8. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 12, 19551
- Defense of Tachen Islands
- Dr. Wellington Koo—Chinese Ambassador
- Mr. Robertson, Assistant Secretary, FE
- Mr. McConaughy, Director, CA
Ambassador Koo said he was calling on instructions of the Generalissimo to express the concern of the Chinese Government at the recent large scale Chinese Communist air attacks on the Tachen Islands; to ascertain the U.S. view of the importance of the Tachens; and to find out what moral and matériel support the Chinese Government could expect from the U.S. Government in the defense of the Tachens and the other off-shore islands. The Ambassador said that his Government understood the reasons which compelled the U.S. to exclude the off-shore islands from the Mutual Defense Treaty. Notwithstanding the absence of any treaty obligation on the [Page 14] part of the U.S., the Chinese Government was hopeful of receiving strong moral and logistic support from the U.S. in the defense of the off-shore islands. The Chinese Government of course did not intend to involve the U.S. in combat action. But matériel and moral support, short of military participation, would be of great psychological value to the Chinese Armed Forces defending the islands. The extent of U.S. support would influence the decision of the Generalissimo as to whether the Chinese forces should go all out to hold the islands.
The Chinese Government is convinced that the Chinese Communist capabilities for bombing the off-shore islands, using Soviet planes, are constantly increasing, with large scale Soviet tactical and logistic assistance. The scale of the January 10 attack was larger than any Communist air action in the Korean War. The Chinese Government considers the threat to its retention of the off-shore islands is increasing dangerously. This makes it essential that the position of the U.S. Government be made known to the Chinese Government.
Mr. Robertson said this was a matter which would require the consideration of the Secretary. The Secretary had been away all of yesterday and Mr. Robertson had been with the Hoover Commission2 all morning. Hence there had not been an opportunity for full consideration of the heavy Communist bombing attack of January 10. Mr. Robertson said that he did not want to say anything definite until he had consulted the Secretary. However, without putting it in the form of a suggestion, he would like to know what the Ambassador thought of placing the matter before the UN Security Council. The inquiry need not be relayed to the Generalissimo. But for his own background information Mr. Robertson would like to know what the Ambassador personally thought of such a course of action. Here was an unprovoked attack on territory legitimately held by a UN member. It was an act of aggression which threatened peace and security. Could not a case be made for placing it before the Security Council?
Amb. Koo said this possibility had not been mentioned in the two telegrams on the subject which he had received from his Government. He did not believe his Government was thinking in terms of UN action. He asked if Mr. Robertson was thinking of an appeal to the UN by the Chinese Government, or by some other Government, such as New Zealand?
Mr. Robertson said that the question might be raised by any UN member. The Chinese Government could take the action if it wished to.[Page 15]
Amb. Koo said that his Government would probably consider the UN incapable of deterring Chinese Communist aggression against the off-shore islands. Since a UN appeal would probably be ineffectual, he doubted if his Government would want to give serious consideration to it. He inquired what benefits Mr. Robertson thought might result from putting the matter before the UN.
Mr. Robertson said that in all probability the Soviet Union would feel compelled to veto any resolution which might be considered on the subject. A Soviet veto would greatly improve the international position of the Chinese Government, morally and psychologically, and would put the Communist side in an unfavorable light.
Amb. Koo said he felt there was general agreement on the significance of the Tachens from a psychological and political standpoint. There was some disagreement as to the strategic importance of the Tachens from a strictly military standpoint. They were about 200 miles from Formosa and the essentiality of the islands to the military defense of Formosa could be argued. But there was no argument as to their importance from other standpoints. Their loss would undoubtedly be a grave blow to the Chinese Government. A Chinese Communist victory would enhance the prestige of the Communists and embolden them to seize Quemoy and the remaining off-shore islands. All the off-shore islands would be important stepping stones to Formosa and the Pescadores. The inability of the Chinese Government to defend its territory would discredit it among Chinese everywhere and influence many Chinese to go over to the side of the Communists. The momentum gained by the Communists from seizure of the off-shore islands would put them in a favorable position for further aggression.
