28. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 21, 1955, 11:45 a.m.1
- Defense of the Off-shore Islands
- Dr. George Yeh, Chinese Foreign Minister
- Dr. Wellington Koo, Chinese Ambassador
- The Secretary
- Mr. Robertson, Assistant Secretary for FE
- Mr. Martin, Deputy Director for CA
Dr. Yeh explained that the Chinese Government’s response to the position stated by the Secretary in their discussions on January 19 had been somewhat delayed, becuase of certain questions which Taipei had wished to get clear first. However, a cable was now being decoded at the Chinese Embassy, which he had requested be delivered over here as soon as possible.[Page 100]
Dr. Yeh said that one question raised by Taipei was whether action would be taken in the United Nations before or after withdrawal from the Tachen Islands? Dr. Yeh had told Taipei that he had understood the Secretary to say that UN action would be taken after withdrawal from the Tachens. Dr. Yeh said his Government saw no need for a UN resolution following a withdrawal from the Tachens, and possibly from Matsu. The Chinese Government would not try to re-take these positions after withdrawal.
The Secretary replied that he had not been specific on the question of timing of the two actions. Action in the United Nations was not a matter which we could control, while timing of withdrawal from the Tachens depended on the military situation and on how long it would take to make the necessary preparations. We had already started to move carriers from the Manila area in the direction of Okinawa. We can’t be sure what precise time relationship there would be between withdrawal from the Tachens and UN consideration of a cease-fire resolution.
The Secretary said he wanted to inform Dr. Yeh of what our program was. He said that the President was planning to send a message to Congress asking for authority to use U.S. forces in and around Formosa for these purposes:
- If requested by the Chinese Government, to be ready to assist in the regrouping and consolidation of Chinese Forces in the Formosa area. The Secretary pointed out that the Chinese held certain off-shore islands for historical reasons rather than for military reasons, and that a regrouping and consolidation of these positions would be desirable from a military standpoint.
- To further the defense of Formosa by being prepared to strike rapidly against hostile attack. There might not be time to consult Congress after a hostile attack had been identified as such.
The Secretary read portions of the draft message to Congress but emphasized that the language was tentative and that he was planning to discuss it further with the President this afternoon. The message would make clear that the President was seeking authority to use U.S. armed forces in the Formosa area for non-provocative purposes in order to meet developments which might necessitate their use in the coming hours. It was not proposed to enlarge the area the United States was committed to defend.
The Secretary told Dr. Yeh that it had now been decided that the United States would be prepared to assist in the defense of Matsu as well as Quemoy. However, no public declaration would be made at present in this respect. He was simply informing Dr. Yeh so that the Chinese Government would know what the U.S. present intentions were. The Secretary said that in his opinion the message to Congress asking for authority to use armed forces in the Formosa area would [Page 101] have an electrifying effect throughout the world and we would want to see what its effect would be before making any further statement.
Ambassador Koo asked whether the message would not mention Quemoy and Matsu?
The Secretary reaffirmed that it would not mention these territories by name.
Dr. Yeh commented that the message seemed to him excellent. He had one point to raise, however. He wondered if the use of the word “regrouping” could be avoided. He did not know how it would sound in translation. Perhaps it could be stated “in the event of regrouping”.
Mr. Robertson pointed out that it was simply a question of withdrawal from nonstrategic to strategic positions. This amounted to strengthening of the Chinese position.
Dr. Yeh said that the Generalissimo had asked whether it would be possible for U.S. forces to support the Chinese in defending the Tachens while the islands were being evacuated. The Chinese garrison could not pull out immediately, since there were no adequate docking facilities in the Tachen harbor. The Generalissimo wanted to know whether we would help in fighting a rear-guard action.
The Secretary said that he knew the harbor in the Tachens was exposed and assured Dr. Yeh that it was our intention to provide cover for evacuation. This meant that we would knock down any Communist planes which would try to interfere.
Dr. Yeh asked if he could inform the Generalissimo that the U.S. was prepared to participate in rear-guard action on the Tachens.
The Secretary said that we would protect the evacuation, which meant that we would fight if attacked by the Chinese Communists while evacuation was going on.
Returning to his question as to the use of the word “regrouping”, Dr. Yeh suggested inclusion of the phrase “if and when requested”, in the sentence referring to regrouping in the draft message to Congress.
The Secretary noted this suggestion on the draft message.
Dr. Yeh said he had a question as to the timing of an announcement from Taipei as to the withdrawal from the Tachens: Should it be made simultaneously with the announcement of the U.S. intentions respecting Quemoy? The Secretary replied that we were not now intending to make a public announcement as to Quemoy. He suggested that the Chinese announcement might be made at the time of the President’s message to Congress.
