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Now Robert F. Kennedy United States senator from New York will talk about developing a China policy. America is beginning to rediscover China for all the world as if it were a new strange planet found by our astronauts for over 15 years. China has not been a significant factor in American political or intellectual life once we fought our armies on the Korean battlefield twice in the 1950s by the testimony of then then secretary of state we came to the brink of nuclear war and for a brief moment to offshore islands it became an issue in a presidential campaign. But for the most part China. Has been ignored. Partly this is because the main threat of the Cold War. Was our relationship with the Soviet Union. Not only a far more powerful adversary armed with advanced nuclear weapons but also the acknowledged and acknowledged leader
of the world communist movement and hence China's senior partner. Our energies were primarily focused on the security and the reconstruction of Europe. The second reason was the isolation of communist China refused admission to the United Nations are recognized by us and by many other countries. China moreover which deliberately increased its isolation by eliminating foreign influence and excluding foreigners from our territory. Now all of this has begun to change easing relations with the Soviet Union the Sino-Soviet split. China's own accession to nuclear power and the war in Vietnam have forced our attention on the far east and to our relations with a nation unlike any other in its size and its outlook and its problems and the hostility of its relations with the United States. It is safe to say that there is no aspect of American foreign policy so forth
and yet so uncertain. No country so seemingly menacing about which we know so little as is China. We do not intend to review or assess the full range of China policy. We know too little and events are to quickly change what little we do know. Nevertheless some salient points can and should be made. And it is those I would like to discuss with you tonight. The first and overriding consideration is that this is a time of unique opportunity the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Whatever else that is done ensures that China will wish to focus its attention on internal affairs for at least the immediate future as is apparent from our diplomacy or lack of it all over the world. China seems to have little present wish for contact or change in our foreign policy. For us they have for this is a chance above all to think to review the past
to analyze the present. To plan for the future course of relations between our two nations. This is a chance which really comes to scholars a statesman or nation. In time of constant challenges swirling change and we could do no better than to begin that assessment now. Such an assessment would begin with history the history of this proudest and oldest of civilizations. Shaken and brought low by its contacts with the West then for a century wracked by Constant Revolution and Civil War flood and famine humiliation and foreign invasion and the last 20 years part of a chapter whose ending is far from certain. The assessment would explore the paradox of China today. Traditional nationalism and modern revolution ism nucleus strength and conventional weakness economic achievements and managerial failures cept the assessment with separate bold rhetoric from cautious action and grandiose intent from
modest capabilities would help to preserve us from either overreaction or underestimation of the dangers and challenges which China poses for all of us. For these twin products of ignorance and misjudgment have both cost us dear in the past. But even this misunderstanding the miscalculations and ignorance are not the most serious consequence of these past years. What is most troublesome is not what we do not know about China is what we do not know about ourselves about our own goals our own policies our own conception of our national interest in Asia for more than 20 years we have been the strongest power in Asia. Our aid and our armed forces bases in the flow of commerce gives us greater influence in Asia than any other nation and across the vast sweep of that continent and which we are so deeply involved. China looms
more importantly and more dangerously than any other. Indeed it was a fact of Chinese communist power which led us through treaty and the movement of forces to assume over the last decade the position that we hold today. Yet for many years we have disposed our forces. We have made commitments and conducted our enterprises virtually without conscious policy and direction unaware of what we seek and the price we are prepared to pay. We have striven to isolate China from the world and treated it with unremitting hostility. That however is not a policy. It is an attitude founded upon fear and passion and wishful hopes from Korea the Formosa straits India. We responded to immediate situations of danger and without any question in any of those actions were necessary but they were designed to protect
the president. Rather than to prepare for the future. I want to make it clear that those responses and those actions this lack of knowledge and consistent policy are not the failures of wanted ministration or one political party. Indeed there has been more growth in our awareness and knowledge of the problem in the past year than in the past decade. But there are still needs. And the first need is a policy and the time to at least begin to develop one is right now. Political passions have dimmed understanding and concern are rising as you are demonstrating in such an important way. The Cold War in the West is calm and allowing us to divert some energy and some thought to this part of the world. Most importantly as danger grows and the war in Vietnam unveils the tragic possibility of recurring and draining conflict.
