Taipei, May 15, 1961, 9 p.m.
134. Codel Johnson for Crockett.1Vice President Johnson was in Hong Kong following a May 14-15 visit to the Republic of China in the course of a trip to South and Southeast Asia. Documentation on his visit is ibid., 033.1100 JO, and Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1880. For text of the joint communique issued at Taipei on May 15, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 947-948. For text of Johnson's May 23 report to Kennedy on his trip, see U.S. Department of Defense, United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, vol. 11, pp. 159-166. Summary follows of conversation between Vice President Johnson and President Chiang on afternoon of May 14. As agreed with Vice President's party, Embassy will send detailed memorandum of conversation to Department under cover of limited distribution despatch2Despatch 612, May 16. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100 JO/5-1661) Despatch 655 from Taipei, June 9, transmitted Chinese records of this and two subsequent conversations between Johnson and Chiang. (Ibid., 033.1100 JO/6-961) stating that memorandum has not been reviewed by Vice President.
After initial exchange of greetings, Vice President handed President Chiang letter from President Kennedy.3Dated May 8, it reads in part as follows: As is his usual custom, President Chiang did not ask for immediate translation of letter. Substance of letter was, however, covered fully by Vice President in subsequent discussions.
“I wish to take this opportunity, Mr. President, to reiterate that my Government will continue to stand solidly behind the Mutual Defense Treaty between our two countries in meeting the challenge posed by the Chinese Communists in the Taiwan area. I also wish to assure you that my Government has no intention of recognizing the aggressive and tyrannical communist regime in Peiping. My Government, furthermore, remains opposed to the seating of the Chinese Communist regime in the United Nations and, as I emphasized in my letter of April 17 [Document 21] to you, regards it as important that the position of the Republic of China in the United Nations should be maintained.” (Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204) See the Supplement. The letter was drafted in the Department of State and sent to the White House with a May 8 covering memorandum from U. Alexis Johnson to Rostow. (Department of State, Central Files, 793.11/5-861)
President Chiang expressed his pleasure over Vice President's visit to Taiwan and stated Vice President's trip has given Asian people great hope. Vice President stated that principal purpose of trip is to make clear firmness of US policy and to gain further understanding of situation in Asia. Vice President pointed out it is very important that United States Government and free Asian governments have accurate information concerning one another's intentions. President Chiang agreed.
Vice President said President Kennedy is man who believes in keeping commitments. President Chiang commented that with President Kennedy at head of free world he is confident concerning success of both general free world struggle and of China's own struggle in particular.
Vice President said he wished to make clear US has no intention whatsoever of recognizing Communist China. Policy of present US administration is to love one's friends and to hate one's enemies.
President Chiang asked Vice President Johnson how he had found situation in South Vietnam. Vice President replied that he and President Diem had discussed number of positive proposals made in letter from President Kennedy to President Diem.4The text of Kennedy's May 8 letter to South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem is printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, vol. 11, pp. 132-135. Other documentation pertaining to Johnson's May 11-13 visit to South Vietnam may be found in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, pp. 135-157. President Chiang expressed opinion that as the result of Vice President's visit the situation in South Vietnam may become stabilized. Vice President observed that democratic system frequently makes slow start but then is hard to stop. Totalitarian governments, however, sometimes enjoy early successes. Recent Communist successes in Laos were reason for President Kennedy asking him to make present trip. President had also sent his brother-in-law and sister5Stephen and Jean Kennedy Smith. to take look at situation in Asia in which President is intensely interested.
Vice President explained that he had been sent on his current mission first to reassure allies who wish to stand up to communism and second to try to strengthen existing programs or to create new programs which will help those allies to do so. By time trip has been completed, Vice President said, he expects President Diem will have sent representative to Washington with additional suggestions designed to increase military strength in South Vietnam. Also, he and members of his party will have greater understanding of the situation in Asia and he is confident program will be evolved that will make possible all out effort resist evil force of communism.
Vice President expressed his admiration for excellent job which Vice President Chen had told him is being done on Taiwan. He commented particularly on achievements in education, and on high living standard. He also commented favorably on sincere friendship of Chinese people for United States and on interest of Chinese leaders in development of science. In latter connection, President Chiang congratulated VP on space flight of Commander Shephard. President expressed skepticism concerning Soviet claims for its space flight. Vice President contrasted full television coverage of Commander Shepard's flight with limited information provided by Russians on their space venture.
Vice President said he believes President will soon recommend to Congress: (1) better coordinated, practical and more useful economic aid programs; (2) considerable increase in strength of United States conventional forces; and (3) all out effort in the space field.
Vice President mentioned recent visits of Adenauer and Macmillan to Washington and coming trip of President Kennedy to confer with President De Gaulle. Vice President said that President Kennedy is anxious United States consultations with friendly leaders not be limited to Europe or to either large or small countries. Vice President said that is why he is in Taipei. VP said that US has tried very hard to induce French and British to give greater support to this part of world but that they have been most reluctant to do so. VP said he hoped information obtained and objectives developed on trip would enable US government to be more persuasive with French and British than it has been thus far.
