794A.5 MSP/11–654

No. 385
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of Chinese Affairs (McConaughy)

top secret


  • Proposed Mutual Security Pact—Third Meeting


  • Dr. Yeh, Chinese Foreign Minister
  • Dr. Wellington Koo, Chinese Ambassador
  • Dr. Tan, Minister, Chinese Embassy
  • Mr. Robertson, Assistant Secretary, FE
  • Mr. McConaughy, CA

Mr. Robertson handed the Chinese representative copies of the draft Protocol to the Treaty, as proposed by the U.S. (A copy is enclosed.)1 He explained that the purpose of the Protocol was to formalize the understanding that without mutual consent, the Chinese [Page 871] Government would not take any offensive action which might provoke retaliation by the Communists leading to invocation of the Treaty. At the same time the U.S. did not want to freeze the present situation or give any legitimate status to the Communist regime. The U.S. did not want to encourage the Communist Chinese to think they could seize additional territories without serious risk. He pointed out that the proposed Protocol would give the Chinese Government more latitude than it had under the original 7th Fleet Order of June, 1950. It would continue the existing arrangement for close cooperation between the military authorities on the two sides. However, it was necessary to formalize a provision which would not be subject to possible change with a change of Administration in the Chinese Government. An arrangement was needed between Governments, not between certain officials. He stressed that the U.S. could not be a party to any Treaty which might oblige it to go to war through the operation of circumstances over which it had no control. The situation was dangerous because provocative action taken from Formosa or the off-shore islands might lead to reprisals by the Communists which could bring the Treaty into play. The U.S. must not be drawn in without its consent.

Foreign Minister Yeh said that for psychological reasons his Government had consistently tried to avoid subscribing to any public statement committing it not to invade the Mainland or take part in an anti-Communist adventure without U.S. concurrence. The existing undertaking to avoid offensive action without U.S. consent was absolutely firm but it was secret and needed to be kept so. Arrangements have been made so that any new Foreign Minister or President of China would be fully aware of the unequivocal nature of this commitment. The Chinese people are not prepared for a public renunciation of the nominal right of the Chinese Government to liberate the Mainland. It would be difficult to present a surrender of nominal Chinese independence of action in a form acceptable to the Chinese people. The Chinese Government was in perfect agreement with the substance of the U.S. proposal but would prefer to incorporate it in a confidential exchange of notes. The request for a Protocol was something entirely new and would have to be referred to Taipei. The Chinese Government has always observed the existing commitment scrupulously. They had delayed the counterattack after the Communist shelling of Quemoy for 8 or 9 hours in order to obtain U.S. concurrence, in literal compliance with the understanding. There was nothing intrinsically objectionable in the provisions of the Protocol. It was a mere re-affirmation of an existing understanding. But to make it public in a Protocol would be difficult.

[Page 872]

Mr. Robertson felt that there would be no chance of getting a Treaty ratified if it created the possibility of our being drawn into a war without our consent. The same problem had existed as to Korea. In the draft Protocol we had made an effort to build up the prestige of Nationalist China as an equal partner of the U.S. so that the Communists would realize we do not recognize the legal or moral right of the Communists to dominate China. There was nothing in the Protocol to encourage the unfortunate “Two-Chinas” idea or to discourage the hopes of Free China.

Ambassador Koo noted there was no reference in the Protocol to the island territories of the U.S. in the West Pacific. The Chinese Government was given no voice as to activities based on U.S. island territories in the West Pacific, although in principle such activities could affect the security of Formosa and the Pescadores. Therefore there was no reciprocity in the Protocol. There was only a unilateral obligation or restriction on the Chinese Government.

Mr. Robertson pointed out that there were no Chinese forces on U.S. island possessions in the area. There was mutuality all the way through the Treaty. The two essential problems in drafting the Treaty as the U.S. Government saw it were: (1) to avoid giving the Communists encouragement to take territories held by the Chinese Government; (2) to make it clear that the U.S. would not be involved in hostilities where a good case could not be made out that its safety and security of the U.S. were involved. This could be shown as to Formosa and the Pescadores; it could not be conclusively proved to the satisfaction of Congress as to the off-shore islands. At the same time the U.S. wished to keep the Communists guessing as to what the U.S. might do if any free territory were subjected to Communist attack. The language of the treaty served this purpose by specifying that the two parties could agree on any additional action which might seem called for.