Necessity the midwife of foreign policy crowds in upon us. Such a policy will emerge not out of a sudden revelation but slowly out of discussion and danger from shifting events and from painful battles. It will not however come of itself. We must make active efforts to think and to plan and to learn and to side and to act. This process is now beginning. And your conference is part of it. I would not therefore pretend to deal if you detail a China and an Asian policy but we can discuss what a policy e is. And begin to glimpse some general direction for the policy that must come at the outset let us say What a policy is not. For a state position which pleases us with a reasonable chance of acceptance or accomplishment is not a policy.
That's the liberation of the mainland by Nationalist China was at best empty rhetoric and at worst a dangerous illusion. Second faith in the ultimate goodness of human nature. Or the ameliorating impact of progress is not a policy. You cannot wait with confidence the day when material wealth and a better understanding of economic realities will bring China or a new generation of Chinese leaders quote to their senses. The history of our time gives ample proof that advanced cultured and self-confident nations are fully capable of dark disorder. Violent violence and aggression. It was not Stalin but coups chef. And when the 40th year of the Russian Revolution crushed Hungary and seven years later. Brought the whole world to the brink of nuclear war and his Cuban adventure. It was a Germany advanced far beyond the distant goals of China which have to strong as a continent and slaughtered millions.
Moreover nuclear weapons today. Can give a country a capacity to destroy are far greater than its real power or wealth. And that fact by itself. Will undoubtedly influence China's leaders. Perhaps in a dangerous although still in a and unpredictable way. And that fact will change the course of events. Certainly we must recognize that the conflict in Vietnam would be quite different now if China had the capacity to destroy Chicago or even New York with nuclear missiles. China may or may not become less aggressive and dangerous dangerous as it progresses as the Soviet Union may as Germany may or Japan may or as we ourselves may it is praiseworthy to hope and work for Chinese moderation but to look upon moderation as a certain fruit of time. And act accordingly is to tempt fate in danger.
Third the desire for reconciliation. Or the hope of friendship. Is not a policy hostility springs from the clash of interests and ambitions. And their resolution or compromise is at the heart of any accommodation this mutual acceptance of legitimate claims and interests must precede any reconciliation. That's policy. It is the determination of terms on which reconciliation can and will be carried out. And this is far more than just a desire to be friends for faith in the certainty of our historical judgment. It. Is not a policy. We cannot act as if we know China will certainly try to expand by force or that it will never try. We cannot assume that communist expansion in Asia would inevitably be swallowed up by the nationalism of Asian states nor should we assume that all revolutions will be captured by communists or
that all who call themselves communists will come under the domination and control of Peking. Rather we must prepare for all the continuances which threaten the clear national interests of the United States. So I policy is none of these. Just as it is not fear or hostility or wish policy is the establishment of goals and a course of action rationally calculated to achieve those goals. And we do not have such a policy toward China. We have acted often and those actions were supported by reasons of varying wisdom and persuasion yet really have our stated reasons and goals and pursued with the consistency and sustained application which would raise them to the dignity of policy. That's they have often become justifications for particular acts rather than expressions of consistent national purpose. It has been suggested for example
that we are pursuing strategic interests in Asia denying the control of other lands and resources to Asian communism. Yet less than two years ago we were quite prepared. All of us I believe to accept the spread of communism to Indonesia a nation of 100 million people in comparably rich in resources standing over the critical Straits of Malacca and flanking the Philippines. Of course we want to prevent the expansion the acquisition of vast new resources by powers deeply hostile to the United States. That statement however is only the beginning of thought. How do we discriminate between Chinese expansion and antonymous revolt. Where and under what circumstances can we bring our power to bear effectively. Where and under what circumstances should we limit ourselves to helping others without hazarding large scale combat. Or major war. These are not easy questions to answer but
until we at least begin to discuss and to debate them we will be unable to develop any kind of long range planning let alone a policy. And let me add that even then the application of that policy to any given situation may be painfully difficult. For corrupting if less dangerous is a self-righteous assertion of sweeping moral principles as a substitute for policy though we are willing to ignore those principles when our conception of national interest demands it. We proclaim our intention to assure self-determination with American lives if necessary. Yet we support and defend a Formosa whose indigenous people have no voice in government. We do not even raise our voice in protest against this most flagrant and outrageous condition. We are told that nations must learn to leave their neighbors alone yet we do not always leave our neighbors in this
hemisphere alone. New York New York thank you. Nor can we righteously announce that we seek only freedom and human dignity and decency throughout the world. When we have supported for what we felt good cause repressive and corrupt governments in every continent of the world. Thank you one. Was I do not quarrel with the necessity of some of the actions which were inconsistent with these principles. But those actions do teach us that blanket moral statements cannot determine all strategic judgments and that their Annunciation is not a substitute for policy. It may well be that greater consistency with the moral principles upon which this nation rests might in the long run lead to a sounder policy and greater protection for the interests of the United States. I personally believe that this to be so.
