219. Message From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Secretary of State 1
[Message No. 4.] Present at meeting2 beginning 4:30 p.m. ending 11 p.m. with 1 hour and half interruption for dinner were President Chiang, Madame Chiang, Foreign Minister Yeh, Secretary General Chang Chun, Presidential Secretary Sampson Shen, Admiral Radford, Ambassador Rankin, Rear Admiral Anderson, Assistant Secretary Robertson.
Robertson in opening statement said we had come discuss certain grave problems confronting 2 governments. There had been so many speculations in press to effect that US was being pressured to consider neutralization Formosa he would like to state in beginning (1) that President Eisenhower would not be party to neutralization plan for Formosa, (2) President Eisenhower reaffirms US policy of non-recognition Red China and will continue efforts to prevent admission to UN, (3) that US will continue look upon National Government as lawful government of China and only alternative to Red China for millions mainland and overseas Chinese.
Robertson continued situation now one which might well lead to war involving atomic weapons. If war came it was essential that US, which must bear large share responsibility, enter war with full support US public opinion and world opinion to greatest extent possible. To insure such support President Eisenhower convinced it essential (1) that US and Chinats not strike first blow, and (2) that if US goes to war it will be in defense of Formosa and not off-shore islands.
President Eisenhower convinced that both US and world opinion can be marshalled behind war in defense Formosa. Such opinion can not in his opinion be marshalled in support of war in defense offshore islands. We should like emphasize overriding importance world opinion. If hostilities should bring Russia into war we would require use bases in other countries which might be denied US unless countries concerned supported our position. If Communists continue buildup airfields unchecked they will eventually dominate air over Quemoy–Matsu making them indefensible. If Chinats or US and Chinats together attack mainland to prevent buildup such attacks [Page 511] would bring down upon our heads the charge that we are aggressors in starting war. Weighing all these factors, President Eisenhower with reluctance has come to decision that military disadvantages of unchecked buildup should be accepted at this time rather than we should be held responsible for initiating active hostilities which could readily spread to major war. President Eisenhower strongly feels that the moral and political advantages of avoiding the initiative if [in] the fighting would more than offset the military disadvantages.
Problem is how can we meet this situation without seriously impairing the defensibility of treaty area without (a) loss of the value of Quemoy–Matsu as defensive outposts, (b) serious loss of Chinat troops and valuable equipment, (c) loss of face by both Chinats and US. Obviously only solution lies in finding substitute for islands which would strengthen rather than weaken overall position. President Eisenhower wished to emphasize that this was problem to be talked out with Gimo without attempting pressure Gimo into position not acceptable to him. If in view all circumstances as outlined Gimo would agree to evacuation Quemoy–Matsu US would provide cover such evacuation and President Eisenhower would publicly announce that until it was evident Red China had renounced avowed purpose take Formosa by force US will as measure of self-defense join with Chinats to institute and maintain interdiction of sea lanes along China Coast from and including Swatow in south to Wenchow in north for all contraband and war-making materials. Interdiction would serve triple purpose:
- would replace Quemoy–Matsu as defense blocks to staging seaborne attack from Amoy and Fuchow harbors,
- would materially retard present heavy seaborne movement POL and heavy supplies into Fukien area,
- would demonstrate to Communists and world US prepared take strong measures in defense Formosa. Gimo asked in reply if main feature of President Eisenhower’s proposal was to give up Quemoy-Matsu and substitute therefor interdiction limited area China Coast. Robertson replied such was proposal emphasizing that under present circumstances attack on Communist buildup would involve US striking first blow whereas interdiction would put Communists into position of striking first blow.
