18. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 19, 1955, 3:15 p.m.1


  • The Secretary
  • Sir Roger Makins, British Ambassador
  • Mr. Robertson, FE
  • Mr. Merchant, EUR

At the outset the Ambassador handed the Secretary a copy of the Prime Minister’s letter to Mendes-France.2

The Ambassador said that he had some questions to ask with respect to the Hammarskjold report. He asked what impression the Secretary had had from his talk with Hammarskjold.3 The Secretary replied that he didn’t feel very happy about it. He said that Hammarskjold had told him that his intellect indicated to him that the situation of the fliers looked bad but that his instinct made him hopeful. The Secretary said that his own impression was that Hammarskjold had made no progress at all. He referred to the Communist offer of visas for the prisoners’ families and then showed Sir Roger a New York Times photograph which showed Hammarskjold under a [Page 45] sign in Peking in Chinese which was a bitter denunciation of United States aggression in Formosa.

Sir Roger then inquired what happens next in the matter and the Secretary said that it would be our effort to try to keep matters stable as long as we could.

The Secretary then said that a tentative decision had been reached to take certain actions designed to stabilize the situation. He had seen Foreign Minister Yeh at noon and would see him again later in the day for the purpose of encouraging the Nationalists to evacuate the Tachen Islands. For the U.S. to effectively defend the Tachens would involve the use of air and sea power out of proportion to their strategic value. At the same time in order to avoid a loss of morale on Formosa it was contemplated to state that under present conditions the United States would assist the Nationals in the defense of Quemoy. They are important to the defense of Formosa and it remains the avowed Communist purpose to take Formosa. Such action would be subject to UN action or any cease fire or similar measure which might develop as a result of UN action. The Secretary said that he felt it was time now to initiate Oracle.4 He felt also the need for Congressional action along the lines of a resolution with respect to our purposes regarding Quemoy. He was meeting early the next morning with the President on this matter and he hoped the British would give us their support.

Sir Roger inquired if the effect of such action on our part would be to bring Quemoy within the scope of the Treaty. The Secretary replied negatively, saying that our action would be provisional pending UN action or, alternatively, the Communists using Amoy as a clear staging base for the invasion of Formosa. It was not contemplated that this would be a permanent extension of the Treaty area. All of this, of course, was dependent upon the action by the Chinese Nationals.

Sir Roger inquired if our assistance in the withdrawal from the Tachens would not involve the risk of hostilities breaking out there.

The Secretary agreed that the risk existed and said if we were shot at we would obviously shoot back. The Nationals, however, of course might refuse to evacuate the Tachens. In any event, he felt Oracle should be activated.

Sir Roger asked if we had talked to the New Zealand Ambassador and Mr. Robertson said he had just talked to him on this subject.5

[Page 46]

The Secretary noted that all of this would have a bad effect on the release of our airmen.

Sir Roger asked what our thought was on timing. The Secretary gave no clear indication other than that we should move rapidly. The Nationalists presumably would announce that they were regrouping and we would say that we were assisting them in this until a cease fire was achieved by the UN.

Sir Roger said that he would report this conversation immediately to his Government.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/1–1955. Top Secret. Drafted by Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Merchant.
  2. The letter from British Prime Minister Churchill to French Premier Pierre Mendès-France, dated January 1955, was not related to China. (Ibid., EUR Files: Lot 59 D 233, United Kingdom, 1955)
  3. Dulles, Lodge, and Robertson met with Hammarskjöld and Bokhari that morning for about an hour and a half; no record of the conversation has been found in Department of State files or the Eisenhower Library. For text of a January 19 press release concerning the meeting, see Department of State Bulletin, January 31, 1955, pp. 189–190.
  4. Oracle was a code name for the proposed New Zealand initiative in the U.N. Security Council.
  5. Robertson’s conversation with New Zealand Ambassador Sir Leslie Munro is recorded in a memorandum of conversation by McConaughy, January 19, 1955. Munro stated that the situation in the area of the offshore islands seemed to be “explosive” and that he thought the proposed New Zealand initiative “would now be most timely.” (Department of State, Central Files, 793.5/1–1955)