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January 5, 1955

Transcript of Conversation between Zhou Enlai and Humphrey Trevelyan

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



(January 5, 1955)


Humphrey Trevelyan said, [Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary] Anthony Eden wanted him to relay an oral message concerning the general relationship between China and the United Kingdom.  He said, Foreign Secretary Eden had been very disappointed on seeing Premier Zhou Enlai, in his report to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), say that the British attitude had undergone some change after the Geneva Conference.  Eden wanted him to assure the Chinese government that the attitude of the British government has not changed, before or after the Geneva Conference: the objective of the U.K. remains the easing of tensions in the Far East and improvement of Sino-British relations.  Eden was shocked by Chinese press accusations that the British government was not keeping its promises.  For the past five years, the British government has recognized only the Chinese government, and has had no relationship with Chiang Kai-shek [Jiang Jieshi].  Eden believes that it not possible now to solve any problem through war.  The United Kingdom is not a party to the U.S.-Jiang (sic) Mutual Defense Treaty.  In the British view, if that agreement has led to any changes from previous conditions, it would be restraints.  Therefore, the British government is in favor of it.  The British government understands the Chinese position, but it cannot wish for the United States to abandon it support of Chiang Kai-shek, because the United States sees Chiang Kai-shek as its ally.  Eden believes peaceful resolution and easing of the tense situation is our only hope, towards which everyone must strive, based on the actual circumstances.  The British government sincerely hopes that there be an excellent relationship between China and the U.K., even though there is a difference of opinion between the two regarding issues in the Far East.


Zhou Enlai said, The Chinese government likewise welcomes and hopes for an improvement in Sino-British relations and an easing of tensions in the Far East and international arena.  Improving Sino-British relations naturally requires efforts by both sides.  The two countries have different systems and different ideas, but this would not prevent the two countries from peacefully coexisting and improving their relationship.  However, if one of the two countries has an antagonistic approach to an issue concerning the other, then their relationship will surely be affected. I could ask Mr. Trevelyan frankly, if China were to adopt a different attitude towards Hong Kong, would it not affect Sino-British relations?


Trevelyan said, it would.


Zhou Enlai said, The British government’s attitude towards Taiwan is wrong, and this cannot but affect Sino-British relations.  The U.K. may be afraid to offend the United States, but it is unfair for it to blame China.  The United States has occupied Taiwan, the American fleet is active in the Taiwan Straits, the U.S. helps Chiang Kai-shek occupy our coastal islands and carry out harassing and destructive attacks against the mainland as well as seizing ships engaged in commerce with us, including British merchant vessels.  But the U.K. claims there is nothing wrong.  China is liberating its own territory, Taiwan and coastal islands, repelling Jiang’s harassing and destructive attacks, and the U.K. says it is wrong.  This unfair attitude cannot but affect Sino-British relations.  If the U.S. occupied Northern Ireland, and assisted Northern Ireland in carrying out attacks on three islands of the United Kingdom and also claimed that the U.K. had no right to repel this kind of attack, would that be all right?


Trevelyan said, He could not agree with Premier Zhou’s description of the British government’s attitude.  The U.K. does not always support one side and oppose the other side.  The U.K. understands the Chinese attitude.  The U.K. opposes intensifying of tension and supports easing tension.  The central point of Eden’s verbal message which I just relayed was that it is necessary to consider the actual situation, and to not expect the United States to remove its protection from Chiang Kai-shek.  The British attitude is not support for one side and hostility towards the other.  Instead, it is sincerely based on consideration of the actual situation.  


Zhou Enlai said, as to whether the British attitude is or isn’t hostile to any one side, we can just look at the facts.  Past facts prove that it is the contrary.  To give an example, Mr. Carter (?) told Mr. Huan Xiang*[2], there’s no point in debate whether something is wrong, you have to accept the facts.  These words demonstrate the dubious and unfair aspects of the British government’s attitude.