Gimo stated Chinats will honor all treaty obligations and keep all promises such as not attack mainland without US consent. He was not in position to consider any undertaking which might place his government in bad light with his own people. He had agreed to evacuation Tachens but he will defend Quemoy–Matsu with or without US help. Therefore, he cannot accept US proposal. He is fully aware of danger of Chicom buildup but is prepared to take risk of receiving full onslaught of attack rather than give up two positions which would go against best Chinese tradition of patriotism. If [Page 512] he abandoned Quemoy–Matsu Chinese people would lose respect this government. Speculation in US press indicates US decision has already been made which has placed Chinat Government in untenable position. Soldiers must choose proper places to die. Chinese soldiers consider Quemoy–Matsu are proper places for them.
Robertson stated US government could not be held responsible for speculation in press. Question here was not one of US decision whether Quemoy–Matsu should be held but whether US should participate in their defense. If Gimo decided to defend islands US will continue give logistical support. US does not presume tell Chinats what they must do. He reiterated that if situation evolved into larger war it would be essential US Government have full support of both political parties and of American people. This would not be possible if we should enter war in defense Quemoy–Matsu.
Gimo reiterated he would defend own territory but would carry out treaty obligations. He had no right to inquire what US would actually do but would like to know whether US had changed mind or altered policy relative assistance in defense of Quemoy–Matsu.
Admiral Radford stated that President Eisenhower had in fact changed his mind with reference to US participation in defense of Quemoy-Matsu which was his intention under circumstances prevailing at time of his January 31 message. However President had not come to this conclusion lightly. He made new proposal with sincere feeling of offering solution which would best serve purpose free China and US. There was no question that if US assisted Chinats we had military power to hold Quemoy–Matsu. However in addition to consideration of striking first blow it would undoubtedly be necessary to use atomic weapons. If these were used President Eisenhower would have to consider feeling generated throughout the world and in China too, particularly if many civilians were killed. He was sure Gimo could well appreciate terrible responsibilities of President Eisenhower in this regard. Furthermore we must both recognize that Russia is a principal enemy and US must not jeopardize its ability to cope successfully with Russian military power in event of major war. Our considerations must include factor of allied bases and hence allied opinion.
Gimo asked whether President Eisenhower has considered psychological effect on rest of free Asians if US proposal adopted. He mentioned that at the time of withdrawal from Tachens President Eisenhower had indicated US would assist in defense of Quemoy–Matsu. New proposal now involved abandoning more territory Quemoy–Matsu to Communist. This will have grave psychological reactions throughout Asia detracting from position of US as leader if latter will not hold line against Communist. Minister Yeh interjected to ask whether a defense of Quemoy–Matsu required use atomic [Page 513] weapons or whether a defense could not be accomplished with conventional weapons alone.
Admiral Radford replied that from military standpoint he could not guarantee their defense without use atomic weapons. At this point Gimo suggested short break and he and Madame Chiang withdrew.
Conversation continued Robertson reiterating salient points to Minister Yeh and asking if he (Yeh) thought Generalissimo fully appreciated US position as to importance of US and world opinion and implications of US proposal. Minister Yeh recalled the psychological reactions to the evacuation of the Tachens, at which time indications were US would assist defending Quemoy–Matsu. US now apparently reneging on this understanding although this is not publicly known. He indicated that further evacuation by military forces would result in loss of morale and deterioration government position. He said he felt that to lose islands in battle would be less serious in effect upon morale than evacuation without fight. He mentioned that overseas press had predicted US would pressure Gimo give up Quemoy-Matsu. This in itself had had serious effect upon morale.
Robertson replied that proposal for joint interdiction would represent position of strength—not weakness—and involved serious commitment on the part US Government. He reiterated that interdiction would likely be more effective in long run than holding islands. He urged that Gimo give full consideration to US position and to all implications of interdiction proposal. If Gimo should accept proposal announcement would be more effective if it followed meeting between President Eisenhower and Gimo in some mutually agreed upon place. Gimo should not assume US is abandoning its obligations to the free world. Problem should be considered as whole not in isolated parts.
Yeh expressed doubts as to the effectiveness of limited interdiction in interfering with Chicom buildup. Admiral Radford indicated that measures could be taken to stop junk traffic and added that Communists as a matter of fact would find it difficult to accept what would amount to a blockade of their coast. (Radford pointed out that recently Chinats have lost much support in world opinion which US seeks to restore.)
