Policy Planning Staff Files, Lot 54–D195

Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennan)81

[PPS 53]

United States Policy Toward Formosa and the Pescadores

It now seems that there is little likelihood that the policy set forth in NSC 37/1,82 37/283 and 37/584 will attain our major objective with respect to Formosa and the Pescadores—the denial of the islands to the Communists through their separation from Chinese mainland control. The situation in Formosa and the Pescadores is degenerating [Page 357] along lines which probably, though perhaps not for two or three years or perhaps in a matter of months, will culminate in Chinese Communist domination of the islands. A review of our policy is therefore in order.
It would now seem clear that the only reasonably sure chance of denying Formosa and the Pescadores to the Communists and insulating the islands from mainland authority would lie in the removal of the present Nationalist administrators from the islands and in the establishment of a provisional international or U.S. regime which would invoke the principle of self-determination for the islanders and would eventually, prior to a Japanese peace settlement, conduct a plebiscite to determine the ultimate disposition of Formosa and the Pescadores. Formosan separatism is the only concept which has sufficient grass-roots appeal to resist communism.
There are two ways in which this change in regime could conceivably be brought about.
One would be to induce other Far Eastern powers to take the lead in initiating international action to achieve the above purpose. (For purposes of illustration, I attach a paper outlining such a course of action, drafted on the assumption that this was the course we would wish to pursue.)
The other would be to announce a temporary unilateral re-assertion of authority over the islands on the grounds that subsequent events had invalidated all the assumptions underlying the Cairo Declaration and that U.S. intervention was required by the interests of stability in the Pacific area as well as by the interests of the inhabitants of the islands.
Either of these courses would necessitate a change in the views of the National Military Establishment on the strategic importance of Formosa.*
Either would serve to provide the Kremlin and Chinese Stalinists with a welcome propaganda foil to the growing restlessness in Chinese Communist circles over Russian imperialism in Manchuria (particularly Port Arthur and Dairen).
Either would confront us with the eventual probable responsibility for removing the Chinese forces and many of the Chinese refugees by force to the mainland. This would involve a considerable [Page 358] amount of pushing people around, which would be unpleasant and might lead to serious moral conflicts within our own people and government.
The first of the two courses would involve a diplomatic operation calling for great subtlety of approach and for rapid, resolute action, with the most sensitive command of timing. It would, I am afraid, surpass the framework of experience and capabilities of the many people, both here and abroad, who would have to participate in it.
The second alternative would offend the sensibilities of many people in the Department on legal and procedural grounds, and we would probably have to cut some legal corners to justify it.
All the advice I can get in the Department tells me that both of these possible courses should be rejected and that we should reconcile ourselves to the prospect of Formosa’s falling into the hands of the Chinese Communists. I personally feel that if the second course were to be adopted and to be carried through with sufficient resolution, speed, ruthlessness and self-assurance, the way Theodore Roosevelt might have done it, it would be not only successful but would have an electrifying effect in this country and throughout the Far East. I have nothing to support this view but my own instinct. And since the successful execution of the idea would depend on many other people, including the President, having the same instinctive concept and a readiness to assume gladly and with conviction the unquestionably great risks which it involves, I cannot put it forth without reservation as a measured and formal staff recommendation.
My feeling is, therefore, that at this stage you should discuss this with the President and your colleagues in the National Security Council, and should make plain to them that the courses outlined above seem to be the only alternatives to eventual Chinese Communist rule on the islands. If they then feel strongly, as I do, that our situation in the Far East will not permit further inaction in areas where our military and economic capabilities would be adequate to meet the possible commitments flowing from intervention; if they agree, as the NME85 has hitherto been reluctant to do, that Formosa and the Pescadores is such an area; and if they are prepared to assume their full share of the responsibility for initiating and pursuing such a course—then my personal view is that we should take the plunge.
If we are not willing to do this, then we should ask the NSC to note carefully our view that as a consequence the islands are more likely than not eventually to fall under Chinese Communist control; that any later efforts on our part to prevent such a contingency would probably be both tardy and ineffectual; and that we should therefore [Page 359] set about to prepare U.S. and world opinion as best we can for a possible further significant extension of Chinese Communist control—this time to an area close to our military position in the Ryukyus, close to the Philippines, and relatively inaccessible to military attack by land forces from the mainland in the face of even the most rudimentary air and naval opposition, and above all to an area populated by a dependent people for whom we have a certain specific responsibility and for whom such control would constitute an oppressive alien domination.


