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November 27, 1968


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    An Italian Foreign Ministry report on future policies leading to Italy's recognition of the People's Republic of China and Beijing's admission to the United Nations.
    "Italian Policy towards the People’s Republic of China," November 27, 1968, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Historical Archive of the Italian Foreign Ministry. Obtained by Enrico Fardella and translated by Joe Caliò.
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS   Rome, November 27, 1968 D.G.P.A. - Off. XI


The vote on the resolution sponsored by Italy to set up a Study Committee to examine the issue of the Chinese seat at the United Nations had a decidedly negative outcome this year, even less favorable than the outcome of the two previous General Assembly meetings, i.e., since our proposal was launched.

It has become clear that our initiative needs to be abandoned in the future, since, with the gradual radicalization of international positions on the issue, it can only lead to increasingly ineffective results and undermine the seriousness of our effort without changing Italy's position in its bilateral relations with Beijing or that of China towards the United Nations.

It seems therefore appropriate to consider the most convenient policy for the future with regard to both the problem regarding the recognition of the People's Republic of China and that concerning the stance to be taken on the issue of the admission of Beijing's representatives to the United Nations.

These two problems, though not dependent on one another, must nevertheless be examined in tandem, in light of their inevitable connection.A - The problem regarding the recognition of the PRC1 - Since October 1, 1949, when the government of the PRC was formed in Beijing, the Italian Government, without any bias whatsoever, had regularly examined the issue of its recognition, but the attitude of the Chinese government - which had even invited all the powers represented in China to recognize it – was neither very receptive nor encouraging in actual practice and created a series of obstacles and hesitations that delayed our decision. Nonetheless, recognition seemed imminent at the beginning of 1950 until the outbreak of war in Korea and Chinese intervention led to the decision to put the initiative aside.

Then, for a number of years, the Italian government adopted the policy of linking the granting of recognition to the resolution of the issue of admission of PRC representatives to the United Nations.

It did not seem appropriate to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese government for several reasons.

The United Nations had always refused to recognize the delegates of the Beijing government (declared an "aggressor" during the Korean War) as the legitimate representatives of China, and hence to allow them to occupy the seat. The policy of Communist China towards India and Southeast Asia, as well as its activities in the international arena in general, did not seem to indicate, moreover, that it intended to resort to peaceful means to solve international disputes, thus violating one of the basic tenets of the Charter of the United Nations.

Beijing's refusal to adhere to the Moscow agreement on the partial suspension of nuclear tests was an additional obstacle and underscored the continued aggressive stance of the Chinese.

Ultimately, the Italian government took the view that, until China's seat at the United Nations was occupied by the representatives of the Taipei government, with which Italy has diplomatic relations, it would be impossible to proceed with a recognition that could be interpreted as a means of exerting pressure on decisions for which the majority of UN Member States did not deem the time had come yet.

On the other hand, the Beijing government, for its part, seemed against establishing diplomatic relations with those countries, including Italy, which had relations with Taipei and were not willing to break them.

2 - However, once the political landscape of the composition of our Parliament and Government changed, our policy was reviewed, considering "in principle" that any recognition would have to come before and not follow admission to the UN in order to have any value for Beijing.

At the beginning of 1964 something new occurred: the French government decided to grant Beijing recognition regardless of UN decisions and without prior consultation with the Allies.

Italy's new stance was set out on February 14, 1964 by President Saragat who, speaking as Minister of Foreign Affairs before the Senate, after repeating that the Italian government did not disregard the historical, political, administrative and de facto situation of Greater East Asia, made it clear that it was not a matter of knowing "if" our Government intended to come to an agreement with Beijing on the recognition of the legitimacy of the communist regime and its right to represent China, but rather "when", in the interests of Italy and of the free Western world, it was most appropriate to grant such recognition. It was necessary to act quickly, constructively and not alone.

In a speech to the Lower House of Parliament in December 1964, President Saragat confirmed that "the Italian government's position on the recognition of the PRC is an open position," but adding that, in his opinion, the events up to that moment were not in favor of a more rapid progression of the initiative.

A similar stance was taken on November 19, 1965 in the Senate when President Moro confirmed that "the recognition of the Beijing government is not something we deem impossible. But then again, in the interest of peace, it is necessary for it to come at the right moment." This same concept was expressed repeatedly in both the Upper and Lower Chambers of Parliament by Foreign Minister Fanfani.

This state of affairs lasted for the whole of 1965, 1966, 1967 and part of 1968. In fact, both the worsening of the situation in Vietnam and the American escalation on the one hand, and the  internal turmoil in China caused by the "Cultural Revolution" on the other, made the issue less topical and its solution increasingly complicated.

3 - However, in 1968, two events of the utmost importance occurred with regard to the problem at hand.

