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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963
Volume XXII, Northeast Asia, Document 172

172. Memorandum From the Ambassador to the Republic of China (Kirk) to President KennedySourceSource: Kennedy Library, President's Office Files, China Security, 1962-63. Top Secret. Filed as an attachment to a note of April 1 from Forrestal to Kennedy which calls it Kirk's “swan song.” Because of illness, Kirk did not return to Taipei.

  • Decisions Facing United States vis-a-vis Chiang Kai-shek

1. The basic situation as of now seems to require decisions on our part as to what we are going to do in the event of:

a. A minor harassing invasion of the Mainland,

b. Build up of minor forces successfully landed on the Mainland,

c. Chinese attempts to succor or relieve beleaguered forces from a. and b. above, by large-scale operations.

2. The fundamental questions confronting the United States Government are:

a. Whether the retention of the island of Taiwan in friendly hands is vital to the interests of the United States in the Western Pacific and

b. How and when are we going to make it clear to President Chiang that a feeble attempt to assault the Mainland, with the intention of involving the United States Government in a first-class war with the ChiComs, cannot and will not be tolerated.

3. a. It would appear that the decision as to whether or not Taiwan is “vital” to our interests needs to be reviewed. This would require re-examination and a decision taken at the highest level.

b. The United States is committed, of course, to the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1954 together with its accompanying Exchange of Notes. The GRC in turn is committed thereby not to use force against the Mainland without our “agreement.” This obligation the Generalissimo is currently trying to escape.

4. A major revolt on the Mainland against the ChiCom authorities of Peking of real magnitude may warrant military action by the United States Government to overthrow Communism on the Mainland of China. Decision in this matter would require very complete intelligence as to what was happening on the Mainland. We must be aware from the “Tibetan Papers” that sharp unrest did occur in north China (Honan) in 1960. Apparently at the time it was not known to our own Government or to the Government of Chiang Kai-shek. Despite contrary claims, it is my opinion intelligence sources from the Mainland of China are very inadequate. In the major Communist states, such as the Soviet Union, to acquire accurate information of disorders, discontent, revolt, revolution, etc., has been found most difficult if not impossible. It should be further noted that as of now no major political character of the ChiCom Party has defected. Similarly no highly placed officer in the ChiCom armed forces has defected. Consequently claims made by the Generalissimo and others of his Government that widespread discontent does exist must be looked at askance.

5. On the other hand, there is a theory expressed from time to time by the Minister of National Defense, Mr. Yu Ta-wei, as well as General Chiang Ching-kuo, to the effect that any landing anywhere would produce a “detonation” resulting in widespread acclaim and adhesion to the forces of Nationalist China which would result in overthrow of the government of Peking. With this point of view it is hard to agree. The masses of the people in China are lacking in food, clothing, weapons, cohesion and leaders. Invading forces would be obliged to come equipped to supply these missing resources on a vast scale in order for their presence to generate widespread uprising of the people, assuming “the masses” had the will to revolt.

6. In the military sphere we know from studies made by “Blue Lion” and other papers submitted by Embassy Taipei that the Chinese military regime is so deficient in the elements necessary for a successful invasion of a continent as to warrant grave skepticism on our part of any success. Probably the greatest handicap to a successful landing on the Continent would be the deficiency of air power. It is well-known that the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 with the subsequent outrunning of the German forces in Western Europe had the paramount advantage of complete control of the air. In addition, of course, masses of artillery, tanks, guns, manpower and supplies of all kinds enabled the Allies to create a juggernaut which overran the Germans, and under the protection of our own formidable air umbrella. Besides all the above, the French Resistance, properly equipped, organized and instructed, played a most important part (blowing bridges, railroad tracks, etc.).

7. The United States assistance to Chinese military and economic sectors has been restricted to war materiel designed for defense and not for offense. The Chinese Air Force has no long-range bombers. Their fighters are modern but short-ranged. Their air-lift capacity is very limited, and their supplies of bombs, shells and ammunition have been furnished for defense rather than offense.

8. It is true that the Chinese Air Force demonstrated a marked superiority over the ChiCom Air Force in the battle of 1958 for the Offshore Islands, and this was due more to their tactical skill than to their use of sidewinder missiles supplied by the United States Air Force. On the other hand, one must assume that the ChiCom Air Force is now equipped with later-type MIG fighters and would have learned in these past 4-1/2 years to improve their own tactics. Thus, an air battle over the coast of Mainland China would result in a battle of attrition in which the Chinese Air Force would be gradually whittled down. The ChiCom air bases withdrawn some distance from the coastline would now be more difficult to attack by the Chinese Air Force.

9. While some 20 years have elapsed since the Allied major amphibious landings of World War II and it may be presumed that the technique of such operations now would be different, yet it still appears that the sea-lift for troops, replacements, ammunition, etc., would still be needed in this or any Mainland invasion. Here again the Chinese military machine has but meager resources. Embassy Taipei has reported recently on the numbers of landing craft of all types plus merchant shipping under Chinese Government control plus stocks stored on Taiwan. It is at once obvious that the scale of a major invasion of a continent requires vastly more than now in the hands of the Generalissimo.

