30. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 22, 19551


  • Defense of the Off-Shore Islands


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

Mr. Robertson asked about the accuracy of a report in this morning’s Washington Post, from the International News Service at Taipei, that the Chinese Government after a Cabinet meeting had officially rejected the American proposals, and were resolved to defend the Tachen Islands.

Foreign Minister Yeh said there was nothing to this report. He said there was as much nonsense in the news despatches from Taipei as from Washington.

Amb. Koo summarized a telegram from President Chiang. He said that President Chiang confirmed the formal acceptance of the U.S. proposals as to the protected evacuation of the Tachens and the joint defense of Quemoy and Matsu. The Chinese Government accepted the proposals with reluctance, considering a withdrawal from the Tachens to be an undesirable alternative, but the only one left. It was not to the liking of the Chinese Government but the reasons which caused the American Government to recommend it were understood and this solution must be accepted. The Generalissimo wanted certain “understandings”, requests and observations conveyed to the Department as follows:

The U.S. to furnish air and naval cover for a safe evacuation of the Tachens.
A U.S. statement eventually to be made as to its support of the defense of Quemoy and Matsu, at about the same time as the announcement of the withdrawal from the Tachens. Orders to be given to the 7th Fleet including U.S. naval air elements to proceed to the vicinity. He understood that such orders had already been given, so this point was already taken care of.
Complete secrecy to be observed in the matter. This is necessary to protect the evacuation. If advance knowledge of the evacuation is circulated, it will alert the Communists and result in needless loss of human lives, both civilian and military. There will be about 36,000 persons to be evacuated.
Expedited ratification of the Treaty to be sought. Press reports are arousing unfortunate suspicions among the Chinese public that the rumored action by the President may be a substitute for the Treaty and may result at least in a delay of its ratification.
Confirmation that no “deal” resulted from Hammarskjold’s conversations in Peiping with Chou En-lai with regard to the imprisoned fliers. A frank statement would be welcomed as to whether there is any intention to delay action on the Treaty until the fliers are released, or to offer any other quid pro quo to the Communists through Hammarskjold for the release of the fliers.
The proposed New Zealand action in the Security Council should be regarded with great reserve. It will give rise to a great deal of suspicion, misgiving and misunderstanding and will encourage and aid the neutralists who are working toward the goal of “two Chinas”.
It would be desirable for the President’s message to recognize that the Chinese Government has been and is resisting strongly the Communist attacks on the off-shore islands.

Mr. Robertson observed as to point (2), that the Secretary had not agreed to make any public declaration that the U.S. would participate in the defense of Quemoy and Matsu. On the contrary, the Secretary had stated specifically on January 21, that “no public declaration would be made at present in this respect”. The Secretary had indicated that the President’s message to Congress would ask for authority to use armed force “in the Formosa area”. There would be no further public statement, at least until we saw the effect of the President’s message. It would not be desirable to pin the U.S. action down specifically to certain islands.

Dr. Yeh said that he and the Ambassador had fully understood that the President’s message would not refer to Quemoy and Matsu by name. It was the thought of the Chinese representatives that at some future time these two islands might be named. They had assumed that the President’s message would ask for authorization to protect a general area.

Mr. Robertson said that an authorization would be sought to use armed force in the general area as necessary. It should be clearly understood that there was no U.S. commitment to make a public statement specifying certain islands.

As to the evacuation of the Tachens, Dr. Yeh felt that it was a military necessity to defer any announcement of intention to withdraw until the withdrawal operation was practically complete. He felt that secrecy could be fairly well maintained. He said it had been done in the case of the evacuation of the small island of Chou Shan, north of the Tachens, some time ago. This had been done by the Chinese Government entirely on its own.

Mr. Robertson felt it was doubtful whether knowledge of the evacuation could be kept from the Chinese Communists.

[Page 108]

Dr. Yeh said that his Government wanted to offset the bad effects of the withdrawal from the Tachens. For this reason they were anxious to say something about the defense of Quemoy and Matsu as soon as possible. The Chinese Government would like to indicate that they would be held, and that the U.S. had kindly offered to assist as necessary in holding them. Some positive favorable announcement should be timed with the adverse news of the withdrawal from the Tachens.

Mr. Robertson said the Department assumed that the Chinese Government would soften the impact of the announcement by describing it as a regrouping operation. The announcement that the U.S. would help to cover the withdrawal would also have a beneficial effect. It was not anticipated that the U.S. would say anything about assisting in evacuation before the Chinese Government announced its intentions. It was estimated that the Congressional debate on the President’s message might take up to a week.

Dr. Yeh said that a few days after Congress has acted, it was hoped that some sort of official statement confirming the President’s readiness to assist the Chinese Government could be made.

Amb. Koo said it was important to counteract the erroneous impression that the Chinese Government was prepared to withdraw from all the off-shore islands. President Chiang felt that the timing of all moves should be worked out jointly. President Chiang wanted to make it clear that in his view the evacuation of the Tachens presented a danger which should be clearly recognized:—there would be less control over a Communist surge southward from the Tachen area toward the Formosa Strait. The defense of the Formosa Strait would be adversely affected. For this reason he thought the abandonment of the Tachens would be a mistake.

