93. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Tripartite Talks (Discussion of Korea and China)


  • (See page 8)1

After a discussion of preliminaries and of procedural matters, Mr. Murphy invited Mr. Robertson to start the discussion with a presentation of our views of the Far East situation.

Mr. Robertson opened by noting that he thought we were in general agreement about the posture and threat of Red China. He said that one of the most important factors was the question of the relations between Moscow and Peiping. It has been impossible to find any hard evidence of a rift. On the contrary, available evidence indicates continuing unity. He described the great quantity of aid which the Soviets had given to Communist China, cited Mao’s statements in Moscow in November 1957 acknowledging the leadership of Moscow in the Communist world,2 and read a similar statement made by Chou En-lai in Moscow a few days ago at the Soviet Party Congress.3 In 1956 Chou En-lai made a trip to Eastern Europe for the purpose of rallying the satellites. Similarly, with respect to Yugoslavia, Mao’s position has been the same as that of the USSR. At the time of the Taiwan Strait crisis, Khrushchev paid a visit to Peiping4 before the shooting began. During the crisis the USSR doubled its shipments of jet fuel to Communist China. While we do not believe that Moscow is enthused about the communes, we believe that Russia’s main concern is that the commune program might lead to a possible weakening of Communist China, not any difference in ideology or concern that the communes would succeed. Mao’s recent decision to step down from the Chairmanship of the Communist regime did not in our view mean diminution in his influence or power since he retains full power as head of the Chinese Communist Party. He only [Page 174] wanted relief from protocol duties in order to devote himself to important problems.

The “great leap forward” has added to the economic strength of Communist China. But Communist claims have been grossly exaggerated. While gains in food production may have been as much as 15–20 percent, the Communists have been claiming over 100 percent. On the other hand, there are reports of food shortages in Communist China, transportation bottlenecks, and other evidences of poor economic planning. Communist China’s dumping of cheap goods on the Asian market has not been just to punish Japan but is part of its drive to gain foreign exchange in order to industrialize. We believe that on balance Peiping’s economic policies have had a net adverse effect on other Asian countries.

The military threat is very real, more so than a year ago. Chinese Communist subversion is unabated. They continue to use schools, labor unions, Chinese societies and “red carpet” tours for Asian dignitaries to manipulate opinion in their favor.

Mr. Robertson then recounted the highlights of the recent Taiwan Strait crisis. He noted that in all Communist broadcasts at the time, no distinction was drawn between Taiwan on the one hand and Quemoy and Matsu on the other. Similarly, Khrushchev wrote in his second letter to President Eisenhower that the only way to relieve tensions in the Taiwan Strait was for the United States to get out of the area.5 The Chinese Communists have refused to talk about provocations at Warsaw and have said only that the United States must get out of Taiwan. It is plain that their objective is to force United States withdrawal from the Western Pacific. In their attacks on the offshore islands the Chinese Communists hoped to get rid of the Republic of China both as a political symbol and as a military force—a military force which constitutes a deterrent to their further expansion. Their ultimate objective was to open the road to all of Southeast Asia.

Ambassador Alphand said he was very grateful for Mr. Robertson’s views and that he considered this very important for an understanding of the background. Sir Harold Caccia said he thought we were in broad general agreement on the threat on all of three headings: 1) we agree on the solidarity of the Peiping-Moscow relationship; 2) we agree on the analysis of the economic drive undertaken by the Chinese Communists; and 3) we also agree that the military threat is formidable. He said that Communist China and the USSR make no distinction between the offshore islands and Taiwan, but he noted that, [Page 175] although they do not, the UK does. He wondered if we could reach a position where we were together on this point. The difference between the U.K. and the United States position on this proceeds from the U.K. recognition of Peiping in 1950. The legal consequences of this, he said, are that the offshore islands constitute the “normal’ territory of the Chinese [Communists].6 This is a consideration which does affect our unity.

Ambassador Alphand said that his government takes the same position as we on the magnitude of the Chinese Communist threat. He noted that France does not recognize Communist China, and he said that, if Quemoy had not been defended, Taiwan would have been lost through internal dissolution. Mr. Daridan said that there had been “pressure” in France to recognize Peiping, both from leftists and from businessmen who hoped for increased trade. He said that there would be some advantages in recognition: it would be recognition of a fact which exists and it would open up “possibilities of discussion” with the Chinese Communists. The disadvantage would be the effect of recognition on overseas Chinese in French possessions. In any case, in the present state of France’s international relations, recognition of Communist China would be “very difficult.” Mr. Daridan mentioned that Huang Shao-ku, GRC Foreign Minister, was in Paris recently and had been told that the French Government would not send an ambassador to Taiwan. Huang, he said, had understood France’s position. Mr. Murphy asked if the Chinese Communists frequently come to Paris and were active there. Mr. Daridan said they did a few years ago, but not recently.