First, Taiwan has already been returned to China, and belongs to China.  This is an ironclad fact, so how can one doubt it?  But the British government’s representative at the conference expressed doubts.  The U.K. was a signatory to the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, and clauses of the Japanese articles of surrender, all of which acknowledge that Taiwan ought to be returned to China.  On October 25, 1945, Chen Yi*[3], the Chinese government representative on Taiwan, received the Japanese surrender. Therefore, Taiwan has already been returned to China.  How can one say, then, that the legal status of Taiwan still needs further study?  Mr. Trevelyan, having lived in Beijing for a long time, you must certainly understand how this hurts the feelings of the Chinese people.  The British government’s attitude is clearly no longer that of a friend.

Second, even more hurtful of the feelings of the Chinese people, the British government has praised the U.S.-Jiang [mutual defense] treaty, which accuses China [of seeking to] liberate Taiwan.  On one hand, the U.K. says if China were to use military force to liberate Taiwan, that would lead to war, and on the other hand, it wants China to tolerate the harassing and destructive attacks carried out by Chiang Kai-shek under the protection of the U.S.  Even worse, Under-secretary for Foreign Affairs [Anthony] Nutting said publicly while in America that, if China were to move to liberate Taiwan, then the U.K. would take action, together with the United Nations.  Even American public opinion did not approve of these words.  This is totally a hostile attitude towards China.  With this many facts set before the Chinese people, yet you expect the Chinese government not to point out the rights and wrongs of this issue. How can the Chinese government act this way?  In fact, this problem is between the British government and the Chinese people. This is to mix up right and wrong, and it really hurts the feelings of the Chinese people.

The references to the United Kingdom in my reports to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference were extremely deliberate, and were made from a position of hoping for improved Sino-British relations.


In addition to what I have said above, there’s another example that is even more infuriating.  When the United States forcibly detained North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war who had not expressed their intention [as to where to be released], the British government didn’t say a word.  We have raised this question during the Geneva conference.  During my meeting with Foreign Secretary Eden, he said, are you still going to raise this issue?  Even during his unofficial conversation with me, Foreign Secretary Eden never once criticized the Americans for the forcible detention of North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war.  However, regarding the sentencing of thirteen American spies, a matter which falls completely within China’s sovereignty and internal affairs, a British government representative said some extremely impolite things about the Chinese government before the British Parliament, using some very bad language.  I suggest that Mr. Trevelyan go read the transcripts from the British Parliament. Such behavior not only ignores right and wrong but reverses them.

For the past several months, we have been very tolerant, and although I have seen you many times, I have never before expressed our dissatisfaction.  You are probably already aware of the sentiments expressed through [our] public opinion, and now I officially inform you of the Chinese government’s dissatisfaction.


To speak of easing international tensions, one must ask where the tensions come from.  The U.K. says they come from both sides, or even says they come from the Chinese side. This goes against the facts.  They come from the American side; China has worked hard for the easing of tensions.  The Korean armistice talks dragged on for over two years; when it seemed that an agreement was about to be reached, the U.S. and the Syngman Rhee [government] forcibly detained more than 27,000 Korean and Chinese prisoners of war.  Nevertheless, we still approved the armistice, in order to ease the tense situation.  On the issue of Indochina, the U.S. also tried to sabotage [a peace agreement], but we still approved the armistice.  When Foreign Secretary Eden spoke about the Indochina problem in London, he once suggested the establishment of an Asian Locarno Pact, which would be beneficial for collective peace.  In New Delhi, I once told Prime Minister Nehru that I approved of this proposal.  But on my second visit to Geneva, Foreign Secretary Eden told me that the United Kingdom no longer proposed concluding an Asian Locarno Pact, due to the opposition of the United States. After the Geneva Conference, the U.K. joined the United States in hashing together the Manila Pact, which we opposed.  The U.K. doesn’t stick with the proposal that we had already agreed to, and instead follows the U.S. to create division.  Now, the signatories to the Manila Pact are about to meet in Bangkok, to increase the split.  How can this be seen as striving to ease tensions?