Ambassador Koo asked how Congress might react to the message.
The Secretary indicated that he thought Congressional action would be favorable on the whole. He thought the House action [Page 102] would be quick as House rules differ from those of the Senate, which permit unlimited debate. The Secretary felt that there might be four or five Senators who might be opposed and this might drag out the debate for a few days. He also pointed out the normal course would be for the draft resolution to go to Committee for hearings. However, he hoped that the resolution would get Wrought the Senate within a week.
Ambassador Koo suggested withholding announcement of the Tachens’ evacuation until after Congressional action on the joint resolution. Dr. Yeh pointed out that the Chinese could not make an announcement as to withdrawal from the Tachens on Monday.
The Secretary agreed that it would be better to wait until after Congressional action on the proposed joint resolution.
Dr. Yeh then asked what the situation was with respect to possible UN action.
The Secretary replied that it was boiling and he would not be surprised if the matter would be brought into the UN next week.
Dr. Yeh said that there had been rather stiff reaction in Formosa to the report of possible UN action.
The Secretary said that he understood the feeling on Formosa but he thought the odds were 10–1 that the results of UN consideration would benefit the Chinese Nationalist position. He was sure that the Chinese Communists would not come and they would not want to admit that the United Nations had any authority in the matter. Mr. Hammarskjold had reported that Chou En-lai would not even admit the existence of the UN Resolution on the imprisoned airmen and refused to discuss the matter with Hammarskjold on the basis of the UN Resolution. The Secretary felt that the Chinese Communists would simply flout the United Nations. Mr. Robertson asked how the Chinese Communists could possibly accept UN jurisdiction in this matter when they had refused to accept UN jurisdiction in Korea.
The Secretary said that the newspaper accounts of the conference with the Congressional leaders yesterday were terrible, as they made it look as though things were going against the Chinese Nationalists while in fact the program under consideration would have the opposite effect.
Dr. Yeh indicated that Taipei had asked his opinion as to what its public position should be in response to the newspaper stories. He said that he had suggested the following two points: 1) that the Chinese Government had not indicated to the U.S. any intention of withdrawing from the Tachens, and 2) that it had not requested the United States for any assistance in withdrawing from these islands.
The Secretary referred to four questions contained in a telegram just received from Ambassador Rankin.[Page 103]
Has the evacuation proposal any connection with Hammarskjold’s visit to Peiping?
The Secretary said the answer is no. In fact our intelligence estimate is that the proposed U.S. action will make it less likely that the prisoners will be released.
Can Senate action on the Defense Treaty be expedited to reassure the Chinese public and armed forces?
The Secretary said that he had spoken to Senator George who said he was prepared to push the Treaty through rapidly. The Secretary pointed out that in the President’s message to Congress Monday, it was also proposed to emphasize the need for a speedy ratification of the Treaty, which provided the whole framework for the security of the Formosa area. In reading the language from the draft message, the Secretary emphasized that this was only a draft and he couldn’t guarantee this language would be in the final version.
Dr. Yeh said that he hoped the amendment he had proposed in the sentence about regrouping would be left in the message.
Ambassador Koo again referred to the question of whether Matsu and Quemoy would be mentioned in the message.
The Secretary again said that they would not be mentioned in the message. However, the National Security Council had made the decision this morning that it would be U.S. policy to assist in their defense. This was a matter of U.S. policy and not of agreement with the Chinese Government, and, therefore, could be changed by the U.S. just as any other policy.
Ambassador Koo asked if the President had approved the policy.
The Secretary replied in the affirmative.
Can units of the 7th Fleet proceed to Tachen immediately?
The Secretary said that as he had already indicated the carriers were enroute to the vicinity of Okinawa.
Can the U.S. provide transports to help in evacuation?
The Secretary said that he didn’t know the answer to that question. He wondered if it would be necessary.
Ambassador Koo said that he thought the Chinese would not have sufficient transports to make a quick evacuation.
The Secretary commented that the evacuation would not have to be rapid since the U.S. would participate in defending the Tachens while the evacuation was under way.
Dr. Yeh then raised the question of the immediate need for a man from the Pacific Command to go to Formosa. He should be a man who could make decisions.
Mr. Robertson said that this was under Admiral Stump’s jurisdiction.[Page 104]
The Secretary and Mr. Robertson indicated that they thought it would be a good idea to have a high-level officer proceed immediately to Formosa. The Secretary suggested that Mr. Robertson could take the matter up with Admiral Radford.
- Source: Department of State, ROC Files: Lot 71 D 517, 1954–1955, Offshore Islands. Top Secret. Drafted by Martin initialed by Robertson, indicating his approval.↩