it came at a better time for Chinese intervention. Korea was near the industrial heart of China. Rothenberg said that it got them a lot of aid from Russia and helped complete the unification of the country. Now, coming after a period of disillusionment, an intense involvement in Laos would have a disruptive effect.

At this point, I had word that Marshall Green would like to continue the discussion, which we did. I asked about Korea. He said that Korea could not be self-sufficient and independent. For this reason it was extremely important to reconcile Japan and Korea. They were natural complements. Japan could help a great deal in Korea's development. If it didn't, North Korea might catch up with South Korea. Japan was dragging its feet. South Korea was asking much too much in war reparations. If a stalemate continues, Japan may eventually become quite as disinterested in North Korea as in South Korea, and this would be extremely bad for us.

There was a tremendous population problem in Korea. They can't make it without extensive help from us or Japan, or both. Part of the problem was that South Korea and most of the other small countries were fighting for prestige issues rather than genuine foreign policy issues.

I remarked that this was true, unfortunately, not only in the Pacific and in the newly independent countries, but, for example, in such countries as France. Green discussed the problem of democracy. Parliamentary democracy was probably not appropriate and wouldn't be for a long time to come. On the other hand, the students had fought for democracy as we taught it to them, and the military government was just not doing enough. It will be toppled unless we do something. Park Chung Hee must broaden his base. He has to take in civilians in a government of national unity. If he doesn't, a counter coup is possible, and a very much bloodier one.

Park needs at least some of the outer trappings of democracy, even though something more centralized than parliamentary democracy is required. They obviously don't need two houses — one house will do. Green then referred to his own role last year, at the time of the coup, which of course made headlines at the time. Green opposed the coup, and opposed it for a full month. Green is convinced that he did the right thing, that by playing it tough with the strong man, he was just exploiting the fact that the military needed the United States. While there were limits to what could be done, he felt that by threatening the withdrawal of U.S. aid, we forced the military to give back the command to Magruder and forced them to stop parading "criminals" through the streets like the communists. Green feels that in general we don't have the guts to restrain our own creatures in these countries.

The military in Korea is enormous. There are 600,000 Koreans in the armed forces. The forces are large enough to be more than just a force for national unity. They are large enough to involve a great deal of factional strife. Green felt that the armed forces didn't have to be that large — 400,000 would be enough, for example.

I raised a theme which I had been hoping to explore with several people on the trip. In preparing for the trip and during my talks in Honolulu and Japan, I had become more and more conscious of the fact that, viewing the United States and its allies broadly, thinking of the Pacific and the Middle East as a whole, it seemed we had a great many of our own forces, and there were a great many indigenous forces fixed rigidly in place. While we were members and constructors of a number of regional alliances, these seemed, on analysis, only nominally regional. They boiled down to a series of excuses for bilateral arrangements between the united States and various members of the alliances. And of course there were overtly bilateral pacts with other Asian and Middle Eastern countries. I found, during other parts of my trip, a great ambivalence about our alliances among American officials. Doubts were re-enforced by the inertia of the Western non-regional members such as France and U.K. or the hostility of the neutrals. On the other hand, it seemed to me that we are neglecting many forms of regional military cooperation which might be very useful in the kinds of conflicts likely to arise in third areas. The role of regional collaboration and mutual support in these remote areas in a central war was very likely to be insignificant. Some of the areas, like Southeast Asia, have almost no importance themselves in a central war. However, the use of neighboring or intermediate countries for logistic support in local conventional wars was something that appears not to have been exploited in any systematic fashion; nor had cooperation of combat forces — either for local conventional wars or guerrilla warfare. The Filipinos, for example, have a good deal to contribute to an ally in fighting guerrillas. The Turks, the Paks and the Koreans, on the usual estimate, have something to contribute in conventional war as well. A sober analysis of what was feasible and useful here might have gross implications for our foreign policy, our contingency plans, and our military and economic aid programs.