After the Korean War and the Indochina War had both ended, the U.S. concentrated its forces in Taiwan, directing and assisting Chiang Kai-shek to carry out harassing and destructive attacks against us.  Since the arrival of James Van Fleet in June of last year, the U.S. has planned to sign a U.S.-Jiang treaty.  The objective in signing this treaty is to occupy Taiwan and the Penghu Archipelago, followed by a second step of starting a new war.  This is just like the situation when Japan occupied the Northeast, as well as the situation before the signing of the Munich Agreement when Germany took over Austria.  At the time, Foreign Secretary Eden and Prime Minister Churchill both opposed “Munich,” but now they want China to accept a “Munich” in the East!  To speak bluntly, there are some people who want to create “two Chinas” in the world, to let Chiang Kai-shek, under the protection of the U.S., to reclaim the mainland, and restore [his rule] over the mainland.  This is not easing, but rather increasing, the tense situation.

The Chinese government has always, up to the present, been committed to improving Sino-British relations.  The two countries have different systems, different views of the issues, but this ought not prevent the two countries from peaceful coexistence and friendly cooperation.  But we must not harm each other, making it difficult to improve our relations.  If the Chinese government is responsible for causing harm to the relations between the two countries, then the Chinese government will not hesitate to correct it and would never cover it up.  For instance, after we mistakenly attacked a British aircraft in the airspace over Hainan Island, we apologized and paid compensation.  From the standpoint of someone who wishes for Sino-U.K. friendship, I think the British government should do some serious thinking about what it has done that’s hurtful and intolerable to the Chinese people.

The Chinese government is in favor of and works towards a relaxation of the tense situation.  Any measures adopted by the British government which are realistic and conducive to relaxation of tensions will be met with our approval.  But you cannot ask us to accept invasion, to allow the U.S. to brazenly and shamelessly manufacture tensions, and freely prepare for a new war.  If Foreign Secretary Eden wants an easing of tensions, the Chinese government hopes that the British government will encourage the U.S. government to withdraw its troops from Taiwan, which is the only way to ease tensions.  If the British government has difficulties in persuading the United States, the U.S. won’t listen, then how can there be an easing of tensions?  We cannot commit this historical mistake we cannot tolerate this American mischief.  This kind of bullying by the U.S. pro-war elements is completely unreasonable and cannot be tolerated by the Chinese people, who will not be intimidated.  Past facts have already proven this point.  Foreign Secretary Eden once told me, there are also people in the U.S. government who want peace.  If this is really so, then it might be possible to have a discussion with the U.S. government, with the U.K. serving as a perfect advocate.  The Chinese government’s attitude is very clear.  As long as any country wants to establish normal relations with us, wants to live in peaceful coexistence with us, and abandons aggression towards us, then we will be the first to extend our hand to them, including the U.S..

We welcome and hope that Sino-British relations can improve, according to the spirit of my conversations with Foreign Secretary Eden during last year’s Geneva Conference.


Trevelyan thanked Premier Zhou for your full explanation, which he will certainly faithfully pass on to Eden.  He thanks Premier Zhou for adopting an attitude of restraint during the past several months.  However, he also suggested that, in the future if Premier Zhou is dissatisfied with anything, he should raise it directly with him, rather than going through the newspapers; he is always ready for Premier Zhou’s summons.


Zhou Enlai said, I agree that in the future when I have an issue I will talk with you, but, public opinion is up to the people of our country, especially when it is the U.K. who has brought about Chinese media criticism of the U.K.  China has never initiated criticism of the U.K.  Between the Geneva Conference and through [Clement] Atlee’s visit to China, Mr. Trevelyan ought to know very well how the Chinese public feels about the U.K.  China has an old saying, “let the other act first and respond accordingly.”  This is the Chinese attitude.


Trevelyan said, He wished to make some comments on several of the points that Premier Zhou had just expounded.  First, as for Carter’s conversation with Huan Xiang, there appears to have been some misunderstanding.  The British government is not asking the Chinese government to disregard what is right and wrong, but rather suggests that it seek a way to resolve the problem in view of the actual circumstances.  Each side has its own view of the rights and wrongs of the issue, and the U.K.’s suggestion is proof that it is not against either side.  The U.K. is proactively asking both sides to exercise restraint.  This suggestion is not solely made to China, but also made to the other side.  


Zhou Enlai said, suppose one person punches another person with his fists, and a third person steps in to mediate, but instead of asking the first person to lower his fists, he urges the second person not to hit back.  How can this be called urging restraint on both sides?


