In 1945, as the war with Japan neared its end -- and as efforts began to avoid an ensuing civil war within China -- Mao Zedong asked to fly to Washington for secret talks with President Roosevelt, and spoke in glowing terms of future relations with the US.
If Mao had met Roosevelt: An alternative view of US-China relations by John GittingsIt was a quite remarkable request from the leader of Asia's largest communist party which owed allegiance, formally at any rate, to the Soviet Union: Stalin would surely have been furious if such a visit had occurred. In the event nothing came of the proposal and for a quarter of a century even the fact it had been made was ignored. No one was interested in asking whether relations between a communist China and the US could have taken a better course than the mutual hostility of the 1950s and 1960s -- until they did actually improve in the 1970s.
Once in the White House, what would Mao have wanted to discuss? First, Mao wanted the US to treat the Communist Party (CCP) as an equal partner with Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) including the distribution of arms, and to put pressure on Chiang to cooperate with the CCP to avoid civil war.
Second, Mao would downplay his party's relationship with the Soviet Union. Third, Mao would hold out a tempting prospect of a future relationship which at last provided a real Open Door (the unvarying goal of US policy in China) for the capital and goods of America. China must industrialise. This can be done - in China - only by free enterprise and with the aid of foreign capital. Finally, Mao would stress the need for dialogue and understanding.
What might have happened?
Whaetever the level, the mere fact of such contacts taking place in the US capital -- rather than in the remote loess highlands of Yan'an -- could have improved significantly the chance of further and more fruitful dialogue between the CCP and the US, and would have put Chiang Kai-shek on notice that he could no longer take Washington's support for granted. This would then have created a different atmosphere for the efforts made by General Marshall to bring the two Chinese sides together and avert a civil war. Contrary to the arguments of many scholars today, such a conflict was not inevitable as far as the Communists were concerned.
If "Mao had met Roosevelt", this might have led to one of two outcomes. First,US mediation would then have forced Chiang Kai-shek to accept a coalition government. This development could paradoxically have (a) delayed the CCP victory in 1949; and (b) resulted in an effective division of China into spheres of influence between the US and the Soviet Union. However such a result -- which was Stalin's goal -- might then have exacerbated CCP-Soviet tensions, resulting in a weaker and more fraught relationship than actually emerged in the Sino-Soviet Alliance signed by Mao in Moscow (February 1950).
Second and alternatively, on the assumption that the civil war still occurred, the more favourable climate already created in US-Communist relations could have influenced Washington to take a more neutral line.
This shortened article is an abbreviated form of the longer essay