Memorandum from Michael Forrestal to William Bundy on "US Objectives and Stakes in South Vietnam and Southeast Asia," 4 November 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 592

November 4, 1964

MEMORANDUM FOR: Mr. William Bundy-FE

FROM: Mr. Michael V. Forrestal-S/VN

SUBJECT: Comments on Your Input- II U.S. Objectives and Stakes in South Vietnam and Southeast Asia

It seems to me that there is an important flavor lacking in the excellent "hard look" of your weekend paper at our stakes in South Vietnam and Laos. It is the role of China. I think it would be helpful both to our thinking here and also as a basis for any discussion we may someday have with our European friends to weave into your exposé a paragraph or two on the nature and probable development of Chinese policy.

I think it is difficult to conceive of the effects of an American partial withdrawal in Southeast Asia without taking into account the effect this would have on Chinese policy. Putting it another way, (if China did not exist, the effect of our withdrawal from a situation in which the people we were trying to help seemed unable to help themselves might not be politically so pervasive in Asia).

As I see it, Communist China shares the same internal political necessity for ideological expansion today that the Soviet Union did during the time of the Comintern and the period just following the Second World War. Since China's problems with respect to her internal political and economic management are even greater than those of Russia, one would expect that the need to justify the sacrifices she demands of her people will continue for the plannable future. This will impel her, I suggest, to achieve ideological successes abroad, at least where these can be achieved without grave risk to the Mainland itself.

Since any ideological success will stimulate the need for further successes during the period of her internal tension, our objective should be to "contain" China for the longest possible period. We would realize, of course, that eventually China must be expected to exercise some degree of political preaminence on the fringes of Asia. But if we can delay the day when this happens and at the same time strengthen the political and economic structure of the bordering countries, we might indeed succeed in creating, at the very least, Titoist regimes on the periphery of China and at best Western oriented nations, who nevertheless maintain normal relationships with Peking. Somebody put this to me the other day in culinary terms. We should delay China's swallowing up Southeast Asia until (a) she develops better table manners and (b) the food is somewhat more indigestible.

I have been trying some of this reasoning on Lippman, and he appears to be toying with it, although I would not hope for much from that quarter.

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