The Cultural Revolution in China has gradually lost impetus and there are unmistakable signs of a softening of the Chinese stance in the international arena.

The U.S. decision to suspend bombings of North Vietnam and establish contacts between the Americans and North Vietnamese in Paris have led to what seems to be a crucial turning point in the Vietnamese situation. There are promising signs that the talks in Paris, which also see the participation of representatives of the government in Saigon and the National Liberation Front, will soon reach a decisive stage. Although the path is still long and difficult, especially when it comes to negotiating the substantive political issues, we can legitimately hope that the de-escalation of military operations is now on the right track and that the Vietnam question will be discussed less and less on the battlefield and increasingly at the negotiating table.

The Chinese attitude towards the latest developments in the Vietnam crisis is not very clear: although basically unsatisfied, Beijing does not seem to want to raise insurmountable obstacles, probably because it cannot, given that Moscow's influence on Hanoi is now stronger than its own.

So we should now ask ourselves whether the time has come to fundamentally re-examine the issue of our recognition of the PRC and whether we should start considering that the "when", though not immediate, might be approaching.

4 - If, as expected, the government wishes to confirm its stance that the recognition of the PRC should come before the resolution of the issue regarding the presence of Beijing's representatives at the UN, then it is necessary to carefully assess the time and manner in which to address the issue without falling prey to the errors and misunderstandings which have affected other countries in the past.

The optimal solution would see recognition of the government in Beijing and the establishment of normal diplomatic relations, without being forced to break off relations with Taiwan, or at least leaving a similarly serious decision to the government in Taipei.

The previous cases involving Great Britain and France may be useful in clarifying what chance we have of achieving this result:

a) It seems unrealistic to expect the same treatment as Great Britain, which, as we all know, is the only country that has diplomatic relations with Beijing as well as a consulate in Taiwan. The importance of Hong Kong for the two Chinas is the reason for the preferential treatment that the two governments have granted Great Britain, but Beijing has decided not to accept a British ambassador in the capital of the PRC as a form of retaliation for the favor. The mission is still run by a charge d'affaires who was supposed to represent merely the first step towards establishing diplomatic relations.*

With regard to France's recognition of the Beijing Government, we were officially told at the time by French sources that the establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing did not imply other commitments with China; that France did not intend to break off its diplomatic relations with Taiwan by its own initiative; that while Beijing may have taken the opportunity to reaffirm that it was the sole legitimate representative of China, France, for its part, would remain silent on this issue.

Upon France’s recognition of Beijing, the government of Taipei did not immediately break off diplomatic relations with France. France, for its part, did not take any initiative in this direction, confirming that the Beijing government did not establish this as a condition for recognition. The rift between Taipei and Paris came later on when Beijing demanded and obtained the return of a state-owned property. This property had belonged to China since before the formation of the Taiwan government and had been occupied by Taipei’s representatives until then – Beijing subsequently demanded that Taiwan's representatives be expelled from it.

Only then did Taiwan decide to break off relations and France was forced to recall its diplomatic representatives from Taiwan, although there had been no ambassador there for several months.

In Italy's case, please note that we have no diplomatic or consular agencies in Taiwan and that the agencies of the Taipei government in Italy (embassy in Rome and consulate in Milan) are not located in state-owned property to which Beijing could lay claim.

Therefore, if we obtained the same conditions as France, the practical issues that led Formosa to break off diplomatic relations would not be present, and we could limit ourselves to a completely passive attitude, but it should be noted that there is a strong interest on the part of the Taipei government to retain an agency in Rome, as this represents one of the few left in the West.

With regard to Beijing, it does not seem impossible for it to choose the solution by which it disregards the existence of diplomatic relations between Italy and Taiwan and treats us in the same way it does France considering that it now has greater interest in obtaining recognition by Western countries than in January 1964 when its domestic and foreign policy seemed more solid.5 - With regard to the potential repercussions resulting from our possible action in the international arena, we must consider especially those that might occur in the United States of America. Within the Atlantic Alliance there are many countries that have diplomatic relations with Beijing, while some others, such as Canada and Belgium, have repeatedly examined the possibility of establishing relations.

As for the United States, it should first be noted that in America today there are many lines of thought geared towards a total review of relations with the PRC and that the desirable, and now no longer unlikely, conclusion of the Vietnam affair has significantly changed the perspective of the problem.