Yet if we solemnly pronounce principles which will not or cannot be consistently applied we delude ourselves and invite serious charges of apocrypha from others throughout the world in Africa. I have tried to answer the question. If the United States is fighting for self-determination in Vietnam then how can it not support the independence struggles that are going on in Angola and Mozambique. But those questioners it is less our intention than our pretension which is objectionable for this question. There is no satisfactory answer. That's just false principle. Destroy the credibility in our wisdom and purpose which is the true foundation of influence as a world power. The same is true of another kind of blanket formulation that we must keep our commitments and we must meet our obligations. Of course we must keep our commitments and our
obligations upon standards and told what ends of those commitments made. How do deeply do they extend and what means will be used to fulfill them. That's it is one thing to defend a commitment in Vietnam yet it is something else indeed to fulfill that commitment by extending military operations to Thailand in return making a new commitment to that nation as well. And what is to govern the form of the commitment whether it is to be a commitment to help others help themselves or a commitment to ensure victory whether they help themselves or whether they do not. And when we make the first do we slowly and inexorably and almost automatically accept the latter. None of the sweeping statements pious hopes grandiose commitments constitute a China policy for the future. That policy must be based on the reality and
the diversity of today's Asia. And on a discriminating evaluation of our own interests capacities and limitations. And it will be formed out of an evaluation of the dangers and capacities and the capabilities and desires of all the nations as well. We are not alone in China. We are not alone with China in Asia. There is also India the second most populous nation in the world. In itself a great civilization. Japan soon to become the third leading industrial nation of the globe. Indonesia with its resources and commanding strategic position. In the long run the vision and the commitment of these great Asian nations will determine in large part the course of affairs on the continent. Just as it is Great Britain and West Germany and France and Italy which now set the primary trust of development in Western Europe. That's our policy must be shaped
our actions undertaken in full understanding of the interests and the actions of these nations and with the consciousness that we do not act as a substitute but rather as a supplement to their policy and further of great importance. We must understand that our policy toward China. Must be a major factor in determining our policy toward those countries which border on China. Indeed all of Asia in the economic military political and the diplomatic fields. We are not working in a vacuum. Let's have a strong and free India is considered vital to our national security. The level of our economic and military assistance should reflect that priority with the lives of thousands of Americans are lost and billions of dollars to mid. On the theory that Vietnam is essential to us. How can we use to assist others on the border of China who just demands maybe less.
