70. Memorandum of a Conversation, Washington, January 31, 1955, 9:45 p.m.1


  • Off-shore Islands


  • Dr. George Yeh, Chinese Foreign Minister
  • Dr. Wellington Koo, Chinese Ambassador
  • Mr. Robertson, Assistant Secretary, FE
  • Mr. McConaughy, Director, Office of Chinese Affairs
[Page 185]

After a Chinese meal at the Embassy, with only the above four persons present, the participants gathered in the private study in the Chinese Embassy for a short discussion.

Mr. Robertson sketched the background of recent Formosa developments. He expressed regret that the Generalissimo was making a large issue of the inability of the U.S. Government to announce its intention to assist in the defense of Quemoy and Matsu. He felt the Generalissimo was disregarding far more significant favorable developments which showed that the U.S. was very much in earnest in its intention to aid the Chinese against further Communist aggression. It was unfortunate that in the face of such impressive evidence, the Generalissimo should harbor suspicions that he had been double crossed. Mr. Robertson stressed the import of the overwhelmingly favorable vote in both Houses of Congress on the Joint Resolution:—in the House, 400 [410] to 3; in the Senate 83 to 3. One of the “nay” votes in the House was actually based on the argument that the Resolution did not go far enough. The size of this enormous majority was a political phenomenon which Mr. Robertson said was absolutely unique in his experience. It was a striking thing that partisanship between the parties, and differences within the Democratic and Republican parties had been completely submerged in the recording of this impressive vote. The emphatic approval of this Resolution showed better than anything else could the strong backing which the American people accord to free China and the well nigh unanimous resolve to make a firm stand against further Chinese Communist encroachment. This vote should give immense encouragement to the Chinese Government. The positive significance of the Resolution far outweighed the slightly negative impact of the U.S. decision not to make a public commitment about the defense of Quemoy and Matsu. That decision had been taken because of a conviction that it would be wiser to adhere strictly to the language of the Joint Resolution and not create questions as to whether we had deviated from the spirit and intent of the Resolution by apparently singling out and freezing the position as to two points, while seemingly disregarding the rest of the “related area”.

Mr. Robertson paid a tribute to the great qualities of the Generalissimo as a Chinese patriot and leader, and as a stalwart foe of Communism. He said that he knew the Generalissimo well and considered him to be one of the foremost figures of this generation. At the same time he felt he could say without disrespect (and the Foreign Minister and the Ambassador knew he would not show any disrespect for their President), that the international view of the Generalissimo was somewhat circumscribed by the fact that he had never been outside of the Far East and had no conception of the complexities of political and diplomatic processes in the U.S. He thought that [Page 186] in some respects the world view of the Generalissmo was nearly as restricted as that of a typical U.S. mid-westerner. This tended to make him at times unduly suspicious of American motives. He was occasionally inclined to ascribe double dealing intentions to the U.S. and to be tempted to infer we might be ready to sell Free China down the river in concert with the British.

There was no justification for these suspicions and Mr. Robertson hoped that the Foreign Minister and the Ambassador could convince the Generalissimo that his misgivings were groundless, and that recent developments in the crisis have been much to the advantage of Free China.

Mr. Robertson then read the substance of the important message which had just been sent with the approval of the President to the American Ambassador in Taipei for delivery to the Generalissimo (Department’s 421).2 The Foreign Minister and the Ambassador listened carefully. The “statement” portion of the message was reread by Mr. McConaughy while a Chinese secretary (Mr. Wang) took it down word for word.

Dr. Yeh said he felt the message would serve to reassure the Generalissimo that there could be no question of the U.S. welshing on the position set out, in view of the fact that it had the express approval of the President of the U.S. The significance of the top secret U.S. statement on Quemoy and Matsu would be fully apparent to the Generalissimo. It would certainly hearten him and his Government. However, the Foreign Minister felt that the message would not provide the public offset to the bad news of the Tachen withdrawal, which the Generalissimo felt was urgently required for public relations purposes, both in the Army and with the civilian populace. The security restriction made it impossible to get any public relations value out of the important U.S. decision. This was the remaining difficulty. All of the Chinese Government decisions and plans had been based on the assurances originally received from Secretary Dulles the week before last that a public announcement would be made of the U.S. intention to assist in the defense of Quemoy and Matsu. The abrupt reversal of the U.S. position left the Generalissimo in an awkward situation and had placed him in a frame of mind which made him receptive to suspicions that the British had persuaded the U.S. to back down, paving the way for an eventual surrender of all the offshore islands in return for a Formosa cease-fire.

The problem was to give the Generalissimo some tangible public evidence of U.S. support to counteract the bad effect of the Tachen withdrawal.

[Page 187]

Dr. Yeh said that the advice to evacuate the Tachens had gone very hard with the Generalissimo. He was wedded to the idea of holding the Tachens, into which a great deal of Chinese effort and resources have been poured over a period of five years, seeking to make the islands as nearly impregnable as possible. Both the Generalissimo and Foreign Minister Yeh felt that the Tachens were important from a strategic point of view, since they gave ready access to an important section of the China Coast and also lay across sea and air routes from the Shanghai area to the Formosa Strait. He said they would be very valuable in connection with any reconquest of the Mainland. However, he admitted that under present conditions it was practically impossible to supply and utilize the Tachens without air control. We acknowledged that air superiority could hardly be achieved with Chinese Government air bases four times as far away as Chinese Communist air bases. He said the Generalissimo had been offended by a recent reference by the Secretary to the Tachens as “only a bunch of rocks”.3 The Generalissimo had remarked that “Gibraltar also was nothing but a rock.”

