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Digital Archive International History Declassified

December 20, 1968


This document was made possible with support from the MacArthur Foundation, Leon Levy Foundation

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    The Italian Foreign Ministry reviews changes in Chinese foreign policy and approaches Italy ought to take towards normalization relations with China.
    "Note from the Director General of Political Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 'Chinese Issue'," December 20, 1968, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Historical Archive of the Italian Foreign Ministry. Obtained by Enrico Fardella and translated by Joe CaliĆ².
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Rome, December 20, 1968



Chinese issue

1. The situation in the Far East and Southeast Asia has recently seen some new facts that are listed below and which can lead us to review the policy we have followed in this region especially with regard to Communist China:

a) Washington's and Hanoi's decision to start talks in Paris to put an end to the Vietnam War. In the light of this fact, Chinese leaders now seem to be bracing for an inevitable negotiated solution and hence for the need to have a say;

b) the opening of the Beijing government to Washington for the resumption of direct talks in Warsaw. This opening has been characterized by the Chinese initiative of discussing "coexistence";

c) the end of the Cultural Revolution ordered by Mao Zedong to rein in the excesses that had substantially tarnished China's international prestige and its economic situation;

d) the repercussions in China of the events in Prague and above all the formulation of the new doctrine on the USSR's right to intervene in socialist countries;

e) a more direct involvement of Beijing as a result of said "doctrine" and the increased tensions with the USSR over Albania and the situation in the Mediterranean.

2. All these facts lead us to deduce, among other things, that the foreign policy of the People's Republic of China is evolving towards a less rigorous and more open stance towards the Western world. The attacks made by Chinese communist propaganda have shifted gradually away from the West towards the USSR. It could actually be said that Beijing fears a convergence of Soviet and American interests to the detriment of China, with the two superpowers splitting the world into spheres of influence.

3. In order to take account of the consequences of the facts listed above - and of whether these will be confirmed in coming months - in our policy, especially towards the People's Republic, it should be borne in mind that Italy's stance with regard to Beijing’s recognition and the establishment of diplomatic relations has been characterized in recent years first by the statement made in 1964 by Saragat,  then Minister of Foreign Affairs, in which he refers to Beijing's recognition as not a question of "if" but rather of "when" and second by our repeated initiatives for the creation of a study committee dedicated to the issue of China's UN seat.

Since it has not been possible to tackle the first issue so far due to a series of circumstances (attack on India, complications in Southeast Asia, etc.), efforts have been made with regard to the other issue through our repeated initiatives. These too have met with significant difficulties which, at present, do not appear surmountable.

4. The problem of the normalization of bilateral relations with China has two aspects:

a) recognition of the People's Republic;

b) establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing.

This problem has been addressed by Western countries at different times and with different methods. Some countries, such as Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, immediately recognized Mao's government at the time of the occupation of Nanjing. This decision did not lead to the immediate establishment of diplomatic relations, but to a long and humiliating wait. Only later did the Chinese government decide to accept the exchange of ambassadors (except in Britain’s case, which, having wanted to keep - as it does - its consulate in Taiwan, has never been able to obtain accreditation for an ambassador in Beijing and must limit itself to keeping there its charge d'affaires).

A different procedure was followed by France. Paris, like Italy and the majority of Western governments, withdrew its representatives from China at the time of Mao's victory and continued to recognize the government of Taiwan. Only around the summer of 1962 did General de Gaulle send an exploratory mission led by Edgar Faure to Beijing, defined as "cultural". Under this cover, and through secret negotiations, the conditions by which France would at the same time recognize the Beijing government and establish diplomatic relations with China were set.

Mao Zedong did not demand - as he had always done before - that France break with Formosa, at least according to what was officially announced by the French. The Americans, for their part, claimed to have persuaded Jiang Jieshi [Chiang Kai-shek] not to break with Paris. The break came nonetheless by the initiative of the Chinese Nationalists when the French government ousted Taipei's representative from the Chinese state-owned building in Paris to return it to Beijing's representatives.

5. In view of the foregoing, if the government decided to consider the possibility of normalizing our position with the People's Republic of China, it would seem advisable to follow the method adopted by the French. It requires recognition to occur simultaneously to the establishment of diplomatic relations and that negotiations to this end are carried out in utmost secrecy. Moreover, it seems that Canada is following a similar procedure.