But his strategic importance and his vulnerability to external and internal communist domination may be greater. So we see that this discussion is not just a policy toward China but necessarily toward all those along her borders including the Soviet Union. If we choose to remain an Asian power surely we have learned that a failure to act can have the greatest consequences. We must be prepared to pay the cost in economic assistance for example even if that cost is as it must be many times greater than that which we are now pain in order to avoid the price in blood and treasure that we paid today. Although we can have only minimal effect on China itself today we can have a major effect on the future of Asia and thus lessen the danger of Chinese expansion to the extent that we that we pursue these important programs of strengthening
other Asian nations. Although it is not to not precisely analogous It must be remembered that it was the Marshall Plan which served more to contain Soviet expansion than the troops on her border. This group could surely apply your experience and knowledge to Asia to develop and recommend this kind of a program and a policy. But even then we must recognize that our China and China policy will be formed out of paradox and complexity. That's the Soviet Union our principal adversary and competitor. In the post-war world is at least for the time being China's violent ideological opponent with what often seems a very different vision of the Asian future. That's also Japan. A former enemy and present ally. China's historical rival rival an imitator invader an economic partner should a
contract with the Soviet Union to develop the resources of Siberia conducts large investment campaigns in China proposing among other things to develop China's petro chemicals industry serves as a major US base and contributes the first 200 million dollars to the Asian Development Bank. And that's also in another part of the world. At the same time our officials were warning of a Chinese threat to NATO travelers reported that Peking hotel space was impossible to get because of the number of trade missions there from NATO countries. China policy must be formed against the probability that when President convulsions subside we will still face a hostile China. We will still have to refuse the temptation of assuming that any acts are gestures on our par will significantly improve relations. Yes hostile words and proclamations are not wars. They do not
prevent us from having contact or from reaching agreements on matters of mutual interest. They do not prevent us from having contacts which could lead us to know more about China. And they about us and thus preventing the miscalculation of intention which could lead to a total worldwide holocaust. We should not discourage contact of any kind by ourselves or any other nation where the economic or diplomatic even tourism for a rational and informed China will be far easier to deal with than an irrational and ignorant one. Our policy must rest on the knowledge that we cannot predict the possibility of Chinese military expansion. Therefore we must be prepared to help others. Defend themselves while refusing to base our actions and our policies on the assumption that a clash is inevitable. But we must realize that every extension of Chinese influence does not automatically menace us.
We must be able to discriminate between armed attack and internal revolution between Chinese direction of revolutionary forces and Chinese extort ation for Chinese forces not directly involved or borders crossed. We must ask whether we should would should be willing to rely above all on the strength and vitality of the desire for national independence. After all it is that partial desire and not our military force which ousted the Chinese from Central Africa and Algeria and Indonesia and which is steadily eroding the Soviet empire. Policy demands a conscious and open recognition that we live in the same world and move in the same continent as China with its dangers and possibilities strengths and terrible frustrations. Only when we accept this reality can we work toward our central task
to bring about Chinese acceptance of the fact that it too must live with us and with other nations of the world. These are admittedly general considerations rather than guides to specific actions. Yet it will make a great difference to our acts and our policies. If we treat China as a potential danger and as a possible opportunity rather than as a certain enemy and as a lost cause of course the shadow of Vietnam War hovers over all of these deliberations that is in itself an immense and complex subject requiring full and special treatment. Still the resolution of that war. Will not resolve the problems of Asia. Although at the bargaining table the resolutions must depend in large part on our attitude and our policy toward China. Nor despite Vietnam's intimate relationship with the China policy with the war solution remove the urgent necessity of the larger problem
the future of our relations with China. They live beyond our vision but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that need the faith nor nature nor the irresistible Todds of history. But the work of our own hands matched to reason and principle which can determine destiny. There is quiet in that even arrogance. But there is also experience and truth. In any event it is the only way that we can live. All of our intentions and labor may ultimately dissolve in violence and bloodshed. But there is another possibility perhaps someday an American diplomat may go to China carrying with him the same instructions Daniel Webster gave to Caleb Cushing in 1843 to tell the people of China he said that your amazing mission is entirely Pacific. That you are a messenger of peace sent from the greatest power in America to the greatest in Asia to offer
respect and goodwill. And to establish the means of friendly intercourse. It doesn't all depend on you or on America but you have a great part to play and you will earn the gratitude of the world if you play it well. You have just heard Robert F. Kennedy who talked about developing a China policy. Earlier on today's program you heard Adam Yarmolinsky professor of law at Harvard University and former special assistant to the secretary of defense Mr. Yarmolinsky discussed United States military power and foreign policy both talks were recorded at the University of Chicago during a year long study of China held by the university's Center for Policy Study. This program was the fifth and last in the series. China today which was produced a radio broadcast by Jonathan Klein director of educational broadcasting at the University of Chicago. Your announcer has been t Kim Hood group. And this is the national educational radio
China today
Robert F. Kennedy
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
University of Chicago
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program presents a lecture by Robert F. Kennedy.
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A series focused on current events in China, as well as the interactions between the governments of China and the United States.
Global Affairs
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Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-Sp.13-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:06
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Chicago: “China today; Robert F. Kennedy,” 1967-09-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 23, 2021,
MLA: “China today; Robert F. Kennedy.” 1967-09-07. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 23, 2021. <>.
APA: China today; Robert F. Kennedy. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from