Mr. Robertson said one of the things we learned from the Taiwan Strait crisis was that the Asian countries were afraid that the United States would back down in the face of Communist attacks. If we had backed down we would have lost far more than Taiwan as a result. He said that he fully understood the reasons for the U.K.’s different position on recognition. However, in our view China is not different from the other countries of the world now divided by Communism. If there were a “break in the ranks” on the question of recognition, this could lead to an avalanche of countries recognizing Peiping. Today 44 free world countries recognize the GRC, whereas only 22 of them recognize the Communists. Peiping wants to hold on to everything and give nothing. At no point have the Chinese Communists changed their basic hostile and threatening policy. If recognition could enhance free world security, we would be in favor of it; but, if the effect of recognition would be to make the enemy stronger, then in our own selfish interests we must resist. The United States did not recognize Soviet Russia for 16 years, and, if it had been forewarned of Russia’s policies as it now is of Communist China’s, it is very dubious that it would have recognized [Page 176] the Soviets even then. For the United States it is not question of recognizing “reality.” Since the time of Jefferson we have not recognized governments simply because they exercise de facto control over territory. We also ask that they live up to their international obligations. In the case of the Chinese Communists they expropriated our property, extorted blackmail from some of our citizens, and imprisoned others, subjecting them to brutal treatment. In February 1950 the Chinese Communists called on Southeast Asian countries to overthrow their governments. Later that year they committed aggression in Korea. An armistice was reached with them in July 1953.7 They later violated three of the four principal provisions of this armistice. They violated the Geneva accord on Indochina8 almost as soon as the ink was dry. They also violated the Agreed Announcement of September 10, 19559 by which they pledged themselves to permit the Americans held in Communist China to return home “expeditiously.” Returning to the question of recognition, Mr. Robertson observed that in the case of Great Britain recognition took place just after the Chinese Communists had come in and before it was apparent what their policies would be.

Sir Harold agreed and said that recognition now is an “esoteric field” having two aspects: recognition of a reality and recognition as a courtesy. The United States has in fact been dealing with the Chinese Communists even without diplomatic recognition. However, Sir Harold said he thought there were certain benefits to be obtained from recognition, such as the obtaining of information, but these he felt were not too important. He said that recognition of Communist China today would have certain “inescapable consequences” of a practical nature which would be very serious. During the Quemoy crisis the U.K. had done its best not to appear out of line with the United States, but it would have been easier to do so if a line had been drawn down the Formosa Strait. Since there was no such line, the U.K. could only take the position that it did not believe that force should be used in the Communist attempt to exert sovereignty over the offshore islands. The treaty position of the U.S. is, of course, different. The British Government had never been asked to make any commitment and did not feel that it would become involved. Sir Harold said further that he felt that the offshore island crisis was really a “test” of the United States in Southeast Asia, not a test of Chiang Kai-shek.

Mr. Robertson replied that the United States considers that the offshore islands belong to the Republic of China. He said that he agreed [Page 177] that—aside from the 45,000 residents of the offshore islands who were strongly anti-Communist—if the offshore islands were to disappear into the sea we would draw a sigh of relief. Militarily speaking, we felt that the offshore islands were more a liability than an asset.

Mr. Murphy asked whether the U.K. considered that the offshore islands were part of the mainland. Sir Harold replied that it did. He said that Taiwan was in a different category. The Japanese surrender of Taiwan was never followed by a “definite assignment.” The U.K. and the United States positions were bound to be different, since the U.K. says that Republic of China is not the government of China. Mr. Murphy noted that despite this, the Republic of China had been in continuous control of the offshore islands since before the Communists proclaimed their regime.

Mr. Robertson said that the argument that Taiwan does not belong to China is a little “tenuous” since in fact after the Second World War the Republic of China was assigned the duty of accepting the surrender of the Japanese on Taiwan and has been in control of the island ever since.