10. The Chinese Navy is woefully deficient in gunfire capacity to cover the landing as well as to protect replacement convoys.

11. The latest estimate from Embassy Taipei would indicate a sea-lift of about 32,000 troops. An air-lift of 5-10,000 may also be possible. In each of these cases it should be realized that for a short haul across the Strait of Formosa the Chinese could readily overload shipping and aircraft beyond the standards used by the Western Allies in World War II.

12. In the papers thus far produced on the subject of Chinese capabilities very little mention is made of the ChiComs' reactions. We do know from the defector [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that in the summer of 1962 there were two schools of thought in ChiCom military circles. The first was to crush the attempted invasion at the shoreline and the second was to allow the invasion force to make some penetration inland in order to destroy or capture the invaders plus all their accompanying equipment.

13. On the other hand, it seems most unlikely that, were the invading forces to make any significant progress inland, the ChiComs would not resort to the normal offensive strategy of attacking the bases on Taiwan from which these forces were supplied, or attacking the air fields used by the Chinese Air Force.

14. This does not necessarily mean an invasion of Taiwan. The government at Peking might be loath to undertake any operations against Taiwan which would result in US intervention. Nevertheless, such a possibility should not be overlooked and ChiCom bombing squadrons should be expected to make attacks by day or night on these staging areas or air fields whose precise locations are undoubtedly known to the Peking military authorities.

15. Here the question arises of what the United States Government would feel called upon to do. It might be the Government of Peking would disclaim any intent to invade the island of Taiwan, but bombing of such character would undoubtedly result in considerable damage to installations on the island of Taiwan plus the people living there. American personnel would not escape serious punishment. Casualties to our own people would be expected to produce a sharp reaction in the United States—not only on the part of the Government but of the people and of the Congress. Retaliation on our part by our armed forces could scarcely avoid intrusions over the Mainland territory of Communist China. Such hostile action by United States forces would undoubtedly produce a reaction on the part of the Government of Peking. Thus, open warfare between the United States Government and the Government of Peking would eventuate. Consequently there arises the very delicate question as to whether such would not be the opening phase of World War III—a disaster for the world.

16. From this estimate it will be seen that I myself am strongly opposed to giving President Chiang Kai-shek any leeway whatsoever in his attempt to circumvent his Treaty with the United States.

a. I further believe that it is necessary that we take steps now to make it clear to Chiang Kai-shek that we will have no part of this.

b. I believe we might properly make some public statements in the near future that we do not intend to recede from our declared position that we will defend Taiwan but we will not countenance aggression initiated by the Chinese Government now on Taiwan. I believe such a step would be an acceptable method lying between the (a) stern warning not to do it and given on a short notice or (b) using US military forces to intervene once an invasion had been started by the Gimo.

I consider it most inadvisable to allow the Generalissimo to have any private way of conveying to the United States Government that he is going to take any measures of an aggressive nature with or without our sanction.

c. I disagree with the point of view held by President Chiang Kai-shek that Soviet Russia would not intervene to sustain a Communist regime in China. I myself was US Ambassador to the USSR when the Sino-Soviet Treaty of 14 February 195011. Reference is to the treaty of friendship, alliance, and mutual assistance signed at Moscow on that date. For text, see UNTS 226:5; also printed in American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1950-1955, pp. 2463-2465. was signed; and its Article I is highly pertinent. Khrushchev could not afford a different type of government on Mainland China, even if only in the areas south of the Yangtze River. While a change in the personalities of the governing authorities in Peking might be welcomed in Moscow, a complete overthrow of Communist domination would be intolerable—especially if the United States shared therein.

d. I find it impossible to believe a Chinese invasion of the Mainland could now occur without the whole world—friend and foe alike—blaming the United States for allowing the Sino-American Defense Pact to be violated. I see no way in which that Treaty can be circumvented; short of its denunciation or public abrogation, the Treaty stands before our Allies, all neutral nations, and all of the Communist bloc as a solemn pledge of the United States. To condone or to camouflage the evasion of its articles would impugn our good faith, our honor, and our self-respect. Furthermore, we should be well aware of our inability to reason with General Chiang Kai-shek in the 1944-49 period, when he lost the Mainland.

Alan G. Kirk

* Source: Kennedy Library, President's Office Files, China Security, 1962-63. Top Secret. Filed as an attachment to a note of April 1 from Forrestal to Kennedy which calls it Kirk's “swan song.” Because of illness, Kirk did not return to Taipei.

1 Reference is to the treaty of friendship, alliance, and mutual assistance signed at Moscow on that date. For text, see UNTS 226:5; also printed in American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1950-1955, pp. 2463-2465.