This speculation suggested a set of questions that I pursued in various stages of my travel. I dealt with one aspect in conversation with Green. I asked about the possibility of the use of Koreans in Indochina, and in general about the transferability of the various Far Eastern native forces which are all tied down locally at the present time. I suggested that this might have a number of advantages, including the political advantage of involving Orientals in defense of oriental allies.

Green said that he was all for this. He suggested that it would be extremely useful to have a number of "construction" battalions from Korea at work in Indochina. These would be of course construction battalions that would not only be able to do engineering work, but would be able to defend themselves, able to fight. We could provide the logistics support for it. A couple of Korean battalions, he thought, could make a real difference. He felt that the political advantages were very real.

I asked what the objections were, who would oppose it. He said that some might oppose it, but they would oppose it mostly out of inertia, perhaps some of the military, and specifically the army, on the spot. General Molloy in Korea might claim they were needed there, that you couldn't strip Korea of the engineers they needed.

Green said that it is true that you couldn't strip Korea of the engineers, but on the other hand you could reduce them and could train new forces. Green felt that it was the Army especially that would be in opposition, that the Air Force and Navy might actually support it.

I suggested that far from being a weakening of the Korea self-defense, in the long run combat training of Korean forces would be useful in Korean self-defense. The alternative use of engineering battalions did not affect economic development in Korea.

I suggested that it was not just a question, of course, of the Korean forces, but also of the Chinats. How do we get so that we can treat the indigenous forces in the Asian theater flexibly, as transferable resources, at least in part?

Green felt that this was the way to look at it. I asked him what political arguments there might be against such a development of flexibility. He said that the Japanese would be skittish about any involvement of the Korean or of Chiang's forces. He thought that flexibility could be argued against plausibly, but that the arguments were specious, that flexibility could be developed gradually in a way that would overcome these problems. We could have military exchanges, like student exchanges, to make these transfers seem normal and politically palatable. Chiang is particularly hard to use because of his reputation for aggressiveness. He has talked so much about invasion that any modest use of his forces always looks like a much bigger threat.

We then discussed the relationship of the military to political and economic development. Green said one of the things we had to do was to indoctrinate the military in political matters much more. Two, the military could be used to help the economy of these underdeveloped countries. They had to understand that the battle in the rice paddy is not just on a thin front line. Third, military surplus hardware — jeeps, etc. — could be used. Four, we could give the military skills that would be useful in civilian life. Five, he thought that we had to re-evaluate the whole MAP program in such terms. He then referred to Charlie Wolf's work, and said that he thought that Charlie had done a splendid job in Korea, and that he was a great admirer of Charlie's in general.

The French Consul General

That night, Monday night, I had dinner with Andre Saint Mleux, the French Consul General, and his wife at the Repulse Bay Hotel. Saint Mleux is one of Alain Enthoven's many strategically placed cousins, who are distributed not only over Europe and England, as I had known, but also in the Far East. Saint Mleux had been in the Far East in an earlier stage of his career, had just come to Hong Kong to become Consul General. His preceding job had been Chef de Cabinet for Henri Spaak when Spaak was Secretary General of NATO. Saint Mleux has an extremely lively mind and a very strong interest in NATO strategy. He has quite a wide acquaintance, therefore, among the English and Americans who have been concerned with NATO, some of whom are presently in the Pacific, such as Bill Trueheart, Deputy Chief of Mission in Saigon, and Fritz Nolting, the Ambassador in Saigon. Saint Mleux himself, it quickly became clear, is a strong supporter of De Gaulle's "Europe de patries." Our talk, cordial and animated, ranged over many topics, touching only lightly on the Far East and Southeast Asia, focusing mostly on Europe and American policy.