Ambassador Koo asked about the distinction between the two areas specified in the draft Protocol. He said he was merely asking for information. He did not understand the scope of, or the reason for the differentiation and what was the necessity for making the restrictions on the use of force apply to the territory of one party without applying to the territory of the other party.

Mr. Robertson said that it would not be appropriate for the U.S. to give the Chinese Government any formal (even though nominal) voice as to U.S. military operations from Okinawa or other U.S. island bases in the West Pacific.

Ambassador Koo acknowledged this was true. He said he was only making the point to illustrate the lack of reciprocity which from the standpoint of appearances was embarrassing for the Chinese Government.

[Page 873]

Mr. Robertson observed that in effect the Protocol broadened the Treaty by recognizing Chinese rights over territory it might hereafter bring under its control, and by making possible the use of force by joint agreement.

Foreign Minister Yeh said he assumed that the purpose of the draft Protocol was to ensure that the Chinese Government did not take action from Taiwan which would involve the U.S. in warfare or in diplomatic difficulties.

Mr. Robertson said that the concern was only over possible involuntary involvement in hostilities. The U.S. could not leave open the possibility of provocative action beyond its control which might inevitably lead to U.S. involvement through a Treaty obligation. The Protocol merely formalized an understanding already reached between the two Governments.

Dr. Yeh said that the draft Protocol was properly a part of the implementation of the Treaty. He said he strongly objected in principle to inclusion of implementation provisions in a Protocol. It could be covered through an exchange of letters. Whether a Protocol was an integral part of a Treaty was debated among international lawyers. In any event the proposal was not acceptable to the Chinese Government as a Protocol.

Mr. Robertson felt that there was not the slightest chance of a ratification of a treaty which did not contain the safeguard embodied in the draft Protocol.

Foreign Minister Yeh said he would have to refer this matter to the Generalissimo. Without prejudice and without prejudging the matter he would state that he objected in principle to the substance of the Protocol being embodied in the Treaty or in an annex thereto. He would suggest an exchange of notes, as part of the implementation provided for in Article IV. There would be discussions anyway under Article IV. He said that if the restriction was placed in a Protocol, it would have to go before the Legislative Yuan. This would create grave difficulties for the Chinese Government. By agreeing to the draft Protocol, he would be binding the next President and the next Foreign Minister of China to something which was administrative in character. This was basically unacceptable for precisely the same reasons which the State Department Legal Adviser, Mr. Phleger, had set forth on November 4, when he had explained why the U.S. Government could not agree to any reference in a Treaty to the present orders of the 7th Fleet.

Mr. Robertson said that since the Treaty was purely defensive in character, a Protocol confirming its defensive nature did not seem to be out of order. Under Article VI, the area of inclusion was only Formosa and the Pescadores. The Protocol was favorable to the Chinese Government in that it would leave open the possibility of [Page 874] the use of force by joint agreement. This provision was certain to be criticized in the Senate and elsewhere. The criticism could not be countered unless there was an explicit provision for use of force only with U.S. concurrence.

Foreign Minister Yeh thought that the draft Protocol would cause more criticism and greater difficulty for his Government. He did not see that the U.S. Government had such a difficult problem with the Senate.

Mr. Robertson disagreed, pointing out that critics could argue that this Treaty could lead to war.

Foreign Minister Yeh thought that Senate confirmation would protect the President’s constitutional position and ensure general backing for any action which the Executive might wish to take under the Treaty. He reiterated that his Government wanted the provisions contained in the draft Protocol to take some other form.

Mr. Robertson pointed out that the existing Chinese commitment not to take offensive action without U.S. consent was not formalized. It was stated in very broad and general terms and was only at the military level. The Senate would not accept any understanding between military representatives as a binding governmental commitment. Nor would it take an agreed minute of a conversation with Ambassador Rankin as binding.