Trevelyan said, when a third person steps in to mediate, he usually ends up being beaten himself.


Zhou Enlai said, Right now the third person is not getting beaten himself, he’s just accusing and cursing the second person who is being beaten, instead of asking the first person to stop.  


Trevelyan said, Premier Zhou just mentioned that Eden had previously told him that there were people in the U.S. government who wanted peace.  At the time, Eden added, Eisenhower was indeed one of those people.  The U.K. government believes that it is a mistake for China to see the objective of the U.S.-Jiang treaty as helping Chiang Kai-shek retake the mainland.  The U.K. government absolutely believes that the purpose of the U.S.-Jiang treaty is to serve as a restraint. This is why the U.K. government welcomed it.


Zhou Enlai said, If a bandit enters your house, occupies a room downstairs, and now you say, we can use a treaty to allow him to stay downstairs, just to prevent him from going upstairs.  Let me ask, even if he doesn’t go upstairs now, will you still feel secure, living downstairs?


Trevelyan said, His point was simply to clarify how the U.S.-Jiang treaty serves as a restraint, which was exactly why the British government is in favor of it.


Zhou Enlai said, a foreign country uses military force to occupy our territory, how can this be called restraint?


Trevelyan said, The U.K. government really believes that the U.S.-Jiang treaty serves as a restraint.  There is not a one-in-a-million chance of Chiang Kai-shek retaking the mainland.


Zhou Enlai said, for the present, let’s not talk about Chiang Kai-shek retaking the mainland.  The U.S.-Jiang treaty serves to legalize the U.S. occupation of Taiwan and the Penghu Archipelago.  The U.K. approves, but we will never agree.  For the accept U.S. aggression is not beneficial for Sino-British relations.


Trevelyan said, The U.K. is not a party to the U.S.-Jiang treaty, so there is no question of “acceptance.”  The British simply mean to say, you cannot expect the U.S. to withdraw its protection of Chiang Kai-shek.  This is an inescapable fact.


Zhou Enlai said, Accepting “Munich” was exactly accepting an existing fact.  However, the U.K. even now is refusing to accept the lesson of Munich.


Trevelyan said, He could not agree with this kind of historical comparison.  Then, he shifted the discussion to two other points.  First, as for what Nutting said, Dart has already given an explanation to the House of Commons, which is that, other than the U.K.’s obligations towards Taiwan, as a member of the United Nations, there is no other obligation.  Second, regarding Taiwan’s legal status.  The Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration both merely announced an intention to return Taiwan to China, but there is as yet no international agreement to carry out this plan.  Therefore, from a legal perspective, Taiwan is not yet Chinese territory. As for Chiang Kai-shek accepting the Japanese surrender, that was merely to remove the Japanese from Taiwan.  However, right now we shouldn’t look at it from a legalistic point of view, but, we should look for a resolution from a practical point of view.  The U.K. recognizes China, and does not recognize Chiang Kai-shek.  At one time someone said that the British Foreign Ministry spokesperson had used the phrase “Chinese Nationalist government.”  We looked into it and found that no such expression had been used.  In any case, even if these words were used, it wouldn’t have meant anything.


Zhou Enlai said, Taiwan’s status is not in question; even the White Paper which the U.S. government issued and the statements made by Truman all accept this point.  Once the Chinese government representative Chen Yi had received the Japanese surrender, Taiwan was already returned to China.  This is an ironclad fact.  To say that Taiwan has not yet been restored to China is to grossly hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.  This is not what the British government used to say.  This change of tune is a recent development, made to exonerate the U.S. and give it the authority to occupy Taiwan.  As for Nutting’s remarks, it isn’t that simple.  His meaning was, if China goes to liberate Taiwan, Britain will go to war with China.  British public opinion has already made this clear.  Let’s not debate this right now, we’ll just see how things develop.


Trevelyan said, He did not agree with this explanation.  Nutting merely meant to say, if there were to be an attack on Taiwan, it could lead to a more widespread conflict, to the extent of involving the United Nations.  


