Moscow
[Received 12:30 p. m.]

For Ambassador Harriman. General Hurley’s report of his conversation with Stalin was forwarded to the Department as my 1212, April 17, 7 p. m. The message was marked secret for the Secretary, but as the interview took place in Moscow in your presence I think you should see it.

In view of your familiarity with the matter and the opportunity that you now have for stating your own views to the Department, I am of course making no comment on my own to the Department in regard to Ambassador Hurley’s telegram nor did I make any to him since I was not sure what your views were. I do want to let you know, however, that it caused me some concern to see this telegram go forward. I refer specifically to the statements attributed to Stalin to the effect (a) that he agreed unqualifiedly to our policy in China as outlined to him by Ambassador Hurley, (b) that the Soviet Government would support this policy, and (c) that we would have his complete support, in particular, for immediate action looking toward the unification of the armed forces of China with full recognition of the National Government under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.

I do not question that Stalin was correctly cited here nor do I question the good faith–from his standpoint–of his remarks.

In Ambassador Hurley’s account of what he said to Stalin there was of course nothing to which Stalin could not honestly subscribe, it being understood that words mean different things to the Russians than they do to us. Stalin is of course prepared to affirm the principle of a unification of the armed forces of China. He knows that such unification is practically feasible only on terms acceptable to the Chinese Communists. The Ambassador further referred to our desire for a free, united and democratic China. These words would also be quite acceptable to Stalin. A free China means to him a China in which there is a minimum of foreign influence other than Russian. In official Soviet terminology the Warsaw Provisional Government and even Soviet Estonia are “free”. Russia is entirely ready to support the principle of a “united” China, knowing that this could be achieved in reality only if the demands of the Chinese Communists, which would ultimately amount to domination of the government, could be realized. As far as a “democratic” government is concerned, we know from experience what the term “democratic” means in Moscow.

Stalin’s courteous reference to Chiang is gratifying, but in no sense binding for any practical purpose.

Actually, I am persuaded that in the months and years to come, Soviet policy toward China will remain what it has been in the recent past: a fluid, resilient policy, aimed at the achievement of maximum power with minimum responsibility on portions of the Asiatic main-land lying beyond the Soviet border. This will involve the exertion of pressure in various areas in direct proportion to their proximity to the Soviet border and their strategic importance. Within the frame-work of this policy, I am sure that Moscow will aim specifically at:

  1. Reacquiring in substance if not in form all territorial and diplomatic assets formerly possessed by Czarist Russia on the Asiatic mainland.
  2. Acquiring sufficient control in all areas of North China now dominated by the Japanese to prevent other foreign powers from repeating the Japanese incursion. To the Russian mind this means maximum possible exclusion of penetration in that area by outside powers, including Britain and America.
  3. Domination of Chinese provinces adjacent to the Russian border in central Asia. The strategic necessity of protecting in depth the industrial core of the Soviet Union dictates such action.

Obviously, the achievement of these objectives would be simpler if Russia had the cooperation of a unified Chinese Government “friendly” to the Soviet Union. As far as can be observed, Russia has no desire for a conspicuous demonstration of her power in China which would engage Russian prestige or commit the Soviet Union to any rigid program. She prefers, if feasible, to work through others and to veil the means by which her real power is exerted. For this reason I have no doubt that she would prefer to work through an inwardly strong and nominally independent national Chinese Government sufficiently reliable and subservient to constitute an effective channel of influence. If this cannot be achieved, she is quite prepared to work, as at present in Sinkiang, through local forces which will not hesitate, where necessary, to challenge central authority.

The issues involved in our estimate of this situation are of such enormity, in view of the sacrifices we are now making in the Pacific, that I think it is our obligation to study with clinical objectivity the real character and the ultimate implications for ourselves of these Russian views and aims concerning the Far East. It would be tragic if our natural anxiety for Russian support at this stage, coupled with Stalin’s cautious affability and his use of words which mean all things to all people, were to lead us into an undue reliance on Russian aid or even Russian acquiescence in the achievement of our long term objectives in China. This is a question of Russian-American, as well as Chinese-American relations; and I would not feel comfortable if I thought that the failure of this Mission to clarify completely the wording of Ambassador Hurley’s telegram might have contributed in any way to a misunderstanding of the situation in high quarters at home.

Kennan