30 Savingram from Department of External Affairs to Posts1

Canberra, 8 April 1958


Disarmament—Position of China

During the last two years the question of the inclusion of China in a general disarmament agreement has been causing us some concern. We feel that it does not always receive due attention from other governments. This Savingram gives a brief review of the question and may be used for general guidance in working level discussions with other governments.

  1. The problem is closely connected with the difficult question of the representation of China in the United Nations.2 China is a permanent member of the Disarmament Commission by virtue of its permanent membership of the Security Council. However the Government of the Republic of China which represents China in the United Nations, is not a major military power, while the Central People's Government, one of the largest military powers, is not a party to the disarmament discussions. This situation creates the problem for the Western powers of how to negotiate a disarmament agreement which will take proper account of China's strategic position without prejudicing their position on the question of representation. Our concern is that the political difficulties inherent in the situation are leading to a serious neglect of the strategic importance of China.

[matter omitted]

  1. The treatment of China in the United States paper3 did not occasion much discussion in the Sub-Committee, the Soviet representative while arguing that China must be a party to any disarmament agreement, did not make this point a major criticism of the United States paper. When the Sub-Committee's report was discussed at the July, 1956, meeting of the Disarmament Commission and when the Commission's report was discussed at the Eleventh Session of the General Assembly, Australia was almost alone in stressing the strategic importance of China and Asia and in emphasising the importance of including China in a disarmament agreement at an early stage.4

    1957 Discussions

  2. The question of China received little attention during the March-August session of the Sub-Committee. China was not mentioned in the 'informal memorandum' which Mr. Harold Stassen, the United States representative gave to the Soviet representative on the 30th May.5 During the consultations among the Western powers which followed Mr. Stassen's unwise initiative, the United Kingdom informed us (C.R.O. Circular Telegram No. 558 of 13th June)6 that it appears that the Americans were thinking of excluding China from any initial partial disarmament agreement, on the assumption that United States and U.S.S.R. reductions in force levels would be to 2.5 million but not lower. The reasons for the United States thinking were-
    1. disarmament should start with the nuclear powers plus those nearest to becoming nuclear powers (i.e. France and Canada) plus any minor powers whose adherence was necessary for effective inspection in any zones for agreed aerial and/or ground control,
    2. it should be possible to make progress more quickly with fewer participants in the talks,
    3. the amount of conventional disarmament visualised was very small,
    4. there would be no reduction in the West's nuclear deterrent, and
    5. the United States was not in a position to negotiate with the People's Republic of China for the present time. However the United States intended that China should be brought into the agreement as soon as possible.
  3. In cabled comments to the United Kingdom Government we said that while it would be preferable from our point of view for China to be included from the outset in any disarmament agreement, its exclusion from an initial partial agreement as contemplated could be accepted, if this were considered necessary in order to advance negotiations, provided that the nuclear deterrent were maintained, and China were brought within the scope of the disarmament agreement at the earliest possible date.7

    Prime Ministers' Conference, June, 1957

  4. During the discussion of disarmament at the Prime Ministers' Conference, the Australian Prime Minister said that any agreement about conventional weapons which excluded China and ignored her vast area and her expansionist ambitions would be seriously deficient. Despite the obvious difficulties, the United States should be able to devise some means of discussing the problem with Communist China. Good faith on the part of China in disarmament discussions would improve her standing in the community of nations and might help to reduce to some extent the opposition of the United States to her admission to the United Nations.

    [matter omitted]

    United States Position

  1. About two months after the tabling of the August proposals the United States State Department gave to the Australian Embassy a copy of a section of the United States brief for the A.N.Z.U.S. Council meeting, dealing with the position of China in a disarmament agreement. (Telegram number 1315 dated the 28th October from the Australian Embassy, Washington.)8
  2. This paper stated that it was believed that the United States could reach a first-stage disarmament agreement without the Communist Chinese regime being a contractual party to it. The agreement would provide controls over nuclear weapons production and testing, inspection zones against surprise attack, the beginning of controls over outer space missiles and a beginning in reductions of conventional armaments and force levels. It was of paramount importance to begin some kind of control over nuclear weapons production and to implement an agreed form or aerial and ground inspection zones. Peiping would not need to be a party to such an agreement since it is not a nuclear power. Moreover, a disarmament system could be devised which would lay down certain terms and presuppositions as regards countries which are not parties. Some of these might relate to Communist China without its being a party to the agreement, in this way it would be possible to preclude the Soviet Union's supplying nuclear weapons to Communist China.
  3. The agreement could not be made contingent on every country's being a party to it, and Communist China would probably be only one of those which would not be included. There was always a risk that one of these countries might engage in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. However it was hoped that the establishment of an inspection system for a monitoring of nuclear test explosions in the Soviet Union would be sufficient to detect any clandestine explosions in China.
  4. The paper concluded by saying that 'So far as conventional armaments and force levels are concerned, any overall plan to be effective, would ultimately have to cover the Chinese Communists in some manner. Until, however, a beginning has been made and we have substantial evidence of Communist intentions to reduce such armaments, there will be no need to decide either on the means by which the Chinese Communists might be included or on the timing.'
  5. We have two major criticisms to make of this paper:
    1. The United States seems prepared to postpone serious consideration of the question of China for an indefinite time, and
    2. we find it hard to accept the underlying assumption that China would be prepared to accept conditions affecting its security which were stipulated in an agreement to which it was not a full party.

[matter omitted]

Australian Attitude

  1. When we were consulted on this question by the United Kingdom Government in June of last year, (Paragraph 10 above) we said that we could accept the exclusion of China from an initial partial disarmament agreement, provided that China were brought within the scope of the agreement at the earliest possible date.
  2. We are concerned that the United States seems to be postponing consideration of the position of China until some future time and is not taking it into account sufficiently during its current planning. We think it important that the question should be considered now, particularly as the United Kingdom and the United States are examining the possibility of changing their formal position. There seems to be a strong possibility that if the United States and the United Kingdom decide to concentrate on securing limited agreements on particular aspects of disarmament (e.g. suspension of nuclear tests) the question of China will be pushed even further into the background.
  3. Please ascertain the latest thinking of the United States and the United Kingdom on this question.

[NAA: A1838, 3107/33/4 part 1]