228. Memorandum of a Conversation, White House, Washington, January 31, 1956, 1 p.m.1

Secretary Dulles reviewed the work of the delegations during the morning, drawing particular attention to matters which would require the attention of the President and the Prime Minister. In the Far East, the situation in Viet-Nam had been discussed, with particular attention to the problem arising from Diem’s unwillingness to hold general elections in Viet-Nam this year. Secretary Dulles said he would talk to Diem during his visit to the Far East in a month or so. It might be possible, after elections in Viet-Nam are held which are expected to give a legal basis to Diem’s regime, that something can be done on this matter. If Diem still opposed elections, his opposition could be based upon the impracticability of holding free elections in the Viet-Minh area.

[Page 627]

The situation in Laos was also discussed during the morning, with recognition that the Communists had not complied with the terms of the Geneva agreement. This non-compliance could be used as a basis for criticism of the Communists.

Secretary Dulles reported that Mr. Selwyn Lloyd had reviewed the situation in Singapore and Malaya.

Secretary Dulles said he had himself reported on the military position in the Formosa Straits, and on the Johnson–Wang talks in Geneva. Although these talks are practically at the point of impasse, we are doing all possible to continue carrying them on. He said that the issue of Red China and the UN had been discussed, together with the question of China trade controls. No definitive solutions had been reached on these matters, and it was the consensus that the President and Sir Anthony should themselves take these up.

A report by a working group on the Near East had been received.2 It seemed to be rather negative in character insofar as action by the UN is concerned3 —in that there did not seem to be much that could be done in the area without having the Soviets gain entrée into the deliberations. Mr. Dulles and Mr. Lloyd accordingly were awaiting the military report.4

The Secretary reported that he had been informed that the declaration which is to serve as the communiqué had been considered in London, and that it is now in good shape.

He then mentioned several points which remain for consideration, including disarmament (to be considered at the meeting immediately following the luncheon), German support costs, and the Saudi situation mentioned yesterday.

The President then commented on the matter of Red China and the UN. He said that any attempt to push for their entrance would be catastrophic in this country in his opinion, and that there is a real chance that action to put Red China in might well put the U.S. out. The President said that he believed a Resolution would be passed by Congress recommending U.S. withdrawal within thirty minutes of Communist China’s admission. He even doubted that under these circumstances the UN could continue to maintain its headquarters in the U.S.5 He said feeling is very strong under present conditions, and that he shared it—mentioning that the Red Chinese are opposing the UN in Korea, that they are still holding U.S. citizens as prisoners, that they are threatening military action in Formosa, etc. While he tries to be realistic, he would have to say that while conditions of this kind [Page 628] continue, any thought of Red Chinese entrance into the UN would be completely unacceptable to this country. Secretary Dulles mentioned that this country appreciates very much the support the British have been giving in this matter. He has the impression that some of the Commonwealth, for example Canada, may be showing some weakness.

The President said that the memory of American losses in Korea is so keen in our minds that any effort to bring Red China into the UN would have the most serious consequences. Secretary Dulles referred to Chou En-lai’s recent threats against Formosa, using force if necessary. Sir Anthony recalled that Chiang just a day or two earlier had said that he would soon be attacking the mainland,6 and that Chou En-lai’s remarks could well be the response to this.

Sir Anthony said he hoped it would be possible to let the matter lie until late fall when the UN meets. Secretary Dulles basing himself on Cabot Lodge’s recommendation7 felt that the UN meeting should be postponed until after election, and Sir Anthony agreed. Secretary Dulles then suggested that the “moratorium” on consideration of this matter in the UN should run through the next UN session (which may carry into 1957) rather than covering 1956 only. Sir Anthony said he would have a look at this, and would of course do all that was feasible. He added that the Commonwealth countries are, in fact, becoming restless on this matter, and that the case that will be made is that the UN should be a universal organization—which already includes countries such as the USSR.

Sir Anthony then took up the situation with regard to the offshore islands, and said he was worried about this problem. The President said he had given a great deal of personal thought and attention to this whole problem and the situation was simply that if we tried to press Chiang too hard to give up the islands, Formosa might be lost and the whole position in the Far East might crumble. He had tried to have Chiang persuaded that it is a military mistake to place such strength and stake his prestige on the off-shore islands in this manner, but that the effort had not been successful. In his opinion, they should be considered as an outpost, but Chiang had said that abandonment of the islands would result in loss of face and of any hold over Chinese not only on Formosa but also8 in Malaya and elsewhere in the Far East. Secretary Dulles said that while the situation with regard to these islands flares up occasionally, he is inclined to think that large-scale attack in the near future is unlikely, and said that he understands this to be the opinion of top U.S. military people. While airfields have been [Page 629] built opposite Formosa, they have not been equipped or provisioned for operations, and that there has been no build-up or massing of the forces which might be used for assault. There is, of course, the danger of interdiction of the islands with artillery, preventing their support and supply. Sir Anthony said that the question which was uppermost in their minds is, if Chiang has built up the islands with a large part of his forces, and is attacked, what then happens with regard to U.S. action in the area? He also enquired if the islands were attacked and fell would not the effect on morale in Formosa be disastrous? The President said that Chiang Kai-shek apparently believed to lose after a hard fight would be less damaging than a voluntary withdrawal.9

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 648. Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster. The conversation took place during the President’s luncheon for Eden. For another record of this meeting, including a list of participants, see supra.
  2. Not found in Department of State files.
  3. Merchant inserted the phrase beginning with “insofar” by hand.
  4. The report, a memorandum from Rear Admiral Truman J. Hedding to George Allen, February 2, is printed in vol. XV, p. 131.
  5. Merchant inserted this sentence by hand.
  6. President Chiang’s remarks on January 28 are enclosed in despatch 439 from Taipei, January 31. (Department of State, Central Files, 793.5/1–3156)
  7. Merchant inserted the phrase beginning with “basing” by hand.
  8. Merchant inserted the phrase beginning with “not only” by hand.
  9. Merchant inserted the last two sentences by hand.