19. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 19, 1955, 3:45 p.m.1


  • Defense of Off-Shore Islands


  • Dr. George Yeh, Chinese Foreign Minister
  • Dr. Wellington Koo, Chinese Ambassador
  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Robertson, Assistant Secretary, FE
  • Mr. McConaughy, Director, CA

The Secretary said that he would state a position which the President was prepared to consider if it was acceptable to the Chinese Government:

Provide U.S. sea and air cover for the evacuation of the Tachen Islands.
Announce that under present conditions and pending appropriate action by the UN, the U.S. is prepared to join with the Republic of China in maintaining the security of Quemoy.
Initiate the UN action in the Security Council which has been considered for some months:—namely, call on Communist China, and presumably other countries, to cease military activities in the area of the Off-shore Islands.

The Secretary said he believed that the announcement as to the protection of Quemoy would largely offset the adverse morale factor [Page 47] involved in a withdrawal from the Tachens. The action could be represented as a regrouping designed to concentrate the Chinese Government forces in more tenable positions. It could be held out as a trimming down operation. It could be emphasized that China and the U.S. will stand shoulder to shoulder in a consolidated position.

The Secretary said that we could not count on concrete Security Council action as a result of the UN initiative. A Soviet veto would have to be anticipated. A Communist veto should enable the Chinese Government to command a greater degree of international support.

The Secretary said that the President considered that a Joint Resolution of Congress would be required, since we would have to be prepared if necessary to engage in hostilities with Communist China. We might find it necessary to strike at Communist positions on the Mainland. Such action could not be taken without Congressional authority. He had arranged a meeting with leaders of both Houses of Congress tomorrow morning January 20. He would point out that the Administration considers it necessary that Quemoy be held by the Chinese Government. The port of Amoy, which was commanded by the island of Quemoy, would be an ideal staging ground for an invasion of Formosa if its effective use was not denied to the Communists. This would justify provisional action by the U.S. of the nature contemplated. It was a grave step which might lead to war with Communist China.

As to Matsu, the Chinese Government would have to decide whether to try to hold it. The Secretary said his strong advice would be to pull out. It could be done under cover of the Tachen operation. If the Chinese Government endeavored to hold on to Matsu, it would be eventually snapped off. The U.S. could not extend its coverage to Matsu and the position was not believed to be defensible. A good concentration and balance of Chinese forces could be achieved between Formosa, the Pescadores and Quemoy. Any additional off-shore island positions would represent an over-extension of Chinese Government forces. Other positions could not be held without an expenditure of resources out of relation to the value of such positions. It did not make sense to tie up major forces to hold a bunch of rocks. The U.S. was not prepared to make any commitment apart from Quemoy. On the other hand, it was realized that if all the off-shore island positions were abandoned there would be a very bad effect on morale throughout the Far East. The question was, what do you do to offset the effect of withdrawal from some of the positions? We would join forces to hold a reduced position, giving up the untenable positions which over-extend available Chinese forces.

Foreign Minister Yeh asked if the President proposed to accomplish this by Executive Order and not under the Treaty?

The Secretary said this was correct.

[Page 48]

Mr. Robertson said presumably the Chinese Government would announce a regrouping operation.

The Secretary said that concerted action would be required. Presumably the Chinese Government would announce its intention to regroup, saying that it would no longer endeavor to hold those positions which were of no vital strategic significance, and would concentrate its forces on Formosa, the Pescadores and Quemoy. Probably the U.S. would announce that without awaiting the ratification of the Treaty, the U.S. would take interim action to assure the security of Quemoy, which was considered essential to the protection of Formosa and the Pescadores. “Security” in this context had a broad connotation. It would mean that either U.S. Forces or Chinese forces would be empowered to attack a build-up on the Mainland which seemed to be aimed at Quemoy, Formosa and the Pescadores. We would not have to wait for an actual attack.

Dr. Yeh said he would communicate the U.S. proposals at once to his Government. Meanwhile he hoped that the Secretary would make every effort to keep the subject sub rosa.

The Secretary said he would urge the Congressmen to maintain secrecy. He would do this with all the earnestness at his command.