Foreign Minister Yeh acknowledged that a Treaty was of more formal character but argued that the existing commitment was firm and remained valid indefinitely.

Ambassador Koo said that apart from the question of the legal propriety of including such provisions in a Protocol, he felt that on political grounds the inclusion of the commitment would be most unwise. He said it would raise a wave of protest and despondence among the Chinese on Formosa and overseas. At present, so far [as] the public was aware Free China had at least the nominal right to reclaim the Mainland. The U.S. so far as the Chinese public knew, could not exercise a veto of this right. The mass of Chinese outside the Mainland lived on the hope of reclaiming the Mainland. Whether the hope was well founded or not, the prospect was a sustaining and motivating force. The vision of a Free Chinese army of liberation was the mainstay of Nationalist China. If you publicly take this away and let all the world see a U.S. leash around the neck of Free China, you have lost something very important. The U.S. as well as China should be worried by such a loss.

Mr. Robertson said he did not see how anyone would read that interpretation into the document. The U.S. has tried to preserve the prestige and the hope of Free China. No reasonable person could misunderstand the help the U.S. is trying to give Free China. The Generalissimo had agreed with the Secretary when the latter [Page 875] was in Formosa that this commitment was needed and could be given. He recognized that the U.S. would be in an untenable position if it had no control over Chinese ability to start a chain of events leading to war. Yeh asked if there could not be an exchange of letters? He would be willing to sign a formal note as Foreign Minister containing this commitment. He asked Mr. Robertson to convey this request to the Secretary stressing the strong Chinese conviction on this matter. He said he had anticipated that this request might be made by the U.S. He had talked the matter over fully with the Generalissimo before he left Formosa. The Generalissimo had at first been unwilling to give a commitment along this line because technically it would infringe on Chinese rights. But he (Yeh) had talked the Generalissimo into making the commitment. The Generalissimo was willing to confirm the commitment through an exchange of notes, but not in a Treaty.

Mr. Robertson said he would be glad to convey the Foreign Minister’s views in full to the Secretary. He understood the Chinese position. He thought that the Treaty would strengthen the hand of Free China. He did not think the understanding as to the use of force would weaken the Chinese position. The commitment needed to be more than a mere military understanding. The U.S. could not go forward with the Treaty on that basis. The U.S. could not negotiate any treaty which did not accord the necessary protection. He recalled that the U.S. is supplying large-scale economic, military and technical aid to the Chinese Government. Everyone knew that the Chinese Government did not have very high capabilities without U.S. assistance. The Treaty would bind the U.S. closer to Nationalist China than ever before. How could the Treaty be regarded as having a weakening effect?

Ambassador Koo said that the Treaty made it clear enough that the U.S. would not fight unless Formosa or the Pescadores were attacked.

Mr. Robertson pointed out that the Protocol opened up a new possibility of the use of force in case of necessity by joint agreement. But the Chinese Government could not have the protection of a Treaty and at the same time have unlimited right to engage in offensive action without U.S. concurrence. An offensive treaty was of course out of the question.

The Foreign Minister said that he would have “an awful time” getting the Legislative Yuan in its present mood to accept anything in the nature of the proposed Protocol. He expressed regret that Mr. Robertson had not brought up the matter of the Protocol in the course of the opening negotiations on November 4. He thought all of the principal ideas of the Treaty had been brought forward at that time and that the full text tentatively agreed on then was [Page 876] more or less definitive so far as basic provisions went. He had wired the Generalissimo to this effect. The new proposal at the last meeting placed him in a rather embarrassing position.

Mr. Robertson said that the Secretary had drafted this provision as a necessary supplement to the Treaty. Actually in our view it represented a change for the better, from the Chinese standpoint as well as our own.

Dr. Yeh said he was prepared to go to any lengths to comply with U.S. wishes, provided it was done by note.

