J. William Fulbright
Testifies on China and Vietnam

[United States senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas supported the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed President Lyndon Johnson to expand U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War (1959-1975). But Fulbright had begun to question the U.S. role in the war by 1966 when he testified at Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on U.S. policy toward China and Vietnam. Fulbright, who was chairman of the committee, warned that U.S. engagement in Vietnam could lead to a war with China.]

J. William Fulbright Testifies on China and Vietnam

China has experienced very little except humiliation and defeat in its relations with the West, including Russia and, to some degree, America. One of our leading Chinese scholars, Prof. John K. Fairbank, who is the director of the East Asian Research Center of Harvard University, believes that the rapacious behavior of Europeans in China in past centuries has a great deal to do with the irrationality and hostile behavior of China's current leaders.

Words like "extraterritoriality" and "unequal treaties" are far too antiseptic, too bland, to describe China's humiliation by Western imperialism. In human terms, the coming of Western civilization to China in the nineteenth century meant the plundering of China's wealth by foreigners and the reduction of most of the Chinese to an inferior status within their own country. Missionaries were immune from Chinese law and treated the Chinese as heathen, except, of course, for the converts who also claimed immunity from Chinese law and used the power conferred by their foreign association to intimidate their fellow citizens. Foreign goods were exempted by treaty from internal toll taxes imposed by the Manchu Dynasty to pay for the Taiping rebellion of the mid-19th century, with the result that Western companies destroyed their Chinese competitors in the sale of such products as timber, oil, tobacco and, of course, opium. Each of China’s disastrous nineteenth century wars with the West was followed by the levy of a huge indemnity or some further incursion on the economic life of the country.

It is of great importance that we try to learn something more about the strange and fascinating Chinese nation, about its past and its present, about the aims of its leaders and the aspirations of its people. Before we can make wise political -- and perhaps military -- decisions pertaining to China, there are many questions to be asked and, hopefully, answered: What kind of people are the Chinese? To what extent are they motivated by national feeling? To what extent by ideology? Why are the Chinese Communist leaders so hostile to the United States and why do they advocate violent revolution against most of the world's governments? To what extent is their view of the world distorted by isolation and the memory of ancient grievances? To what extent, and with what effect on their Government, do the Chinese people share with us and with all other peoples what Aldous Huxley has called the simple human preference for life and peace?

We need to ask these questions because China and America may be heading toward war with each other and it is essential that we do all that can be done to prevent that calamity, starting with a concerted effort to understand the Chinese people and their leaders.

The danger of war is real. It is real because China is ruled by ideological dogmatists who will soon have nuclear weapons at their disposal and who, though far more ferocious in words than in actions, nonetheless are intensely hostile to the United States. In the short run the danger of war between China and America is real because an "open-ended" war in Viet-Nam can bring the two great powers into conflict with each other, by accident or by design, at almost any time. Some of our military experts are confident that China will not enter the war in Viet-Nam; their confidence would be more reassuring if it did not bring to mind the predictions of military experts in 1950 that China would not enter the Korean war, as well as more recent predictions about an early victory in Viet-Nam. In fact, it is the view of certain China experts in our Government that the Chinese leaders themselves expect to be at war with the United States within a year, and it is clear that some of our own officials also expect a war with China.

Our ultimate objective must, of course, be political: the prevention of war between China and America. At present there appears to be a growing expectation of war in both countries and, as Professor [Gordon W.] Allport points out, "what people expect determines their behavior." Perhaps a concerted effort to increase our understanding of China and the Chinese would alter that fatal expectancy, and perhaps if our expectations were altered theirs too would change. It is anything but a sure thing but, considering the stakes and considering the alternative, it seems worth a try.

The Chinese today, like Americans a hundred years ago, are in an agitated and abnormal state of mind. It is not only within our means but, as a great and mature Nation, it is our responsibility, as [United Nations Secretary General] U Thant so wisely pointed out, to try to understand the causes of China's agitation and to try to find some remedy.

[Source: Congressional Record, March 7, 1966.]