Vice President said any new approach to Southeast Asia should involve effort build maximum strength in Vietnam and perhaps also substantial SEATO assistance in Thailand. SEATO members might be asked to make substantially increased contributions. Thus when decision is made concerning Laos, we will know where we are going in Thailand and Vietnam and area will be source of strength. Vice President said since present approach is not working it is very important to find new plan which will stop free world giving up and moving back. President Chiang commented that this was precisely his own view.
In summing up, Vice President said he had tried: (1) to express his appreciation of developments on Taiwan and to state attitude of US toward President Chiang and his government, toward Chinese Communists, toward issue of recognition of Chinese Communists and toward question of admission of Chinese Communists to United Nations; and (2) to give some ideas on how US is approaching program for Southeast Asia. Vice President said he would like President Chiang's opinion on latter subject. He had no doubt concerning his views on former subjects.
President Chiang expressed admiration for Vice President's statement concerning US position and his analysis of situation. President said he wished to speak very frankly as between allies and friends. Vice President encouraged him to do so.
President Chiang first thanked US govt and American people for their support which has enabled his government to consolidate Taiwan as base for carrying out fight against communism. President expressed regret time did not permit lengthy exchange of views and said he would state briefly points which he wished to make and would elaborate on them if Vice President wished.
President Chiang said his first point is that developments in Laos have proved that SEATO is not much more than empty shell. Reverses in Laos have weakened confidence of Asian members in SEATO and may also have affected their confidence in American leadership. He agreed with Vice President that something different must be done to save situation.
Complaint, President said, is that none of friendly Asian nations concerned will believe that Britain or France can be persuaded to take more positive stand in Southeast Asia. Suspicion exists, he said, that these two countries joined SEATO more to hinder than to help. Free Asian leaders recall colonial record of British and French and cannot believe that they have had change of heart. Also, presence of British and French in SEATO permits Communists to charge that SEATO is merely instrument to perpetuate Western colonial interests. President stated situation in Laos may be charged largely to British and French obstructionism. It is high time, he said, to give up hope that Britain and France will play active role in any anti-Communist alliance in Asia.
Turning to another point, President said that, despite United States bilateral security agreements with several Asian nations, united policy under positive leadership is lacking. He expressed hope that US would supply this policy and this leadership. United States, he said, has expended considerable effort in Asia but this effort does not add up to strength it should have produced. General reappraisal of United States policy is required. United States policy in Asia should be based on giving effective aid to nations involved in struggle against communism. President criticized US concept of maintaining fire brigade to rush here and there putting out fires. He said there is no need to supply US forces. Local Asian peoples can do job. President Chiang also urged that new positive policy in Asia apply to entire area. Effort to solve problems in one country, such as Laos, separately should be discontinued. Vice President asked President Chiang what US should have done in Laos that it has not done. Madame Chiang responded by asking whether it was true that US advisors in Laos had worn civilian clothes, had been responsible for only administrative aspects of aid, and had not been permitted to train Laotian forces. Vice President said she was correct and had put her finger on source of difficulty. Weak spot in Laos, he said, was failure of French to perform their job effectively. Vice President said United States government has made clear to French and other governments that US is concerned with freedom everywhere—not just in some areas. We have told French, he said, that we cannot see why we must argue with them about Laos.
Vice President Chen said it is often asked why Pathet Lao can fight and troops of Lao government cannot although both are Laotian. Answer, he said, is very simple. Pathet Lao are supported by Russian airlift, Chinese Communist advisors, and North Vietnamese reinforcements. Lao government is in effect being attacked by several governments. To meet this free world forces must be organized in coordinated manner. We must have unified planning, execution, and command.
Vice President Johnson asked President Chiang whether he would favor sending Pakistan, Filipino, and American forces into Thailand or Vietnam as sign we mean business. President Chiang suggested that, if Thailand were willing, Thai troops be sent into Laos to defend key points along Mekong River such as Vientiane, Luang Prebang, and Tak Hok. US, he said, should give Thais logistical support, supply planes and train Thai pilots. Vice President commented Thais might be interested in this approach if men in US uniform were at their side which was what President Chiang said US should not do. President Chiang agreed and said he has been and still is of opinion that US policy in Asia should not be based on getting US forces involved.
Vice President expressed interest in continuing conversation during and after dinner that evening. President Chiang agreed.
(Notes on conversations between Vice President Johnson and President Chiang on evening of May 14 and morning of May 15 were taken by member of Vice President's party. Embassy understands party will report to Washington on those conversations).6According to transcripts based on notes taken by Robert Waldron of Johnson's party, on May 14 Chiang stressed the need for coordinated action in Asia, and he and Johnson discussed a draft joint communique. On May 15 Chiang complained that in the past the United States had sometimes not placed enough trust in his government. He predicted “an explosion or collapse on the China Mainland” within 1 or 2 years and urged regular U.S.-GRC consultations to agree on common policies and to study the situation on the mainland “so that more effective steps and measures can be worked out to hasten the overthrow of the Communist regime.” Johnson stressed the importance of taking an affirmative approach in public statements on his visit, emphasizing the economic and educational progress in Taiwan. (Johnson Library, Waldron Papers)