Mr. Robertson said that he gathered that the Legislative Yuan wanted a free hand to initiate offensive action against Communist China. We could not agree to any treaty which accorded such a free hand. Dr. Yeh said this was not quite an accurate way of putting it. There was an objection to putting in a treaty a clause which on the face of it seemed to restrict the basic Chinese right to reclaim the Mainland. The members of the Legislative Yuan know all too well that the Chinese Government is now helpless to achieve this on its own. China could not and would not act against U.S. wishes. But it was bad psychologically from every standpoint to formalize a recognition of this fact in a treaty document. Dr. Yeh said that the Free China already would be “under wraps” through the provisions of the body of the Treaty. He urged that the U.S. not insist on putting this restriction in a Treaty. The Chinese Government should not be asked to submit something to the Legislative Yuan which it could not defend. An exchange of notes would accomplish the same purpose.

Mr. Robertson asked how binding an exchange of notes would be?

Dr. Yeh said that an Executive agreement is binding on the signatories. The same problem had arisen in the Sino-Japanese Treaty of 1952.2 The problem had been solved there by an exchange of letters.

Dr. Yeh said he would make it clear in the Legislative Yuan in the hearings if he were asked about action against the Mainland, that the Treaty did not provide for U.S. support. He said that so far the Legislative Yuan has never withheld its ratification from a treaty, but with such a Protocol, the Government would have a difficult time. The Generalissimo would have grave objections, apart from the problem of the Legislative Yuan. His Government was already fully committed to the Secretary of State. His Government had carried out and would continue to carry out scrupulously its commitment not to act without U.S. concurrence. The Chinese Government [Page 877] took the commitment very seriously. After talking to the Foreign Minister, the Generalissimo had agreed to withhold, until U.S. permission could be obtained, the Chinese counter action to the Communist shelling of Quemoy on September 3. The Chinese Government had accepted a delay in order to be sure that it had complied with the understanding.

Mr. Robertson said that in the U.S. view the Protocol merely confirmed the understanding already arrived at with the Chinese. He thought the Secretary would be surprised to hear of the misgivings of the Foreign Minister.

Foreign Minister Yeh said that if he had made his reasoning clear, the Secretary should not be much surprised. He hoped that the Assistant Secretary would take the trouble to convey in full to the Secretary the strong views held by the Chinese Government.

Mr. Robertson assured the Foreign Minister that he would do this. The Secretary did not have entirely a free hand since the views of both political parties in the Senate must be considered.

Ambassador Koo said that if the terms of the Treaty were strictly reciprocal on their face, the task of ratification in Taipei would be much easier. Maybe it seemed useless and unrealistic to insist on complete reciprocity, but any Government and people in the precarious position now held by Free China are hypersensitive. It was a serious matter even to seem to take away any of their inherent rights. These rights are a sustaining force.

Mr. Robertson pointed out that the proposed agreement is a joint one all the way through, and that the Chinese Government has the joint right to control the use of any U.S. forces which might be stationed on Chinese territory.

Dr. Yeh said that the Protocol would not give the Chinese Government the right to concur in the use of U.S. forces on islands in the West Pacific under U.S. jurisdiction, although if the U.S. should take offensive action from those islands, Formosa would be endangered. The political effect of the Treaty provisions was more important than its intrinsic terms.

Mr. Robertson remarked that the treaty provisions were not final. They were subject to further clearance on both sides. For instance, we were still awaiting the views of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Dr. Yeh said that he had the authority to agree to the Article which had already been accepted for inclusion. He would have to report to the Generalissimo on the unexpected new American request. He would have to await word from the Generalissimo.

Mr. Robertson mentioned the U.S. political problem and the necessity that the Department be able to answer the questions of critics of the treaty. Congress would not allow the President as Commander [Page 878] in Chief to exercise the sole power to determine the conditions under which we might be drawn into war. It must be remembered that a peculiar condition existed as to China. Technically there was an unresolved civil war in progress. The U.S. Government was undertaking to negotiate a treaty with one side in this civil war. It was impossible to get away entirely from the hazards connected with it. But they must be minimized. It was important that the Generalissimo be informed that the Senate was very jealous of its prerogatives. Agreements of the Executive must not encroach on these prerogatives. The Department must be able to answer satisfactorily the questions which inevitably would be raised in the Senate.

Foreign Minister Yeh said that as soon as the Treaty was signed, the Chinese Government would be willing to institute consultations under Article IV to assure that there would be no offensive action without the U.S. concurrence. He thought the U.S. was well protected.