Dr. Yeh said that even if his Government accepted the kind offer just outlined, it would require considerable planning and preparation. There would have to be an effective pretense of maintaining normal conditions while the preparations went forward.

The Secretary agreed, and said he thought that the U.S. would be prepared to send forces into the Tachen area to protect it pending the withdrawal.

Dr. Yeh asked if UN action after the evacuation was contemplated? Would the Tachens in effect be given to the Communists?

The Secretary said this was correct.

Amb. Koo said if his Government accepted, it would be necessary to make plans in advance, and move very rapidly in the execution of the plans.

The Secretary said he thought the Joint Resolution might require two or three days’ debate in Congress, perhaps more. The matter might be referred to Committees of Congress. The Secretary knew that Senator George was extremely reluctant to take any action which might lead to war with Communist China. He wanted our commitments limited strictly to Formosa and the Pescadores. The Secretary did not know whether Senator George and the rest of the Democratic leadership of the two Houses would go along. The Democrats controlled Congress. Strong bipartisan support of the proposal by the Congress and the American people would be a necessity.

[Page 49]

Dr. Yeh asked if the Secretary could defer his consultations with Congress until he had time to hear from President Chiang?

The Secretary said he did not think so. He said it was necessary to begin to educate the members of Congress. He would not define the Administration proposal so clearly in his conversation with the Congressional leaders tomorrow. But he wanted to get their reaction to the basic questions. He wanted to begin to crystalize the issues and the thinking. The President would probably present the detailed proposal later. The Secretary thought the situation was so acute that we could not afford to wait.

Dr. Yeh said he thought he could get an answer in six hours or so.

The Secretary said he would make it clear that the proposed course of action requires the concurrence of the Chinese Government. The U.S. would of course want to consider the ideas of the Chinese Government. As to substance, the proposal was very much in the interest of the Chinese Government. If the Chinese Government rejected the proposal, it would lose the whole business.

The Secretary said that in order to maintain our own self respect, we could not play a fuzzy game any longer. That game was played out. The Chinese Communists had already begun to probe and were exposing the indecision. The U.S. must now make clear its position and be prepared to carry out the obligations it was now prepared to assume. Otherwise the U.S. reputation would become tarnished. The U.S. could not afford to back down from any position which it assumed, or to be exposed in a bluff. We must decide how far our interests require us to go and then we must deliver on our commitments. As he saw it there were three choices: to try to hold all the off-shore islands; to disclaim responsibility for any of the off-shore islands which would result in the eventual loss of all of them; or to concentrate on Quemoy as the closest and most important, and hold it. This third choice was so much better than the others that there was no real choice. The problem was with Congress. We must begin to educate Congress as to the requirements of the present situation. Of course the talks would not commit the Chinese Government, nor would they be so definite as this conversation.

The Secretary said it was hard to persuade soldiers to die in a hopeless cause. He thought it was questionable whether the garrison on the Tachens would fight if they had no hope. He supposed they would fight if they could be sure of support which would give them hope. He did not doubt the strong will to fight of the Chinese forces if they had assurances of adequate backing.

Dr. Yeh said he was very happy to know that the U.S. Government had come to a definite decision. He agreed that fuzziness had existed for too long. Although the Chinese military capabilities were [Page 50] very limited, the decision was a difficult one, which the Generalissimo could not make alone. The President of the Executive Yuan (the Premier) would be consulted, and probably a secret session of the Cabinet would be convened. He did not say the proposition would be rejected, but the matter was one of great moment and considerable delicacy. He agreed that the Tachens had only limited strategic value for the Chinese Government. But if they fell to the Chinese Communists, he felt they would have a far greater strategic significance for the Communists.

The Secretary expressed some doubt about this, pointing out that no airfields could be built in the Tachens.

Dr. Yeh agreed but he pointed out that the Tachens control the northern entrance to the Formosa Strait.

The Secretary said that he felt we could not fool around the fringes of the problem any longer. It was necessary for all concerned to speak very frankly. The assumption of joint responsibility for the protection of Quemoy would be a very serious step by the U.S. It might take a little time to get Congress fully informed on the problem, perhaps a week or so.

The Foreign Minister and the Ambassador said they would despatch an urgent message to Taipei.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/1–1955. Top Secret. Drafted by McConaughy.