Our dinner took place precisely at the time of the De Gaulle press conference and the retaliatory press conference comments of Mr. Kennedy. French-American relations on the subject of nuclear strategy in short were at a new low point. We discussed French nuclear policy after we had rung the familiar changes. I remarked that the only country I knew where there was an even sharper cleavage than in France between opinions privately expressed and those formally uttered was Japan. In Japan double speak seemed to apply to all parties, including those out of power, whereas in France it was largely, though not exclusively, confined to officials. But France, in its officialdom, seemed a rather close second. Saint Mleux said that he didn't think the French position on the deterrent was really that difficult to defend. He said it with zest, speaking as a man who regarded such defense as vigorous intellectual exercise for which he was feeling entirely fit. I mentioned some of the proceedings at the de Bilderberg conference where each of the French participants, after formal statements reiterating the French position, told either Denis Healey or myself that in fact they didn't really hold the views they were expressing, but that they really agreed with us and almost all the rest of the members of the conference.

Saint Mleux's comments indicated that he didn't actually believe the Gaullist position; in fact, his strong support of Spaak suggested the opposite to me at the very outset (though it was the following week before Spaak's public opposition to De Gaulle on the European community was voiced prominently in the press). Saint Mleux's views amounted essentially to saying that while there might be some basic errors in the French position, the American position was not a very good one, and therefore the French position was defensible as a response to the American one. He specifically mentioned the continuing special treatment of the United Kingdom which, he said, was obviously intolerable to De Gaulle. He thought that the use of Christmas Island by Mr. Kennedy was a very fundamental and foolish mistake. He was sure there were other spots in the Pacific that would have served as well without rubbing De Gaulle's nose in the dirt. I confessed I didn't think Christmas Island a very good choice. In fact, the special relationship was a mistake all right, but it was a mistake that had been made by the preceding administration from which the present administration had found no graceful means of withdrawal. On the other hand, the benefits of this special relationship should be looked at in perspective: They were largely fictitious; the British were given information and help in spending an enormous amount of money on a capability which they themselves had more and more realized was practically useless. We discussed the Blue Streak program. Saint Mleux agreed it had been a fiasco. He said that nonetheless there was a very large issue of prestige involved. I indicated that I thought that while prestige issues were of course of real importance, nonetheless it was important to distinguish them from issues of substance, particularly where billions of dollars and national security were involved. I felt that the French in particular had the sophistication not to confuse issues of prestige with issues of substance. In fact, the fiasco of the Blue Streak had lowered rather than raised British prestige, and this was likely to be the case with other prestige forces.

Saint Mleux said that on substance he felt that while neither he nor most of the people he knew were very impressed by Gallois' sort of argument (it was "rather evidently shallow"), there was something to be said for a country such as France seeking a capability to defend itself. I stated that this depended on just how difficult that job was, whether it was feasible in fact, and what alternatives France had. Alliances had been used before to substitute for an ability to defend oneself. We went through some of the familiar questions on the problems of deterring a major antagonist such as Russia, and keeping it deterred over the years in the face of changes in technology and in the development of countermeasures. And we discussed the irrelevance of such nuclear deterrence for attacks below a threshold that made a nuclear response at all plausible. Saint Mleux was extremely agile throughout this discussion but brought it near a close by saying that really Europe was not a place that one had to worry about — the focus of attack was right in the regions that I was going to be traveling in. There was no real threat in Europe. This was precisely the line of argument I had gone through many times with Frenchmen in Europe, and so I found myself once more saying to a very able Frenchman that if there were really no threat to defend against, as he said, he could not feel very strongly about the need on the part of the French to develop their own defenses against a non-existent threat. Wasn't the premise for the non-existence of a threat really the covert assumption that no matter what is done by the French or our allies, the American guarantee would discourage Russian attack? What concerned me about Gaullist policy was precisely that it might call the American guarantee into question. There have always been some Americans who would prefer to be rid of the burden of defending Europe. They had been very much in the minority. They had been joined recently by a lot of people newly concerned about the balance of payments. Many of these would be all too eager to take literally the Gaullist claim that France could defend itself. If so, why, then, should the United States, with obligations elsewhere, spend its resources redundantly? Then there were others, a good deal more serious than these, who would not take lightly the threat by an ally to use its force specifically to trigger American nuclear power against the will of the President. Many who were not impressed by the balance of payments would be concerned about cooperation on such terms. This could mean American withdrawal. And an urgent attempt to disengage from identification with the French nuclear button. And with it the destruction of the American guarantee which, it would then be apparent, had been implicit all along in the notion that there was no serious Russian threat.