At this point President Chiang returned to conference. He stated that he would now give his answer to President Eisenhower’s proposal. He fully comprehends military and political reasons for US plan including intention of offsetting bad influence of evacuation of Quemoy and Matsu by including the specific proposal involving interdiction of Chinese Communist seaborne traffic. He is particularly sympathetic to position that President Eisenhower be supported by public opinion in US. He fully appreciates President Eisenhower’s [Page 514] difficulties. As an ally he cannot disregard President Eisenhower’s domestic problems. As proof of his spirit he would like to recall circumstances of agreement to withdraw from Tachens. This originally included on part of US public announcement that US would participate in defense of Quemoy and Matsu. Subsequently, President Eisenhower had explained to him why he was not able to make such an announcement. Gimo had accepted President Eisenhower’s word that US would participate in the defense of Quemoy and Matsu without such public announcement. In his relations with US he had always been guided by principle that where matters were in doubt China should be loser rather than US. He does not want US to be embarrassed. He had made this clear to Secretary Dulles during course of his last meeting with Secretary. He had no desire to involve us in any armed conflict on behalf of Government of China. He does not want to see us lose prestige or lose in any way by becoming so involved.
Recently he and Madame Chiang made trip to Quemoy and Matsu. During this trip he realized that Chinese Communists could attack these islands any time. It was not necessary for them to wait completion of airfield development program in vicinity. Chinese Communists were not building fields along China Coast in preparation for attack on Quemoy and Matsu, but rather to attack Formosa and to prepare for general conflict. He has concluded that Communists will not attack Quemoy and Matsu in immediate future. It is his judgment that when and if they attack Quemoy and Matsu they will also attack Taiwan at same time. They would not attack Quemoy and Matsu simply as an independent action. Thus there is no need to get jittery or to worry over these two islands or buildup on Chinese Coast at this time.
If at this time and in absence of state of war Chinese Nationalists were to withdraw from Quemoy and Matsu they would suffer loss of prestige vis-à-vis overseas Chinese, free people throughout South Asia, and in their own armed forces which could not be offset. Unfortunately, Quemoy and Matsu have become a touchstone (symbol) of US prestige in Far East and if US urges his Government to abandon these islands the effect on Asiatics throughout world and on US prestige would be very bad.
Some time ago he had talked with Roy Howard, whom he had informed that Chinese Communists would not launch an attack in Quemoy and Matsu without green light from USSR. They would not attack unless USSR was prepared to fight world war. The Soviet Union is not so prepared at this time. The Gimo reiterated that if he were to fight on Quemoy and Matsu and were he defeated it would not be so shameful as to abandon these positions without a fight. [Page 515] This is in consonance with Chinese tradition which is shared by all the overseas Chinese.
Gimo cannot believe that interdiction would serve as an offset to abandonment of Quemoy and Matsu, particularly in view of ineffectiveness of blockade in application and because of precedent of halfhearted manner of carrying out earlier United Nations embargo on shipment of goods to Communist China. He has not examined details of interdiction proposal but pointed out that while limited blockade might slow down buildup on Chinese Coast it could not prevent it.
When Minister Yeh was in Washington, Gimo had pointed out to him that evacuation of Tachens would ultimately lead to proposal to withdraw from Quemoy and Matsu. He predicted that British pressure on certain elements in US would inevitably lead to such proposal. Inasmuch as his Government has announced its own determination to defend these islands if they were now to abandon them, could anyone believe that Formosa itself would actually be held. He thinks not. If his forces pulled out of Quemoy and Matsu, even a child would not believe that his Government would be assisted by US in holding Taiwan itself. If he abandoned Quemoy and Matsu, it would only lead to further pressure for establishment of a trusteeship for Formosa.
