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August 30, 1960

Transcript of Conversation between Zhou Enlai and Edgar Snow

This document was made possible with support from Chun & Jane Chiu Family Foundation



(August 30, 1960)


Premier Zhou Enlai (hereafter shortened to Zhou): At the Swiss Embassy in China’s National Day reception I offered a proposal, which was not a new proposal, but one that the Chinese government has been steadily making for the past several years.  Just this April, I also made the same proposal in my report to the National People’s Congress.  However, repeating this proposal in August has a new significance.  Western media right now is spreading rumors saying China has already abandoned its peaceful coexistence policy.  Because of this, reiterating this idea now will likely attract more attention from the people in Asia and the [rest of the] world, exposing the lies and slanders of imperialism.  As a person who has been following the development of political affairs in this country, you cannot have failed to notice that this year we have already signed peace and friendship treaties with three Asian countries.  In January we signed a friendship and mutual non-aggression treaty with Burma.  In April, during my visit to Nepal, we signed a treaty of peace and friendship with Nepal.  In October, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Chen Yi visited Afghanistan, where he signed a treaty of friendship and mutual non-aggression with Afghanistan.  This is three already, not counting the friendship treaty with Yemen which we previously signed, and the joint communiques which we have issued with India, Nepal, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

These three treaties which we signed this year were all based on our long-standing position, with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence as their foundation.  As you know, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence are mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.  To sign treaties throughout such a large area as the Asia-Pacific coastal region will require us to strive for an even longer period.  This is not as simple as issues between two individual countries, particularly because it will involve Sino-American bilateral relations.  However, what makes us happy is that after we reiterated our proposal, we received widespread support, especially support from many Asian countries.  The World Conference on Prohibition of Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and for Comprehensive Disarmament held in Tokyo was also very supportive of this proposal.  This shows there is new significance in reintroducing this proposal now.  

(After the train reached the Huairou Station, the Premier and Snow got out of the train to inspect the reservoir; after getting back on the train they resumed their conversation.)


Zhou:  Proposing that every country in the Asia Pacific region conclude a treaty of peace and mutual non-aggression involves U.S.-China bilateral issues, and it also involves issues among China, the Soviet Union, the U.S., and Japan.  One cannot imagine that the U.S. and China could sign a peace treaty in the absence of diplomatic relations, nor assume that the two countries could establish diplomatic relations without resolving the dispute between the U.S. and China over the Taiwan region.  These are two important facts.  So, that’s why I say this proposal can only be realized through a long period of endeavor.  Since it will require long-term endeavor, why do we then keep bringing up this proposal?  It shows that the Chinese people and government wish to resolve the bilateral disputes between the U.S. and China through peaceful consultation, and oppose the U.S.’s policy of aggression, and oppose the use of force or the threat of force to resolve the existing issues between the two countries.

You may not agree that the United States has adopted a policy of aggression towards China, but I want to first of all prove this point.  After China’s liberation, the U.S. government had at one time declared that it would not interfere in China’s internal affairs; this is what Acheson said in the “White Paper,” which was repeated by Truman.  But the Taiwan problem is China’s internal affair.  It is true that Taiwan was returned to the Chinese government of that time after the Japanese surrender in 1945, and taken over by General Chen Yi, then governor of Taiwan province. This general was later killed by Chiang Kai-shek [Jiang Jieshi].  In June 1950, when the Korean War began, Truman changed his policy, adopting an aggressive policy towards China.  At the same time that it sent troops to Korea, the U.S. sent the 7th Fleet to the Taiwan Straits, and implemented a policy of military control over Taiwan.  From that time onwards, the U.S. began new aggression against China, and the Chinese government had no choice but to issue a statement condemning U.S. aggression against Taiwan and deployment of troops in the Taiwan Straits.  Not long after that, that we again warned the U.S. government that, if its troops crossed the 38th Parallel and approached the Yalu River, China could no longer ignore it.  This warning was relayed to the United States through the Indian Ambassador in China.  The U.S. government paid no heed to this warning, so the Chinese people had no choice but to take action to resist American aggression and aid Korea.  However, this action was taken four months after the United States had deployed troops in the Taiwan Straits and instituted military control of Taiwan; and only after the U.S. military had crossed the 38th Parallel and approached the Yalu River.  During these four months, Truman issued many statements justifying this aggressive behavior.  However, his aggression against Taiwan and deploying forces in the Taiwan Straits is indefensible, and he paid no heed to the warning which we had passed to him through the Indian Ambassador.