Saint Mleux, at this point, abandoned any pretense of defending the current Gaullist views. He expressed his own very serious concern that the greatest danger of De Gaulle's use of a nuclear policy as a bargaining device in the alliance is that it might destroy the alliance itself, and specifically, force a beginning of U.S. withdrawal. He then described Spaak's views on the subject with which I had been in general familiar. He anticipated the statement that Spaak actually issued about a week later in Brussels.

We concluded by a discussion of recent changes in American policy and their significance. He expressed considerable enthusiasm about recent American attempts to broaden the information available to our allies on basic strategic issues and praised the Athens speech of McNamara in particular. (The Ann Arbor published version of it[1] was not available to either of us.) He was particularly eager for me to include several of his friends in the French Foreign Service and Ministry of Defense, but especially to include Spaak in Belgium on my itinerary, and wrote out letters to Ambassador Clarac in Bangkok and to the French ambassador in Djakarta without further delay. He said he would write Spaak and DeRose. (The ambassador in Djakarta was on leave, unfortunately, while I was there, and in my brief stay in Paris DeRose and I tried to make connections. Harry Rowen and Bob Bowie had seen him the day before and had as high a regard for him as Saint Mleux.) I never made it to Brussels, but I did see Clarac in Bangkok and benefited from a very wise and experienced discussion of the problems of the area.

Visit to the Border and Talk with Takashi Oka

On my last day in Hong Kong I spent about 8 hours with Takashi Oka, the Christian Science Monitor correspondent for East Asia; went up to the border to witness some of the sites of the exodus and to talk with refugees; and after several long telephone conversations with Stanley Karnow of Time, who had been recommended by both Dick Moorsteen and Marshall Green, gave up plans for visiting with Karnow at his home in order to snatch a few hours of sleep before emplaning for Djakarta.

Takashi Oka is a Japanese who went to a small Quaker college in Missouri and is now a naturalized American. Dick Moorsteen is a good friend of his and had written to Oka by way of introducing me. I found Oka a very modest and able newspaperman with none of the flamboyance of an Alsop, but extremely well informed about Southeast Asia, which he visits frequently, as well as North Asia. It turned out that he is also a good friend of Kei Wakaizumi of the Japanese National Defense College, who had been my host a good deal of the time while I was in Tokyo. As a result, we began talking of various Japanese personalities and the Japanese intellectual climate. Oka has great respect for Wakaizumi's integrity. He feels that, with his brilliant record of study, he has surrendered an assured career in a first-rate university or in industry in order to pursue problems of defense policy. He felt this itself is a commentary on the Japanese intellectual scene. His comments on Matsumoto, the Director of International House, were interesting. He said that in the 1930's Matsumoto was widely considered a future Prime Minister. He is, however, a perennial dilettante as far as political action is concerned. Yet he remains enormously influential among the intellectuals of Japan. He is an idealist, a strong admirer of the British parliamentary system, toyed a bit with the Socialist Party as a possible vehicle for his political goals, but became very disillusioned with it. The Democratic Socialists are the next best thing for him. Like Reischauer, Oka remarked on Matsumoto's ambiguities and lack of commitment. However, Oka felt this was at least better than the familiar Japanese intellectual, whose commitments are clear, but stereotyped and fashionable.

On the Chinese crisis Oka said that he didn't dare conclude that the political deterioration had gone so far as to challenge the regime. However, the exodus is a symptom of the worst crisis in its history. The refugees flooded out (a) because of the food shortage and the shutting of industrial plants; (b) because they feared it would get worse; and (c) the news had spread that they could get out, that the Communists had left the border open or penetrable. There were rumors of several thousands migrating from the north, not just Kwangtung.