Speaking among friends and in greatest confidence, Gimo stated that if decision were to be made by Chinese Government to abandon Quemoy and Matsu none of Chinese people would support Government’s decision. He would be unable to lead them, and the United States would have to find another Chiang Kai-shek—adding that US would be unable to find another leader who is such a friend to America or as anti-Communist as he is.
In order maintain his own position and more important the confidence and trust of his people in General Eisenhower, the Gimo will defend those islands. Thus, he will defend President Eisenhower’s position throughout the Far East for in reality he places it of greater importance than his own. There will be many ways to counter Communist aggression in Far East if President Eisenhower trusts Gimo. He will be very happy to talk to President Eisenhower, but this proposal itself can be described in a Chinese simile, “Trying to bore without a buffalo’s horns—it gets nowhere.”
Robertson stated he would like to set record straight relative to conversations in Washington in January regarding evacuation of Tachens. During exploratory conversations Secretary Dulles had advised Minister Yeh that in event Gimo decided evacuate Tachens President Eisenhower would consider public announcement US would assist defense Quemoy–Matsu. However, before decision had been made as to evacuation Secretary Dulles informed Minister Yeh that President [Page 516] Eisenhower had concluded that public announcement would be inadvisable, although US under present circumstances would assist in such defense. Secretary made it clear to Yeh, however, that the commitment of US to participate in defense of Quemoy and Matsu was a unilateral decision on part of United States and could be withdrawn by United States at any time United States considered conditions had changed and without charge bad faith.
In his message of January 31, President Eisenhower had confirmed that under the then prevailing circumstances he would come to aid of Chinese Nationalists if major attack were made against Quemoy and Matsu. Now, however, there has built up US tremendous opposition to United States participating in defense of offshore islands. This opposition is prevalent both in Congress and in large sections public opinion. Therefore, Robertson is informing Gimo today that circumstances have changed and that President Eisenhower could not now use US forces in defense of these islands without large loss public support at home and abroad.
Gimo stated he understood present situation. He had agreed to pull out Tachens because at the time he was given assurance by United States that it would assist in defense of Quemoy and Matsu. As a result, he had made pledges to his people. If United States feels that situation has changed United States has perfect right to alter its decision. From his own standpoint, he considers that military situation itself is unchanged even though he recognizes that domestic political situation in United States may have changed.
Robertson stated that President Eisenhower’s support of Chinese Nationalist Government has not changed. He desires to render support in manner which will have full endorsement of American people rather than cause great division of US public opinion at this critical time. He reiterated that if President Eisenhower’s proposal were accepted it was his firm belief that the Gimo would gain more friends and more support.
The Gimo concluded by stating that he would like to go along with any plan by which prestige would gain, but he does not believe in this specific proposal. Gimo stated that Communists would welcome such a plan, to which both Radford and Robertson expressed astonished disagreement.
Robertson concluded by urging Gimo not dismiss US proposal without further serious consideration. It is very sincere and very significant proposal. He hopes Gimo will give it his full consideration.
Meeting adjourned at about 8 p.m. for dinner. Following dinner Gimo indicated quite firmly that he considered his answer to have been definitive and that he did not desire to resume discussions for the present.[Page 517]
Conversation continued with Minister Yeh alone. He stated that Gimo had not anticipated any proposal from US which would involve abandoning Quemoy and Matsu to Communists inasmuch as Gimo was so firmly convinced that he had been given positive assurance by President Eisenhower that US would participate in their defense under conditions such as now existed.
Dining with Gimo tonight (Monday).
Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.5800/4–2155. Top Secret; Emergency. The source text is a copy made at the direction of the Secretary of a message in four parts from Robertson to Dulles, transmitted in telegrams 250905Z, 251010Z, 251201Z, and 252315Z from Chief MAAG Formosa to CNO, all dated April 25. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International Series)
The four telegrams were transmitted between 5:05 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. and received at the Department of Defense between 6:22 a.m. and 10:38 a.m.↩
- On April 24.↩