After two and half years of negotiations, the Korean War finally ended.  In 1958, the Chinese People’s Volunteers had all been withdrawn from Korea, but the U.S. military, even to this day, has not withdrawn and remains in Korea, and the U.S. still maintains military control of air, sea and land in Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits.  Isn’t this the best evidence that the U.S. continues to adopt an aggressive policy towards China?  Not to mention that the U.S. has established numerous military bases throughout Asia, and concluded so many military alliance  treaties of an aggressive nature, with China as their principal target?  China has not a single soldier overseas.  All the treaties we have signed with Asian countries are peace and friendship treaties.

Since the U.S. has taken these aggressive actions against China, shouldn’t we also use military means to resolve this Sino-American contention?  Not at all.  In 1955 during the Bandung Conference I said the Chinese people are friendly towards the American people, and the Chinese government wishes to sit down with the U.S. government to negotiate the existing disputes between the two countries, even though the two countries have yet to recognize each other or establish diplomatic relations.  Through British mediation, our proposal led to U.S.-China Ambassadorial level talks which began on August 1, 1955 in Geneva.

In order to create a good atmosphere, prior to the talks, through the mediation of India’s Krishna Menon, who visited Beijing with Hama Sheerde, we released eleven so-called American POWs.  Why do I say “so-called POWs”?  Because they were not captured on the battlefield in Korea.  The POWs captured on the battlefield in Korea, other than a few who wanted to remain, were all repatriated after the armistice.  Even among the one who asked to remain, some also returned after a while. These eleven so-called POWs were pilots of American airplanes that violated Chinese airspace and captured after their planes were shot down.  The U.S. and China had both declared that the Korean War should be restricted to Korea, and not extend to China.  These invading aircraft were shot down over China, so we did not acknowledge them as POWs.  Nevertheless, we released them anyway, in order to create a favorable climate for the Ambassadorial-level talks in Geneva.


Edgar Snow (Hereafter shortened to Snow):  Since then, have you released any more prisoners?


Zhou:  The so-called POW issue is all finished.  The other American criminals jailed in China belong to a different category.  There are two types of these American criminals.   One type are American citizens who have been arrested because they engaged in sabotage, espionage or have broken Chinese law in some other way.  The other type is more special, that includes American agents who parachuted into China, like Jack Downey and Dick Fecteau.  If you are interested, I can direct you to someone who can tell you how they communicated with Chinese spies who had already been airdropped, how they were arrested, and even how their plane was shot down.  This was a fascinating story.


Snow:  I’d like to know.


Zhou:  I’ll have my staff contact you.

Hama Sheerde and Menon were also afraid to mention these two agents, because they had nothing to do with the Korean War, they were just plain spies.


Snow:  Were Downey and Fecteau captured during the Korean War?


Zhou:  It was during the Korean War, but they were not sent by the military.  Allen Dulles probably knows this matter, he could give you the details, but maybe he wouldn’t want to tell you in as much detail as we will.

From August 1955 to now, U.S.-China talks have already lasted five years; the next session will be the 100th.


Snow:  The Centennial.


Zhou:  The hundredth [session].  A hundred years is too long.  Do you want to take that long to resolve U.S.-China relations?

Since the start of the talks, we have always proposed resolving the disputes between China and the U.S., including the dispute between the two countries over the Taiwan region, through peaceful negotiation and not by resorting to force or the threat of force.  The U.S. has rejected this proposal.  People in general cannot understand why Dulles cannot accept this proposal.  Do you recall this proposal?  Do you understand why Dulles has rejected it?


Snow:  I don’t recall.


Zhou:  This was the most important proposal, which the U.S. blocked and which we later publicized.  Why did Dulles reject it?  Because he knew that such an agreement would mean that the next step would be to discuss the question of how and when to withdraw U.S. military forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits.  