Draft Memorandum Prepared in Policy Planning Staff

A Possible Course of Action With Respect to Formosa and the Pescadores

Preliminary Comment

1. Any plan for the removal of the present authorities on Formosa and the Pescadores immediately encounters two serious obstacles: (a) there are now approximately 300,000 Chinese troops on the islands, who might resist such action and (b) this Government is more or less committed to Chinese sovereignty over the islands.

2. This paper does not attempt to provide a solution to the first of these obstacles. The answer to that question turns, in the last analysis, on whether the National Military Establishment is able and willing, on much the same principles which animated the British at Oran and Dakar, to provide the requisite force to subdue and eject, if necessary, the Nationalist forces now on the islands and to exert effective authority there for an interim period. For these reasons, this plan cannot be implemented unless the NME indicates such readiness and ability.

3. This paper does explore the possibilities for overcoming the political obstacles which stand in our way and for providing a justifiable political framework within which this Government might resort to a show of force or, if necessary, an active exercise of force in bringing about an administration independent of Chinese mainland control and enjoying solid anti-Communist popular support.

4. The recommendations which follow are suggestive rather than definitive. The general course of action being proposed here is so complex and full of unpredictable elements that, if accepted, it should be implemented with intelligent flexibility.

[Page 360]

Course of Action

5. An inquiry should be instituted, along the lines of paragraph 2 above, as to whether the NME is able and willing to provide the requisite force to subdue and eject, if necessary, the Nationalist troops now on the islands, and to exert effective authority there for an interim period. While awaiting a reply from the NME, we should:

unofficially, through an existing cut-out, sound out the Philippine Government in guarded terms slanted to its own interests regarding the proposed course of action set forth in paragraph 8 (The Filipinos are naturally going to be most reluctant to place themselves out in front on this score unless this Government gives them a greater sense of security against external attack.);
in no-wise committing this Government, indirectly approach the Australian Government along the same lines;
even more cautiously and tentatively explore the attitude of the Indian Government;
prepare a chapter in the White Paper on China dealing with Formosa,86 with particular emphasis being laid upon Chinese misrule of the islands since VJ–Day (The White Paper, or at least the chapter on Formosa, should be issued before action is taken along the lines laid down in paragraph 7.);
release for background purposes a small but steady stream of information of this character and information regarding the Formosan reemancipation movement.

6. If the reactions from all three Governments are negative, we should reexamine this paper in the light of what has been learned.

7. If the reactions are affirmative and if the NME expresses a willingness to make a show of force adequate to eliminate Nationalist troops from Formosa and the Pescadores, and if necessary to apply it, we should forthwith

secretly and officially discuss with the Filipinos, Australians and, if progress has been made with Nehru,87 the Indians, the questions which were raised with them through informal contacts. We should state that if any one or all of them would take the initiative in the matter we would be prepared to support them and follow through on a practical basis. At this stage, the British, Canadians and New Zealanders should be secretly advised of these conversations;
If there is general concurrence among the Philippine, Australian and Indian Governments that all or any one of them would raise the Formosan question as an issue requiring the attention of the powers which defeated Japan, make our position clear along the lines set forth in the following paragraph.