Mr. Robertson said that the matter of the strategic importance of the Tachens was one primarily for military determination as he saw it. We could not commit ourselves to go to war for islands so far from Formosa. However, the type of consultation called for under the Treaty could and should go forward, even though the Treaty was not yet ratified. He assumed that our top military people in the area were already exchanging views with the Chinese military authorities on this subject. We were already assisting the Chinese in the defense of the off-shore islands by providing military hardware and defense support which were used on the islands. Furthermore the garrison on Tachen and other islands had received the benefit of MAAG training on Formosa, before being rotated to duty on the islands.
Amb. Koo acknowledged that American assistance was being made available indirectly for the defense of the off-shore islands. However he did not understand that our MAAG officers were primarily responsible for consulting with and advising the Chinese military on strategic and combat questions. He thought they were in Formosa [Page 16] primarily for training purposes and their advisory role was chiefly in the training field.
Mr. Robertson mentioned that Admiral Stump as the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet had top U.S. military responsibility in the area and was certainly authorized to advise and recommend in the strategic field.
Amb. Koo recognized this fact but mentioned that Admiral Stump had a vast area to cover and was able to visit Formosa and adjacent areas only infrequently.
Amb. Koo then said that his Government had five requests to make of the U.S. Government as follows:
- That the U.S. Government make an official statement on the Communist assault on the Tachen Islands, expressing its concern at this aggressive action and indicating its sympathy with the Chinese Government in its defense of the islands. He said that the silence of the U.S. Government so far on this act of aggression was noticeable. It was felt that a statement along the lines suggested would tend to keep the Communists guessing as to whether we would assist in the defense of the islands, and would therefore have something of a deterrent effect on the Communists, and a favorable psychological effect on the Chinese Government troops defending the islands.
- That the U.S. Government assign a fully empowered high ranking military official to Taipei as a consultant. A role more or less corresponding to that of General Collins 3 in Vietnam was envisaged. Such an officer should be authorized to make decisions on the spot. The assignment of such an official would impress the outside world and in itself would tend to improve the situation.
- That elements of the 7th Fleet be deployed closer to the Tachen Islands. At present the 7th Fleet vessels were standing some distance off. If they stood closer in they would seem to show more of an interest in the defense of the Tachens, and without becoming involved in hostilities themselves, could exert a useful influence.
- That the U.S. Government give assurances of generous logistic support for the defense of the off-shore islands. He mentioned that the consumption rate for matériel and supplies already was greatly stepped up, and probably would be further accelerated as the tempo of hostilities rose. He mentioned that in the single day of January 10, three vessels had been lost or put out of commission. One aircraft had been lost and large quantities of ammunition expended. If the Chinese Forces had the certainty of strong U.S. logistic support, this knowledge would give a lift to their morale.
- That the U.S. Government accelerate the delivery of matériel and supplies already scheduled under the Military Assistance Program:—especially jet aircraft, the 4 destroyers recently requested, and a number of LST’s. All these items would be very important to the supply and defense of the off-shore islands. The rate of loss of both aircraft and naval vessels was expected to rise as a result of increased [Page 17] Chinese Communist Air Force capabilities along the China coast opposite the off-shore islands.
The Ambassador requested Mr. Robertson to convey these five requests to the Secretary urgently. He said he hoped to see the Secretary early next week and to receive some indication of the U.S. position then.
Mr. Robertson assured the Ambassador that his representations would receive the early attention of the Secretary.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.5/1–1255. Secret. Drafted by McConaughy, Director of the Office of Chinese Affairs. Initialed by Robertson, indicating his approval. A note attached to the source text indicates that it was sent to the Secretary at Robertson’s suggestion and that it was seen by the Secretary. Ambassador Koo’s record of this conversation, along with his records of other conversations with U.S. officials during 1955, are in the Wellington Koo Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, Box 195.↩
- The Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government (Second Hoover Commission), established in July 1953.↩
- General J. Lawton Collins, Special Representative of President Eisenhower in Vietnam.↩