Snow:  I remember now, the U.S. never publicized this proposal, which never appeared in the newspapers, but later I heard of it, read it in the journal “Contemporary History,” and later also read it in “People’s Daily.”  I quoted a few lines from the proposal in talks I gave on issues about China.


Zhou:  Later, we made a new proposal in the Ambassadorial-level talks in Warsaw, which maintained the principles of the original proposal, but made it more specific.  Of course, the U.S. was even less in agreement since the U.S. does not want to withdraw from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits.  Because of this, these talks have dragged on for such a long time.

We believe that the dispute between China and the U.S. over the Taiwan region is an international question, but the military actions between the central government of New China and the Chiang Kai-shek clique on Taiwan is a domestic issue.  The U.S. says that the two cannot be separated, we say they can, and must, be separated. Since the U.S. and China are able to hold Ambassadorial-level talks in Geneva and Warsaw, the Chinese central government could also hold talks at the same time with the Chiang Kai-shek clique.  One is an international problem, one is a domestic problem, the two can proceed in parallel and resolved separately.

U.S.-China negotiations must first reach agreement on principles and only then can the specific problems be solved.  Agreement on principles must include two points: first, all disputes between the U.S. and China, including the dispute between the two countries regarding the Taiwan region, must be resolved through peaceful consultation, not resorting to force or the threat of force.  Second, the U.S. must agree to withdraw its military forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits.  As for when to withdraw and how to withdraw, these specific steps would be discussed in the next stage of negotiations.  If only the U.S. government doesn’t adopt an aggressive policy towards China and doesn’t threaten it with military force, it will inevitably reach this logical conclusion.  


Snow:  Withdrawing military forces – does this include withdrawing from coastal islands?


Zhou:  The U.S. government simply doesn’t acknowledge that it has troops on the coastal islands.

Whether or not the U.S armed forces withdraw from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits is the key to the dispute between the U.S. and China.  The U.S. policies and actions towards China are for the purpose of creating “two Chinas,” this goes for both Republicans and Democrats.  [Chester] Bowles in the April 1960 “Foreign Affairs” published an article titled “The ‘China Problem’ Reconsidered”.  After the article was published, it not only drew opposition from the Chinese people on the mainland, it also drew opposition from the Chinese on Taiwan.  A Taiwan-influenced Hong Kong newspaper said, regarding the “two Chinas” problem, the Republican Party has adopted a passive, wait-and-see attitude, while the Democratic Party has adopted a proactive attitude.  There is definitely some sense to that.  Bowles himself has said, his proposal would probably be opposed not only by mainland China, by the Nationalist Party on Taiwan, and furthermore would also be opposed by the Chinese people on Taiwan.  So you can see that there is no future in this approach, all it does is tie up the solution to the problem of U.S.-China relations in a dead knot.   


Snow:  Maybe one could call it a trial balloon, which would be more fitting than a dead knot.


Zhou:  We can put it this way, if it was only a trial, which can be changed if it doesn’t work, then you may call it a trial balloon; but if the trial doesn’t work, but you still stick with it, then it’s a dead knot.

If the U.S. persists in a policy of aggression against China, and does nothing to resolve the U.S.-China bilateral dispute over the Taiwan region, how will it ever be possible to resolve the problems between the U.S. and China?  This just complicates and prolongs the issue.  I believe that the issues between the U.S. and China will eventually be settled. It’s just going to take time.  But still, if the U.S. doesn’t abandon its policy of aggression towards China, doesn’t abandon threats of war, the issues will never be solved.  We don’t believe that the American people will permit the U.S. government to continue with such a policy forever.  There is no fundamental conflict of interests between the Chinese and American people, when all is said and done, they want to be friends with each other.


Snow:  These two principles that you just mentioned, have they been discussed for long in the Warsaw talks?


Zhou:  For a long time indeed.  The first principle was presented at the end of 1955 in Geneva, and the second was presented in Warsaw in the autumn of 1958.


Snow:  Did the second principle include at what time and in what manner [the U.S. would] withdraw from Taiwan?


Zhou:  The U.S. must first agree with the principle of withdrawal of forces, only then can we discuss the specific issues.