Mr. Robertson pointed out that our military people did not think so. The Tachens would not be sufficiently important to pay a price for holding, even in war time. They were so much closer to Mainland air bases than to the island air bases available to us that the Communists would always have a great advantage. Furthermore they had little intrinsic importance.

Dr. Yeh remarked that this was a matter of dispute. “Strategists, like philosophers, don’t always agree”.

Mr. Robertson expressed the hope that the Generalissimo would be made to realize that the recent U.S. decisions represent “a hardening, not a weakening, of U.S. policy”. He felt that possibly the Generalissimo did not yet understand the full significance of the recent decisions.

[Page 109]

Dr. Yeh said that he appreciated the purport of the recent U.S. decision. At the same time he felt that the evacuation of the Tachens would have the effect of boosting both the prestige and the appetite of the Chinese Communists. It would tend to lead to further Chinese Communist aggression. Turning to the evacuation problem, he said that the withdrawal of slightly more than 36,000 people from the Tachens would be a big undertaking, full of difficulties. There were no good boat landings. The people would have to go single file down narrow paths to the water’s edge and embark on sampans, which would ferry them out to the ship anchorages. It might take an hour and a half to move an individual from the island to the evacuation ship, even with quiet seas. Careful planning would be needed for the evacuation and for the regrouping on other islands.

Mr. Robertson mentioned that Admiral Pride had already been given orders to proceed to Taipei.2

Dr. Yeh said that his name had already been suggested by the Chinese Government and the Government was gratified that Admiral Pride had been designated. U.S. transports would be needed to assist in carrying out the evacuation. If the Chinese Government had to rely chiefly on its own resources, the evacuation would be greatly prolonged.

Mr. Robertson felt that these details would have to be worked out in Taipei, with Admiral Pride participating. Admiral Pride would make his recommendations. Mr. Robertson did not anticipate any difficulties over the extent of U.S. assistance.

Dr. Yeh said that only civilians who wanted to leave would be evacuated. There would be no forcible evacuation of unwilling civilians.

Amb. Koo said that President Chiang was greatly perturbed by the leakage of classified information to the U.S. press. He knew that the U.S. was also concerned and hoped that everything possible would be done to block the leaks. The Generalissimo felt that the entire matter should be handled so as not to discourage the Chinese people. At the proper moment the Chinese Government would have to issue an explanatory statement. The leakage of information in advance would not make the Government’s task any easier.

As to point (5), Mr. Robertson said that the reports which the Ambassador had mentioned that Secretary General Hammarskjold had worked out a deal with Chou En-lai in Peiping were “100% false”. Hammarskjold represented the UN, and not the U.S., in Peiping. [Page 110] He had said nothing on behalf of the U.S. Government, and had informed us that he did not discuss any quid pro quo. The U.S. Government was anxious to hasten the ratification of the Mutual Defense Treaty. The question of the fliers could not be allowed to influence our consideration of the Formosa security problem. The action we are now considering may cause the Communists to harden their attitude towards the Americans under detention. This is regrettable, but it cannot be helped. U.S. action was made necessary by the Chinese Communists attacks on the Tachens and their admission that these attacks were a prelude to the “liberation” of Formosa.

Mr. Robertson said as to point (6) that the U.S. could not oppose the proposed New Zealand Resolution in the Security Council, and we did not see how the Chinese Government could oppose it. Mr. Robertson stressed that if the resolution were contemptuously rejected by the Communist side, the position of the Chinese Government would be improved. He thought the New Zealand resolution would probably go forward.

Foreign Minister Yeh said that he had two important observations to make:

It is important that the Tachens be denied to the Communists after the withdrawal of the Chinese Government forces. Communist use of the Tachens as a military base would pose a serious additional security threat. He suggested that United Nations influence be invoked to have the Tachens delcared a “neutral zone”. This action would not have to be identified with the New Zealand Resolution.
The precise wording of the New Zealand Resolution was very important. Suitable wording could do much to minimize the unfortunate aspects of the Resolution. He hoped that New Zealand Ambassador Munro and Ambassador Lodge could consult with the Chinese delegate, T.F. Tsiang, about the wording.

As to the Foreign Minister’s interest in the wording of the New Zealand Resolution, Mr. Robertson agreed that this was important. It should be phrased so as to make it as acceptable as possible to the Chinese Government. Mr. Robertson said that the interests of the Chinese Government would be borne in mind in our discussions with the New Zealand Embassy.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.5/1–2255. Top Secret. Drafted by McConaughy and initialed by Robertson, indicating his approval.
  2. Telegram 212353Z from CNO to CINCPAC ADMIN and COMSEVENTH FLT, January 21, stated that Task Force 77 might be ordered to assist in the evacuation of the Tachens and directed Pride to proceed to Taipei and confer with the Chinese Defense Ministry and with Chase to determine the factors and requirements involved should the evacuation be ordered. (JCS Records, CCS 381 Formosa (11–8–48) Sec. 18)