17. Memorandum of a Conversation, The White House, January 19, 1955, 1:15 p.m.1

Admiral Radford and I lunched with the President at my suggestion. I told the President that I was becoming increasingly concerned [Page 42] at the situation developing in the Far East out of the strongly mounted and effective Chicom attacks on Nationalist held islands. It is now apparent that these islands could not be held without US interposition. Also it seemed to me apparent that doubt as to our intentions was having a bad effect on our prestige in the area, since it was in many quarters assumed that we would defend the islands, and our failure to do so indicated that we were running away when actual danger appeared. I felt it important to make our intentions clear and then stick to them. I furthermore said that I doubted it was practical at this time to announce our abandonment of them all because this would be such a shock to the Republic of China that they might turn against us. There [They?] were now asking insistently for assurances of military support. The Chinese Foreign Minister had just called upon me this morning. I said I had been giving the matter considerable thought for several days and was of the opinion that we should probably now modify our NSC decision2 to the extent of encouraging the Chinats to evacuate the islands in the Tachen area and to help them to do so, as otherwise evacuation would be impossible. I felt that we should probably, however, indicate our intention to hold Quemoy, which from the standpoint of air was more defensible than the Tachens and also served a more valuable military purpose than the Tachens. I did not know whether the same considerations applied to the Matsu group. I said I thought we should also stimulate UN activity along the lines which had been long considered3 in the hope that its influence might lead to some pacification in the area.

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Admiral Radford said that he was in strong agreement, that the time had come when we should make our position absolutely clear and also make sure that it “stuck”. He would have favored holding all the offshore islands, but was prepared to compromise on the basis I suggested.

The President indicated his general agreement with our line of thought. He asked how I would propose to proceed. I said there were three points which needed to be touched. One was the Republic of China, and I could see the Chinese Foreign Minister this afternoon. The other was the British Ambassador, whom I expected to see, and the third was the Congressional leadership. I suggested the President should have a meeting with the Congressional leaders. The President, after some reflection, indicated he thought it might be better for me to meet with them in the first instance with Admiral Radford to get a feeling of the situation. He suggested I should do so the next morning.

Following the luncheon, I dictated the enclosed as a hasty memorandum of what I conceived to be the decisions provisionally arrived at.




It is proposed as a matter of substance:

To encourage the ChiNats to evacuate Tachen and the other offshore islands exclusive of Quemoy.
The United States would provide sea and air protection so as to permit of an orderly evacuation.
Contemporaneously, the United States would state that in view of the aggressive actions of the Chinese Communists and their proclaimed intention to seize Formosa, the United States will assist the ChiNats to hold Quemoy Island which, under existing circumstances, is deemed important for the defense of Formosa and the Pescadores. This decision will hold pending the taking of action by the United Nations which will bring about an effective cessation of Chinese Communist aggressive activities in the Formosa Straits.

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JFD will outline the foregoing this afternoon to the Chinese Foreign Minister and to the British Ambassador and will arrange for a meeting of Congressional leaders with him and Admiral Radford Thursday morning4 to ascertain whether Congress will extend the necessary authority to carry out the above course of action, which should be broad enough to permit of attacking the mainland about Quemoy, if that was deemed essential to prevent a buildup which would dangerously threaten Quemoy.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Meetings with the President. Top Secret; Personal and Private. Drafted by Dulles on January 20. The time of the meeting is from Dulles’ appointment diary. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers)
  2. Paragraph 5–c of NSC 5429/5, as amended in NSC Action No. 1302–a (see footnote 23, Document 9), reads as follows:

    “[The United States should:]

    “c. Ratify the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of China covering Formosa and the Pescadores, and jointly agree upon appropriate safeguards against Chinese Nationalist offensive action. Pending the ratification of such a Treaty, continue the existing unilateral arrangement to defend Formosa and the Pescadores (excluding the Nationalist-held off-shore islands). For the present, seek to preserve, through United Nations action, the status quo of the Nationalist held off-shore islands; and, without committing U.S. forces except as militarily desirable in the event of Chinese Communist attack on Formosa and the Pescadores, provide to the Chinese Nationalist forces military equipment and training to assist them to defend such off-shore islands, using Formosa as a base. However, do not agree to Chinese Nationalist offensive actions against mainland Communist China, except under circumstances approved by the President. Agree to Chinese Nationalist actions against Communist China which are prompt and clear retaliation against a Chinese Communist attack; provided such retaliation is against targets of military significance which meet U.S. criteria as to feasibility and chance of success and which are selected with due consideration for the undesirability of provoking further Chinese Communist reaction against Formosa and the Pescadores.”

    See also NSC 5503, Document 12.

  3. The reference is to a proposed initiative by New Zealand in the U.N. Security Council. The plan, for New Zealand to request Security Council consideration of the hostilities in the area of the Chinese offshore islands and to submit a resolution calling for a cease-fire, had been originally conceived by Dulles and developed in discussions with the United Kingdom and New Zealand in September and October 1954. Its implementation had been postponed because of various developments, including the U.S. decision to negotiate the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of China.
  4. January 20.