[Page 361]

8. In our view the problem of Formosa and the Pescadores can be broken down into two main components: (a) the need for a responsible and stable administration on the islands during the present period while they are awaiting a stabilization of conditions in China and a final disposition at a Japanese peace settlement, and (b) the need for discovering what the desires of the islanders are with regard to their future so that a just and constructive decision can be reached in the peace settlement on the basis of the self-determination of the inhabitants of Formosa and the Pescadores. We do not feel that we should take the initiative in seeking a solution of these issues because (a) they are of more vital concern to the Philippines and its neighbors than to us, (b) were we to do so, we would lay ourselves open to charges of “Big Power intervention” and (c) our hands are more or less tied by the commitments we made at Cairo and our actions in facilitating Chinese assmption of control over the islands. While we are most reluctant to take the lead in this question, we will vigorously and fully support those states which will take action along the following lines:

Notification to all other powers at war with Japan that: The notifying states view with grave anxiety the mounting threat of chaos and civil strife spreading from the mainland of China to Formosa and the Pescadores; the Philippines recollect that it was only recently invaded and ravaged from those islands; the notifying powers cannot view without misgivings this new jeopardization of the security of all Southeast Asia; they therefore propose that the powers which are still legally at war with Japan should immediately concern themselves with the threatened turmoil in this part of the Japanese Empire which is still awaiting final disposition at a peace settlement; under Article 107 of the United Nations Charter,88 this question is reserved for action by the powers which are at war with Japan. The foregoing notification should be released for publication.
Either in the same notification or in a separate statement to be issued simultaneously or shortly thereafter by all or any one of the above-mentioned notifying governments, the proposal should be made that, in view of the independent early history of Formosa and the Pescadores, of the shocking record of misrule during the past four years by the Chinese and of the many pleas from repesentative Formosans for autonomy, the powers which defeated Japan should promptly request the U.N. to conduct within one year a plebiscite regarding the ultimate disposition of the islands in accordance with the principles of self-determination. It should be further proposed that the U.N. be requested in conducting the plebiscite to place the following alternatives before the inhabitants of the islands:
Do you wish to be administered by (a) whatever government emerges on the mainland of China or (b) the present Chinese authorities on the island, or
Do you wish another form of administration: (a) trusteeship under the United Nations, (b) independence, (c) any other?

These proposals should likewise be made public.

9. The day following the notification recommended in paragraph 8, this Government should:

propose to the concerned governments (and announce publicly) that representatives of the states at war with Japan meet within one week’s time at Manila or Canberra to act on the notification (Objections may be raised to this proposal on the basis of inconvenience. Having made it, however, we can then acquiesce to a conference of Ambassadors in Washington or London.);
announce publicly our reaction to the notification:
The final disposition of Formosa and the Pescadores, parts of the former Japanese Empire, awaits a decision at a peace settlement with Japan;
Formosa and the Pescadores are at present under Chinese military administration because the United States Government enabled the Chinese authorities at the time of the Japanese surrender to assume control over the islands, the decision to do this having flowed from the attitude expressed by the President in the Cairo Declaration;
Subsequent events in China and in Formosa have not justified the assumptions on which these actions were taken: Chinese administration on the islands has been rapacious and oppressive and the chaos and strife which wracked and gutted China Proper now threaten to engulf these islands;
It was certainly not the intention of the American people, whose forces liberated Formosa and the Pescadores at so great a cost in blood and treasure, that the Cairo Declaration and this Government’s action in facilitating Chinese control of the islands should have resulted in the creation of a menace to the stability and security of Southeast Asia and in the suffering which has been endured by the people of Formosa during the past four years;
Hoping that the Chinese administration on the islands might turn to more responsible and constructive policies, this Government has during the past four years scrupulously refrained from giving publicity to conditions on the islands and to the appeals for liberation made by representative Formosans to this Government;
Confronted with further deterioration rather than improvement and with the likelihood that the strife and misery on the Chinese mainland will spread to Formosa and the Pescadores, this Government can no longer in good conscience remain silent and inactive;
In view of all the foregoing, this Government declares its willingness to associate itself with the decision of the majority of the concerned powers regarding (a) the occupation and administration of the islands pending their disposition at a Japanese peace settlement and (b) the future political status of the islands based upon the results of the proposed plebiscite.