Zhou Enlai said, The United Nations has not, as yet, made any resolutions regarding Taiwan.  Did Nutting want the United Nations to pass a resolution taking Taiwan from China, and making it a U.S. protectorate?


Trevelyan said, there is no such intention.


Zhou Enlai said, if there is no such plan, then if the U.S. no longer occupies Taiwan, and China liberates Taiwan, how would this widen the conflict?  How would it involve the United Nations?  Do we have to accept whatever the United States does?


Trevelyan said, The U.K. is merely asking everyone to acknowledge the facts.


Zhou Enlai said, The U.S. understands the U.K.’s weakness, and therefore, after the facts are made up, it expects the U.K. to accept them, and then the U.K. expects everyone else to accept them.


Trevelyan rephrased his comment, saying, The United Kingdom is not asking you to accept the facts, but rather to consider the facts.  Then he reiterated that, while the U.S.-Jiang treaty serves as a restraint, however, you cannot expect the U.S. to withdraw its protection from Chiang Kai-shek. He also said, even after considering these facts, it is still possible to work towards easing tensions.  The U.K. does not feel pessimistic or hopeless, but it believes that only by considering the facts is it possible to find a way out.


Zhou Enlai said, if one considers the facts, then the only way for tensions to ease is for the United States to withdraw its military forces.  If Foreign Secretary Eden wants tensions to ease, then he ought to direct his efforts to persuading the United States to withdraw its military forces.  You can’t ask everyone to be tolerant just because the U.S. has made up the facts.  If the U.K. urges the U.S. to withdraw its military forces, and the U.S. doesn’t listen, then of course the U.K. is not at fault.  However, if the U.K. says that the U.S. is right and that China is wrong, that would harm Sino-British relations.


Trevelyan said, as for the U.K., we are not making any moral judgments.  The message that I relayed from Eden simply to explains the only path to an improvement in the situation.


Zhou Enlai said, What the British representative said in Parliament and what Nutting said clearly placed the blamed on China.


Trevelyan said, He could not agree.  He said, the verbal message that he has passed on today is the only expression of the British government’s opinion.  As for the Manila Pact, that is defensive, the same as the Chinese defense arrangements with the Soviet Union.


Zhou Enlai said, As for Foreign Secretary Eden’s verbal message, we have already given our response.  Please convey what we have said to Foreign Secretary Eden.  The Manila Pact is not the same as our proposal for an Asian Locarno Pact, it creates division, so consequently many Asian countries have expressed their opposition.  Countries outside of Asia use the Manila Pact to assist certain Asian countries in forming a group, but many Asian countries have not joined, therefore this cannot be explained in the same way as the Sino-Soviet Treaty.  When countries outside of Asia come to someone’s region and provide protection that was never asked for, and establish military bases on someone’s territory, how can this be explained as defensive in nature?  The U.S. is currently sabotaging the Indochina agreement in Southern Vietnam.  The U.S. aid to the Bao Dai government and its training of Bao Dai’s army, are all damaging to the Indochina agreement.


Trevelyan said, He was not familiar with the Vietnamese situation about which Premier Zhou spoke.  As for the areas of dissatisfaction that Premier Zhou raised today, he would convey them to Eden.


* This is an aide-memoire of a conversation with British Representative to China Humphrey Trevelyan.  After this, Zhou Enlai had two further conversations with Trevelyan, on January 28 and February 15.  In these three conversations, he clarified the Chinese government’s strict position on the Taiwan problem, and criticized the British government’s policy towards China.

* Carter id unknown; Huan Xiang (1910-1989), Chinese diplomat.

* Not the Communist Foreign Minister, but a KMT general.

Zhou Enlai discusses with Trevelyan Humphrey China's concerns with Britain's attitude regarding Sino-British relations. Zhou says that the Chinese side is willing to improve Sino-British relations, improve the situation in East Asia, and ease international tensions. Zhou also discusses with Humphrey the Taiwan issue. He criticizes the U.S. for infringing upon Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan and Britain for its double standards on the Taiwan issue.

Document Information


Zhou Enlai Waijiao wenxuan [Selected Diplomatic Papers of Zhou Enlai] (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian, 1990), pp. 94-105. Translated by Simon Schuchat.


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