I listed a variety of hypotheses that I had heard or read about in the local papers. These had been offered to explain the cooperation, passive or active, of the Red Chinese guards in the exodus: (1) the Chinese Communists wanted to teach their discontented subjects that 'There is No Exit,' that they would be bounced back by the British; (2) that they were going to force the British to erect barriers and tighten the control of entry into Hong Kong and get British help in controlling their refugee problem (and specifically, make it harder for some future defectors of a possibly high level); (3) that the Chinese Communists wanted to "sink" Hong Kong; (4) that the Chinese Communists wanted to provoke sympathy for their economic plight and help from the West — the United States specifically — in the form of grain; and to get it without asking us for it formally, etc., etc.

I indicated that I hadn't found any of these very convincing. Oka said he thought they weren't persuasive, that they all attributed an excessive degree of foresight and deliberation to the Communists. His own theory was by far the most plausible one to me. He suggested that aside from everything else, it seemed likely to him that it was one of the more perfect examples of the bureaucratic rigidity of the communists. Peking, in its campaign to cut back on manufacturing — the Great Leap Backward — has assigned quotas to each of the cities: Number of people to be sent out of the city and back to the farm. Canton had had a quota assigned to it. (I heard Canton's quota cited variously as 300,000 and 700,000.) In any case, Canton was out to meet its quota. It was going to get the required number of people out of the city, and it didn't care particularly where they went — to the farm, where they weren't going to help any, or to Hong Kong.

This explanation has the ring of truth to me. It fits in well with Green's analysis of loss of control and demoralization. Breakdown in communications between the national government and the provinces, on the subject of quotas, escapes to Hong Kong, etc. help fill out the picture connecting the loss of control with the exodus.

Hong Kong observers, he said, tended to be conservative and rather cautious in their evaluations of Chinese trends. The English in Hong Kong, in particular. The English look at China and at the Soviet Union not as missionaries of communism but as nation states with traditionally limited interests. Some of these interests conflict with those of the West; some conflict with each other. They are less worried about Chinese expansion and less concerned to see the Chinese government collapse.

So far as the implications of the present crisis for China's attitudes in Laos, Oka felt that it would limit the Chinese severely in any deep involvement in a sizable war there. He too made the point that Laos doesn't threaten the industrial center of Red China and Manchuria as Korea did, and so they have less incentive for involvement. He was aware from General Taylor's speech of the spring, as well as from talks with our military people, that Laos was a difficult problem for the Chinese logistically.

But the Royal Lao were not much of an obstacle for any non-Laotians. They would collapse if the North Vietnamese came in, and especially if the Chinese came in. He mentioned something I was to hear many times on the trip: the superstition of the Lao that they can't fight outsiders like the Viet Minh, and that the Chinese in particular were deadly for them. This superstition, Oka said, made a boomerang of the Royal Lao statements denouncing Chinese participation on the side of the Pathet Lao. A good many of the Royal Lao's own supporters took it seriously and ran.

As far as Souvanna Phouma is concerned, a great many Lao of a genuinely neutralist persuasion have some doubts about his neutralism. Oka reported that this included a member of Souvanna's Geneva negotiating team, who was also a brother of Keo, the Pathet Lao Commissar for Rural Affairs.

Oka talked a little of the war in South Vietnam and its political as well as military aspects. He described Lt. Col. Pham Ngoc Thao, Chief of the Kien Hoa Province. The latter is one of the current heroes of the war. He is a former communist guerrilla, now very much a convert. But very critical of the limping efforts of the government towards winning popular support. He urged me to see Pham when I was in Saigon, and I promised to make the attempt.

I had been eager to go up to the border and Oka offered himself as guide. He had been up there several times in the course of his work and knew, as of a couple of days before, the status of the efforts of the refugees to get through, where they were making them, and where the Hong Kong government's countermeasures were successful. I rented a car with a young driver who had himself come from Kwangtung a few years before and spoke English as well as Cantonese.