Snow:  Have the U.S.-China talks been debating this issue continuously ever since 1958?  The U.S. government insists that unless the Chinese government declares that it will not use armed force in the Taiwan region, there will be no agreement.  


Zhou:  The U.S. government insists that in the Taiwan region the United States and Chiang Kai-shek have the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense.  


Snow:  In other words, this acknowledges that Taiwan is a government.


Zhou:  In other words, it is legalizing the U.S. occupation of Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits, and creating an objective reality of “two Chinas”.  This is something that the entire Chinese people are against.  If China occupied Hawaii and sent naval warships to the oceans between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland, or if China had occupied Long Island and sent warships to the straits between New York and Long Island, how would the American people feel?  From this you can imagine how the Chinese people feel.


Snow:  The Long Island example is more appropriate.


Zhou:  When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, didn’t all the American people rise up in opposition?


This is the main part of my answer to your questions; you may ask more questions, and we can continue to talk after we have toured the reservoir.


(After lunch they visited the Miyun Reservoir, and continued talking at dinner once they were back on the train.)


Snow:  It isn’t possible to finish discussing all questions today.


Zhou:  We don’t have to finish our talk today, we can talk more once you get back from the Northwest.


Snow:  By then maybe my questions will be a little smarter.


Zhou:  What else do you want to ask regarding U.S.-China relations?


Snow:  We have covered most of the U.S.-China relations issues, I just feel some of it was not very specific.  I’d like to know whether the Premier has any new proposals for specific measures to conclude a peace treaty for the Asia-Pacific region?  From our discussion at lunch, it seemed that there are some issues which you believe belong within the scope of specific diplomatic negotiations.


Zhou:  One can only talk about specific diplomatic policies according to how the situation develops.  Today I am only talking to you about principles.


Snow:  I’ll be bold and assume that the Premier doesn’t plan to make any new specific proposals at this time.


Zhou:  First of all it’s necessary to reach agreement on questions of principle.  If there’s no agreement on principles, it is hard to discuss specific issues.  Americans seem to think that it’s fine to talk about specific issues first, even when there’s no agreement reached on principles.  In the early stages of the negotiations, we also tried it this way, resolving specific problems first, which afterwards could lead to solving the main problems.  But it didn’t work; without solving the issues of principle, any agreement on specific problems will have no effect.  For example, there’s the question of an early release of imprisoned citizens of both sides.  There are only five Americans in Chinese prisons, including Downey and Fecteau.  But as for how many Chinese citizens are imprisoned in America, the U.S. government has never given us any numbers or names. Despite good behavior, none have been given early release.  The U.S. excuse is that these people want to return to Taiwan and don’t want to return to the mainland; some of them don’t belong to the mainland but belong to Taiwan.  This makes the problem more complicated.  From what we have learned, the majority of these people came from the mainland.  If we let the U.S. willfully divide these Chinese into mainlanders and Taiwanese that would be creating a “two Chinas” situation, turning a specific issue into an issue of principle.  This proves that if you don’t settle issues of principle first, there’s no way to solve specific problems.  Even if you solve them, the solution will not be good.  The issue of overseas students is also like this.  The vast majority of the overseas students came from the mainland, and their families are on the mainland, but many of them can’t come back.  Therefore, we’ve reached the conclusion: first one must settle questions of principle, and only then can specific problems be solved.

* This is an excerpt from the transcript of a conversation with American author Edgar Snow.

Zhou Enlai talks with American journalist Edgar Snow about disputes between China and the U.S. Zhou refutes Western rumors that China has given up on peaceful coexistence with the West. Zhou says that China is willing to use peaceful settlements on disputes between China and the U.S. Zhou talks extensively about the Taiwan issue. Zhou believes that there are two main aspects to the Taiwan issue which needs to be addressed separately. The first is international dispute between the U.S. and China over Taiwan. The second aspect is the domestic dispute between CCP and Chiang Kai-shek over Taiwan. Lastly, Zhou says that the problems over principles needs to be solved before specific problems are addressed.

Document Information


Zhou Enlai Waijiao wenxuan [Selected Diplomatic Papers of Zhou Enlai] (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian, 1990), pp. 292-302. Translated by Simon Schuchat.


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