Mr. Robertson remarked that we were not urging the Chinese to withdraw from the Tachens. But we did feel that the Tachens did not have any real military importance and had decided that we could not use our military forces to hold them. We had offered to assist the Chinese, if asked, in effecting a withdrawal and redeployment, but we were not insisting that the Chinese withdraw.

Dr. Yeh referred to articles by John Hightower of the AP and Walter Lippman of the New York Herald-Tribune on January 31 intimating that the off-shore islands were being kept in reserve by the U.S. as a possible pawn to be used in a general cease-fire deal with the Chinese Communists.

Mr. Robertson emphatically branded these rumors as totally without foundation in fact, and as emanating from persons who had no authorized knowledge whatever as to classified policy decisions of the U.S. Government. He remarked that the Chinese Government representatives should decide whether they would deal with and have confidence in the President and the Secretary, or newspaper men who were completely outside the policy councils, and who were writing conjectural stories in ignorance of the actual decisions.

Mr. Robertson said he wanted the Chinese representatives to know of the understanding and sympathy with which the President regarded the cause of Free China. He remarked that the President had said explicitly at the White House conference on the night of January 30 immediately after he returned from Augusta and before [Page 188] he had dinner, that he wanted a warm and friendly message containing strong reassurances sent to the Generalissimo. He did not want to leave the Generalissimo in any doubt as to the firmness of American support as most recently demonstrated by the presence of the Seventh Fleet in the area, and the stationing of a full Air Force wing of jet planes on Formosa.

The President had felt that we should not take a public position which departed from the language of the Joint Resolution. He did not want to seem to freeze a formal public position covering part of the “related area” which might seem in the circumstances to disregard the fluid nature of the situation and ignore the remainder of the “related area”.

Ambassador Koo said that he felt that we should seek a formula acceptable to the President and to Congress, compatible with the language of the Joint Resolution, and capable of meeting President Chiang’s need for a positive public declaration which would make more understandable to his military commanders and soldiers the unpleasant withdrawal decision. Ambassador Koo then proposed the following formula which he felt all elements could accept:

In the penultimate sentence of the Chinese Embassy draft of January 294 he would insert the phrase “including Quemoy and Matsu” after “territories”. Thus the penultimate sentence would read, “In furtherance of the close cooperation between our two countries in the securing and defending of Taiwan (Formosa) and Penghu (Pescadores), the Government of the United States has indicated to the Chinese Government its decision also to join in the defense of such related positions and territories, including Quemoy and Matsu, the safeguarding of which the Government of the United States deems essential in assuring the defense of Taiwan and Penghu.”

Ambassador Koo pointed out that this language still left the decision to the U.S. It confirmed that Quemoy and Matsu were included in “such related positions and territories”.

Mr. Robertson mentioned that the Treaty hearings would begin on Wednesday, February 2, instead of Monday, February 7. He said the hearings had been moved forward at the request of the President in order to speed the ratification of the Treaty. Mr. Robertson cited this as another evidence of the earnestness and singleness of U.S. purpose. He mentioned that any official public statements regarding the Treaty area or the “related area” might have an effect on the Treaty hearings.

Dr. Yeh said that it might be worth while to explore the possibility of effecting an exchange of notes in regard to the defense of [Page 189] Quemoy and Matsu. He was not proposing it but simply putting forward the idea informally for examination.

Mr. Robertson said that the formal inclusion of Quemoy and Matsu in the defense area would amount to an extension of the Treaty area. He said there was no question in his mind but that such an extension of the Treaty area would require Senate ratification. Even if such an understanding were merely embodied in notes, the documents would have to be sent up to the Senate as an amendment of the Treaty.

Dr. Yeh said that his Government would prefer some sort of bilateral understanding concerning the defense of Quemoy and Matsu, to a unilateral U.S. declaration.

Mr. Robertson hoped the Chinese representatives would impress on the Generalissimo that our position on the China issue was very different from that of the British. The positions were widely divergent. The Generalissimo must understand that our concurrence in the UN effort to bring about a cessation of hostilities was strictly pinpointed at the offshore islands and did not signify that we had succumbed in any way to British influence.

Mr. Robertson said that the Chinese did not have a better friend than the Secretary of State. Secretary Dulles grasped the magnitude and the nature of the Communist threat with a clear and far ranging vision. No one understood the needs of the present situation better than he. He had a profound understanding of the imperative need for the continued existence of Free China. He stood with the Chinese. The leaders of the Chinese Government need to understand the difficult U.S. political and diplomatic problems, curb their suspicions and negotiate on a basis of full confidence.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.5/1–3155. Top Secret; Limited Distribution. Drafted by McConaughy and initialed by Robertson, indicating his approval. A note on the source text indicates that this conversation took place at the Chinese Ambassador’s residence after dinner.
  2. Supra.
  3. Reference is apparently to a remark made by Dulles during his second conversation with Yeh on January 19; see Document 19.
  4. Transmitted in Document 62.