The exodus was near its maximum at the time Oka and I went up to the border. They had been coming over at the rate of 5,000 a night, and the British were using all their ingenuity on the problem of outwitting the protesting relatives in Hong Kong, and shunting the immigrants back. The Hong Kong Tiger Standard and other local newspapers were full of news photos of the chaotic scenes, of truckloads of refugees on their way back to the border blockaded by local villagers and relatives from Hong Kong, with some refugees escaping from trucks. On the very day that Oka and I went up there the British laid on a successful countermeasure for this: They sent 5,000 refugees back in a shuttered railroad train. The British were stringing new barbed wire on their side of the border in Hong Kong as frantically as I observed the East Germans doing the same in East Berlin. I found the circumstances and sight deeply disturbing, and, in fact, the meeting with the refugees was a very emotional experience. Oka and I visited various spots where the refugees had been coming through, and points on the route of their return by the British: Fanling, a police training center, where the refugees were taken in trucks, fed a meal (or, if they were caught during the night, two meals) of rice and salted fish; and several areas where refugees were hiding and hunted. Some of these areas were swarming incredibly with activity.

We went through the little market town of Sheung Shui, which several of the refugees had reached, so to speak, "home free;" from there they had been concealed until relatives took them out. On a hill in the outskirts of the town are the grounds of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club. We stood there and looked out from the terrace of this beautifully kept colonial relic over a broad plain to a range of hills that seemed to me to begin very nearby, perhaps a quarter or a half a mile. Just beyond that and out of sight, Oka said, there was a military encampment. And immediately beyond that another range of hills at the Chinese border itself. The refugees gathered at the border during the day, broke through at night, hid in the second range of hills, then tried to make it to the near range the following night; then across the plain at our feet to Sheung Shi.

That is, if they were not intercepted by either friends or enemies. The plain seemed loaded with both. It was like an infernal landscape by Hieronymus Bosch. Men and women up from Hong Kong, who had heard by the grapevine of the escape of relatives and friends, or were simply just hoping, moved over the fields carrying fruit and bundles of clothing with Hong Kong labels. They were calling the names of the escapees they hoped to find. And, on the same plain, were groups of Tommies, Gurkhas, and Hong Kong police trying to reach them first. Or to catch them at any rate before they had disappeared into some Hong Kong disguise. Above this, a helicopter whirled, helping the police in the search. As we watched, some Hong Kong police caught several escapees, in a kind of slow-motion, desultory, unresisted sweep, and walked them back to the terrace where we stood. Another car had driven out on to the terrace and unloaded a very tall Englishman dressed in white Bermuda shorts, which shirt with epaulettes. This was Stevenson, the public information officer for the Crown Colony. We watched the escapees loaded dispiritedly into the back of a truck, screened. This truck, unlike those in the news photos from which escapees sometimes escaped a second time, had a wire cage. It was the sort of paddy wagon the French call vividly a "saladier," salad basket.

I talked for a while with Stevenson. Though somewhat weary of the subject he was still eager to be heard and had a much exercised set of answers which he had been used to giving to reporters. In its general outlines it was rather faithfully represented almost in all of the responsible Western newspapers that I've read. In fact, the British got a remarkably good press on their response to the exodus. The Times and the Washington Post, for example, as well as the President, all expressed strong sympathy with the plight of the British in returning the refugees. It was clear that the British were in a pretty bad plight, but I felt just a little more sympathetic with the refugees themselves. Then, and in retrospect, it seemed to me that there was something lacking in a policy which avowedly aimed mainly at shifting the onus onto the Peking government for turning the poor devils back. Within a week after my visit to the border this triumph of Western policy was announced.