[Page 363]

10. Simultaneously, we should prepare with utmost despatch and vigor to lay the groundwork for the meeting of the concerned powers. We should attempt to obtain an agreed position with all of them excepting the Russians and Chinese regarding the change in the occupation and administration of the islands, acquainting our friends of our willingness to carry the main weight of the military phase of the operation. To minimize the unilateral appearance of this operation, we should urge the Filipinos, Australians, Indians, Pakistanis, Canadians and New Zealanders to make at least token forces available for the military operation.

11. At the same time, we should seek the collaboration of the Filipinos in providing all possible facilities for Formosan autonomy groups to make their case known both on the islands and elsewhere through broadcasts, publications, … and other channels.…

12. At the meeting of the concerned powers, we should endeavor to insure that the change-over on the islands be undertaken two weeks from the convocation of the meeting. Details regarding the forthcoming operation should be decided upon at the meeting. If China and the U.S.S.R. are represented at the conference, it will be necessary to conduct the work of the conference outside of the formal conference sessions which should then be devoted only to forcing through agreed positions at the most rapid possible pace.

13. As soon as decisions to that effect are reached at the conference, we should establish naval and air patrols designed to prevent access to the islands from the mainland. At the same time, we should do everything possible to facilitate the flight elsewhere of undesirable Chinese political and military elements now on the islands, including ships to speed the exodus.

14. At this time, we should despatch an emissary to the key personality on the island, General Sun Li-jen. Because Sun, of all the generals on the island, has the least hopes on the mainland and is the most likely to resist a change imposed from without, he is capable of performing the desperate act of resisting vigorously. It would be judicious to present him with an opportunity for saving his position. He should be offered the alternative of declaring himself in favor of the Formosan cause and participating in the new occupation. If he accepts, we shall have made a major military gain in dividing the Chinese forces now on the island.

15. The Generalissimo should be informed that if he wishes to remain on the island, he will be accorded the status of a political refugee.

16. During the take-over and the subsequent administration of the island, we should avoid so far as possible a conspicuous role. We should [Page 364] always remember that our aim is more to deny the islands to the Communists than to acquire responsibility for them and that our influence can be far more effectively exerted through indirect and discreet means rather than through unilateral heavy-handed measures.

  1. This memorandum, PPS 53, according to an attached chit, was canceled on July 6; a note stated that the views of the Policy Planning Staff would be submitted by Mr. Kennan in a personal memorandum; latter not found in Department of State files.
  2. January 19, p. 270.
  3. February 3, p. 281.
  4. March 1, p. 290.
  5. “The Joint Chiefs of Staff are staff of the opinion that any overt military commitment in Formosa would be unwise at this time. In spite of Formosa’s strategic importance, the current disparity between our military strength and our many global obligations makes it inadvisable to undertake the employment of armed force in Formosa, for this might, particularly in view of the basic assumption that diplomatic and economic steps have failed, lead to the necessity for relatively major effort there, thus making it impossible then to meet more important emergencies elsewhere.” (NSC 37/3, February 11, 1949.) [Footnote in the source text.]
  6. National Military Establishment.
  7. See Department of State, United States Relations With China (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949), p. 307; see also post, pp. 1365 ff.
  8. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Prime Minister.
  9. As used in this paper “the powers which defeated Japan” and “the powers at war with Japan” refer only to those represented on the Far Eastern Commission: US, UK, USSR, China, Philippines, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Netherlands, France—plus Pakistan and Burma. [Footnote in the source text.]
  10. Signed at San Francisco, June 26, 1945; 59 Stat. (pt. 2) 1031, 1053.