It is interesting to observe that at the time of Beijing's recognition by Paris, we were told by the Americans that Washington criticized above all the "timing" chosen by France for the step it was about to take. In addition, the United States "has no bias against the recognition of mainland China and agrees that, in a more or less distant future, this will become inevitable." Washington did not fail to remind the French that many American soldiers were still falling in South Vietnam under the fire of Chinese arms, and ultimately, the United States declared that they intended to persuade Jiang Jieshi [Chiang Kai-shek] not to break off relations with France by his own initiative. The situation today seems quite different from that seen in January 1964: "timing" does not seem to be critical; military operations in Vietnam are subsiding. There is no reason why the United States should not want to adopt a much more flexible stance in the current state of affairs.

6 - Examining Asian policy from a broader perspective, it must be acknowledged that many anti-communist Asian countries fear a total U.S. disengagement from Southeast Asia, due to the threat of a renewed hegemonic thrust by China.

A step towards the reintegration of the Chinese government in the international community, as the establishment of diplomatic relations with a Western country as important as Italy would represent, may have a significance that goes beyond the value of the fact in itself, and serve to provide reassurance on the shift of China's policy towards the acceptance of democratic methods at least with regard to international relations. It would also mean that Beijing is willing to abandon the self-imposed isolation in which it currently seems to be locked, and which certainly does not help the cause of détente and world peace.

7 - Moscow’s reaction – and that of the other Communist countries - to such steps remains to be seen. It is clear that, at least in appearance, the Communist world in general and Moscow in particular can only be in favor of recognition of the PRC by Italy.

It is true that the Soviet Union might have some reservations in the convenience of a strengthening of the international position of Beijing; there is no doubt that the Sino-Soviet conflict is becoming increasingly worse. Moscow, however, could ultimately see Beijing's possible acceptance of establishing diplomatic relations with Italy according to the above conditions as a desire on the part of the  PRC to reach a détente, with a view to clarifying relations between the two poles of world Communism. 8 - In conclusion, a possible recognition of the PRC offers positive aspects that seem to offset  potential negative effects.

The following considerations should, however, be kept in mind:

a) a clear pre-negotiation process would be necessary, to agree on a few basic points with a view to avoiding surprises. The establishment of "full" diplomatic relations should not be subject to a break in relations between Italy and Taiwan, and this, however, should not happen by Italian initiative;

b) if Taiwan does not deem similar steps necessary, Italy would be the first country in the world to have regular relations with both Beijing and Taipei. This would give credit to and consolidate "de facto" a theory hitherto always rejected by both sides, namely that there need not be "two Chinas", but rather - as already proposed in the international arena - "one China and one Taiwan." This solution seems, moreover, to be the only one that can lead us out of the current deadlock;

c) in the field of domestic policy, recognition of the PRC would provide a favorable response to the pressing demands of Italian public opinion and eliminate one of the many sources of disagreement used by the opposition to create difficulties for the Government;

d) it is worth taking the calculated risk of a decision by Taiwan to break off relations, without ignoring the fact that this could lead to negative repercussions in the field of commercial relations between Italy and Taiwan;

e) it would be appropriate to immediately inform the Allied governments, and especially the United States, of our intentions, presenting our effort as a contribution to international detente aimed at indirectly promoting future progress in negotiations on the Vietnam crisis;

f) we should not deceive ourselves with regard to our chances of influencing PRC policy in a decisive manner, even though our action would still be useful as a contribution to overcoming Beijing's current isolation in the international arena;

8) we must also avoid the belief that the aforementioned recognition could lead to substantial favorable changes in commercial relations between Italy and the PRC. Experience has taught us that China keeps the political and economic aspects of its relations with foreign countries well separated. In fact, the volume of trade is often much larger with countries that have not recognized the Beijing government compared with others with which there are regular diplomatic relations.

B - Issue of the admission of Beijing's representatives to the United Nations

1 - It is clear that if the Italian government confirms its willingness to set a priority between the issue of recognition and the admission of Beijing's representatives to the United Nations, the latter will take on a consequential aspect and the approach adopted so far will have to be changed completely. Our position when voting on UN resolutions concerning the Chinese seat will also depend on the effect that our recognition of the PRC has on the government of Taiwan. 2 - If Taipei were to decide to break off diplomatic relations with us, it is obvious that, in the future, we could maintain a position similar to that of the British, that is, voting in favor of the admission of Beijing's representatives, while insisting on the "importance" of the issue itself when voting in favor.3 - If Formosa were to decide to accept our recognition of Beijing without breaking off relations with us, our voting position would have to be better set out.

In such a case, we should vote in favor of any resolution that allows the presence of the Beijing's representatives in the United Nations without affecting the permanence of Taiwan within the organization. In the case of resolutions which consider the exclusion of Taipei's representatives (the Albanian proposal, for example), we should abstain from voting, as a resolution of this kind would be acceptable to us only with regard to the admission of Beijing's representatives to the UN, and not as far as the expulsion of Taiwan is concerned.

We should, however, continue to vote in favor of the "importance" of the issue as a matter of principle.


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