The burden of Sevenson's story was that Hong Kong just couldn't take an indefinite number of Chinese refugees. It had already over 3,000,000 people in some 350 square miles. There are 600,000,00 Chinese. "It's as simple as all that," he said, and repeated the phrase several times during his explanation. "We can't absorb another one in the working population and we cannot tolerate refugee camps." Throughout Stevenson stressed that these refugees were in economic want. The British position was very different if they were taken to be political refugees, since this raised issues of the right of asylum.

I asked about the Taiwan offer, which had started as an offer to take in 10,000 and had just been made open-end. Stevenson responded that not all the refugees would want to go to Taiwan. This was obviously true. But between all and none, there was quite a range of numbers. It seemed to me that some, possibly a good many, might prefer to go to Taiwan rather than go back. (I can confirm this on the basis of talks I had later.) Stevenson answered that in any case he would regard any offer from Taiwan skeptically. I asked whether it might not be possible to hold the refugees while we tested the good faith of Taiwan. Stevenson answered that Hong Kong could not hold them for a day. They could not have concentration camps. Even if the Taiwanese took the refugees, they could not tolerate holding them during the period of processing. This struck me as being a rather extreme position, and while I didn't say so at the time, I wondered again whether Western ingenuity mightn't be used to find homes for these refugees and speed up their processing rather than simply to work out techniques for getting them back into China. Even more, I wondered whether it might not be able to plan some time in advance for the next such contingency. And not only in China.

After Stevenson had run through his set piece, he talked less mechanically for a while. Then left. We looked a little uncertainly at the truck full of refugees, who, it turned out, had been watching our conversation with Stevenson. Several of them were talking and gesticulating, and our driver, without intended irony, said "Now that the Police Commissioner has left, can't we talk to them?" I explained to the driver that Stevenson wasn't a policeman. I got the permission of the Hong Kong policeman who was guarding the truck to talk to the escapees in their cage. It was, as I have indicated, disturbing.

One young fellow, I would guess in his early twenties, was crying. His name was Tang, Fai. He was a radio technician. I gathered from further questions that by this he meant that he had operated a radio telegraph unit. He said that he had worked in Canton 14 hours a day for two ounces of rice. He asked us to get a message to his aunt who lived at an address on Shanghai Street. he said that if he were sent back he would go to a work camp in "Siberia" for 30 years. The word "Siberia" in Cantonese sounded like the word in English. Evidently it is the Chinese side of Siberia near the Chinese border, and the Amor River province. He indicated he was in very bad trouble, that his father was a capitalist who had also been convicted of smuggling and now was in Siberia itself. When Tang, Fai was told that he had to go back to the farm, he had protested very hard, kept it up, when, suddenly, he realized he had been protesting too long. He was then questioned. The subject of his father had been brought up. Then he had been let go with a warning. After this he aid he heard by the grapevine that he was going to be picked up again, and he decided to light out for the border. Like most of the other refugees, he had walked for days to get there. He was sure now that if he was returned to China, after his protests and narrow escape, he'd be sent to forced labor in Siberia and, he thought, his death. If only we (Oka and I) would help him, he'd be willing to do anything.

One of the troubling parts of the experience was that there seemed no way to convince him that Oka and I were not officials in a position of authority, able to influence if not decide his fate. He said he'd be happy to go to Taiwan, when we asked him about this, and repeated parts of his account of his difficulties. It was clear that part of the reason for his refusal to go to the country had been that he knew he would be not a hand but just another mouth in an area where they had plenty of mouths; but part of it also was a feeling of loss of identity and status as a technician. Oka and I gave up trying to make clear we were not officials and focused on getting across advice on what to tell his British interrogators: Forget the hunger and the 2 ounces of rice and concentrate on his capitalist father and the political threat of imprisonment. He was obviously intelligent but deeply disturbed. We left without any faith that he had understood.


  • [1] "Remarks of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara at the Commencement Exercises, University of Michigan," Ann Arbor, June 16, 1962, attachment to D(L)-10250, Current RAND Operations No. 188, July 20, 1962.

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