A prominent Italian figure of proven ability and reserve should then be entrusted with the task of going to Beijing on an "unofficial" commercial or cultural mission to sound out, with extreme caution and "in a personal capacity", the opinions of China's senior leaders on the issue of recognition and the establishment of diplomatic relations. Our envoy should not under any circumstance give away the actual intentions of the Italian government   nor should these be publicized in any way.

It should be borne in mind that a similar procedure was successfully attempted when Senator Vittorelli visited China in 1964; this served to catalyze contacts that had already been under way for several months in Cairo with the embassy of the People's Republic of China for the opening in Rome and Beijing of non-governmental offices.

While establishing contacts in Beijing, the Chinese leaders should be encouraged to express support for the recognition of China by Italy. The Italian side should solely limit itself to ensuring that China's desire be notified to and recommended with the government in Rome, provided our recognition is matched by the establishment of diplomatic relations.

This mission, which should have a very small number of delegates, should possibly be accompanied by an official of this Ministry (who may also be taken from the ICE mission to Beijing), with apparent cultural and commercial assignments.

Once we are sure of the intentions of the Chinese authorities, we can look to start secret diplomatic negotiations at one of the Chinese missions in Europe. The embassy of the People's Republic of China in Bern, which seems to be responsible for following Italian issues, could be considered the most appropriate venue for contacts. At this stage the Chinese should be informed that we are predisposed to proceeding with the "desired" recognition of their government, but without accepting different or more burdensome conditions than those apparently accepted by the French.

It is likely that the Chinese embassy will, at first, simply report to its government, which - if not interested in recognition according to the conditions that we propose - may not respond at all, or, according to a practice often adopted by Chinese, respond indirectly through Beijing's press in a particularly significant article.

In this case, we would have to review the entire issue and find new ways to address this question.

If the Chinese - as cannot be discounted, if the hypothesis of their current keen interest in re-establishing and strengthening international ties is correct – prove to be receptive to our proposals, negotiations should continue until acceptance by the Chinese of a manner of proceeding that is satisfactory to us.

If and when diplomatic contacts receive an encouraging initial response, it is time to declare our intentions to the Americans by presenting the positive aspects of a general relaxing of policy, and the purpose of preparing for a rapprochement between Washington and Beijing.

At the same time, secret U.S. support of the government of Taiwan could be called for to avoid negative reactions by the latter. A similar effort was already made - as already mentioned - by Washington with Taipei to urge it not to break relations with France.

In a following phase, the possibility of sending a mission to Taiwan should also be considered, with a view to informing the government of our intentions, as done by France in 1963 when it sent General Pletchkoff, a personal friend of Jiang and De Gaulle, to Taipei - after Faure's trip to Beijing.

The development of contacts between Canada and Communist China that seem to have been underway for some time - with the same purpose of achieving recognition of mainland China and establishing diplomatic relations - may also provide useful information regarding the procedure to be followed after initial discussions in Beijing (which could be scheduled shortly after but anyhow once the new U.S. administration takes office).

It should be noted that negotiations with the Chinese are particularly difficult; it is expected that Beijing will insist on the following as conditions of resuming diplomatic relations with us: that we withdraw recognition of Taiwan; that we liquidate our previous interests in China; that we promise our support at the United Nations; that we compensate for alleged damage caused by us to Chinese ships during their stay in Italy; and that we make a statement declaring that we do not believe that China is responsible for the attack in Korea.

On our part, we should avoid that the resumption of relations with Beijing necessarily entail the denial of Taiwan (for obvious reasons of principle, as well as in relation to our policy of universality at the United Nations) and we should try to avoid any disavowal of our previous actions or stances, particularly at the United Nations.

We should also try to safeguard our interests in China, opening the way for the development of more favorable economic relations.

Finally, we must not forget that the purpose of the negotiation should be to normalize the legal situation, while avoiding undermining our relations with the United States and substantially altering our relations with the major countries of the Far East (e.g., Japan).

The progression of our action must, therefore, take into due account this aspect of the problem.

Negotiations have a chance to succeed, at least without obligation to accept excessively burdensome conditions, only if one keeps in mind the absolute necessity to conduct all negotiations in the greatest secrecy. The press should not report on the trip to Beijing to be made by the Italian personality chosen, providing merely a brief account of this only if and when information is given by a Chinese source, making it difficult to avoid this issue.



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