Mr. Robertson doubted this, since the commitment from the U.S. standpoint might not be formal, permanent or binding. It was not certain whether an exchange of notes would suffice. He could not answer the question off hand. It would have to be studied.

Mr. Robertson remarked that the Chinese Government would have a veto on the use of U.S. forces and bases in Formosa and the Pescadores, they could not be used without Chinese consent.

Ambassador Koo said that the right of the host Government to control the use of foreign forces stationed on its territory was a fundamental attribute of sovereignty and did not need to be confirmed by Treaty. Such a provision did not establish reciprocity. He was looking for a formula which would get around the unilateral limitations on the Chinese Government and maintain the principle of reciprocity, which is well understood. Perhaps this could be done by some reference to U.S. held islands. There were no Chinese troops stationed on those islands, but this was irrelevant to the principle of reciprocity. If the Chinese Government could be given a nominal voice in U.S. actions from bases on U.S. islands, there would be reciprocity.

Mr. Robertson indicated that the U.S. base on Okinawa for example had protective responsibilities for the whole Far Eastern area and it would not be appropriate for the Chinese to ask even nominal control over U.S. actions from there.

Ambassador Koo asked if the U.S. would drop the New Zealand proposal, provided a satisfactory formula restricting Chinese Government offensive action was worked out?

Mr. Robertson answered negatively. The matters were separate. He recalled that the Generalissimo had already indicated that he [Page 879] might not oppose the New Zealand resolution if it followed an announcement of a treaty.

Dr. Yeh asked if we still had a joint announcement regarding the treaty in mind?

Mr. Robertson said that the leak which had resulted in the Chalmers Roberts story in the Washington Post on November 5 had proved exceedingly embarrassing and had upset the U.S. plans regarding an announcement. Nothing was definite. We might work on a draft announcement over the weekend. In the meanwhile, the State Department Press Officer had been instructed to answer inquiries by making a very vague generalized oral statement confirming that treaty negotiations had been going on intermittently over a long period and even still continuing without definite results so far. The leak in the Washington Post had been very harmful. The Department was considering the possibility of a very brief skeleton declaration, which might be made jointly, regarding intention to negotiate a treaty. Perhaps such a skeleton announcement could be elaborated on later. But nothing definite could be said now. The Secretary hoped to see some additional Senators shortly and explain the position to them.

Dr. Yeh said that he hoped any statement would avoid the impression that the Treaty might take the place of the 7th Fleet Mission or that the 7th Fleet might be withdrawn.

Mr. Robertson said there would be no reference to the 7th Fleet in any announcement. To mention the 7th Fleet would be going out of the way to create an unnecessary problem.

Dr. Yeh said that he hoped that the announcement would not contain any suggestion that the Treaty would define the territory of the Chinese Government as limited to Formosa and the Pescadores.

Ambassador Koo said he hoped that the announcement would not in any way indicate that the Treaty would place the Chinese Government under U.S. restraints.

At this point the meeting ended, the time having arrived for Dr. Yeh to leave for the airport.

(NB.—A Few hours after the end of this meeting, Mr. Robertson reported fully to the Secretary on the Chinese objections to the draft Protocol. The Secretary said that he wished to go as far as he safely could to respect the wishes and maintain the self-respect of the Chinese Government. He decided that a formal exchange of notes associated with the Treaty would afford the necessary safeguard against provocative action by the Chinese Government. He therefore authorized Mr. Robertson to accept the Chinese proposal to embody the safeguard in a formal exchange of notes rather than [Page 880] in a Protocol. He authorized Mr. Robertson to inform the Chinese Ambassador to this effect.

Mr. Robertson telephoned Chinese Ambassador Wellington Koo on the afternoon of November 6 and informed him that we would agree to a formal exchange of notes in lieu of a Protocol, the substance of the exchange of notes to be essentially the same as that proposed for the draft Protocol.)

  1. Not attached to the source text.
  2. For text of the Sino-Japanese peace treaty, signed at Taipei, Apr. 28, 1952, and accompanying documents, see United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 138, pp. 3–55.