Sir Harold remarked that he doubted that we would want him to be persuaded by these arguments. Thereupon Mr. Murphy recalled that when Sir Roger Makins was British Ambassador to Washington he had discussed this point with him and had asked whether Sir Roger did not consider Hong Kong properly part of the mainland since Hong Kong was at least as close to the mainland as the offshore islands of the GRC. Sir Harold rejoined that he had been speaking about the legal side of the question only. He did not think we could change the thinking of his government’s “lawyers” on the offshore islands.

Mr. Murphy asked Sir Harold whether the wisdom of recognition of Peiping had been borne out in practical terms. Sir Harold said that the U.K. does not get commercial benefits, as Mr. Robertson had already observed, but he felt it does get benefits from the information obtained—information which he thought as good as that obtained by the British Embassy in the USSR. This, he felt, was better than getting information on the mainland “by indirection.” Finally, by recognition the U.K. recognizes the fact of Communist control, deplorable fact that it is. The U.K. also avoids the “awkwardness” of having to set up “special arrangements” to talk with the Chinese Communists whenever it has a problem with them.

Mr. Robertson asked whether the British in Peiping could talk to Chou En-lai. Sir Harold said not often. He then said that in the long run recognition by the U.K. stood some chance of “affecting” the nature of the regime itself and its relationship with Moscow.

There was some discussion as to how long the British Chargé in Peiping, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, had to wait before seeing Chou En-lai [Page 178] a second time after presenting his credentials on arrival. Mr. Robertson thought that it was not until four years later, at Geneva, that Sir Humphrey met Chou again.

Sir Harold said there were two ways of going about recognition. One of them was to do it quickly, as in the case of Cuba. However, when one acts quickly one inevitably runs certain risks and this was so in the case of U.K. recognition of Communist China. Mr. Murphy made the comment that, although we recognized Cuba quickly, we had made a very close advance study of the question and we had good reasons for taking the action we did.

Mr. Robertson observed that in 1950 the U.K. position was similar to that of the United States with respect to the USSR in 1933. To this Sir Harold added that recognition, once done, was a “signal act” to undo.

Mr. Daridan said he had a number of questions: What are present conditions on Quemoy and Matsu? Is Chiang Kai-shek determined to hold the islands? If Quemoy and Matsu were attacked, what kind of a war would result? What weapons would be used? What would be the USSR’s reaction? If the Republic of China withdrew from the offshore islands and if Taiwan were attacked, what means would the United States use to defend it? Would there be an attack on the mainland? What would be the USSR’s reaction in this case?

Mr. Robertson said that the morale on Quemoy and Matsu had been high, that of the Taiwanese troops gratifyingly so. He noted that the standard of living in Taiwan is the second highest in Asia. Very effective use has been made of United States aid and the land reform program had been very beneficial. The people on Taiwan knew the slave conditions in mainland China and understood that the GRC was their protection against the Communists. The GRC will not under any conditions turn over the offshore islands. We tried our hand at this in 1955 and failed. Of the 18,524 inhabitants of the Ta-Chen islands, only 19 elected to remain when those islands were evacuated in 1955. The population of Quemoy and Matsu is very anti-Communist. Resettlement on Taiwan would be a problem, but the real problem was the psychological one. Chiang Kai-shek will not give up his territory bit by bit in the face of force. If he did so, he feels all faith would be lost in the alliance with the United States. He could not retain the confidence of the anti-Communist Chinese if he gave up the offshore islands, nor could he maintain the morale of the Taiwan population. If the morale in Taiwan were to collapse, this would vastly complicate our problem since Taiwan is strategically and militarily necessary to the collective security of the free world. Thermonuclear war might destroy the world but there comes a point when we must decide whether to surrender the free world simply because the Soviets threaten war.

[Page 179]

Mr. Daridan asked if the United States would go to war in defense of the offshore islands. Mr. Robertson said that it was not a question of Quemoy and Matsu. If the offshore islands were evacuated this might help psychologically with some of our allies, but the real problem would not be solved for ten minutes. The real question was whether we would go to war over Taiwan.

Sir Harold observed that the Chinese Communists would themselves be angry if “robbed” of Quemoy and Matsu. It would make an attack on Taiwan more difficult. Mr. Robertson said that Mr. Daridan was asking a question which only the President could answer. He described the terms of the Formosa Resolution which gives the President authority to go beyond the exact limits of the Mutual Defense Treaty. We cannot predetermine the case. A decision would in any case have to be made in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time. To this Mr. Daridan noted that there was some feeling that the United States’ allies might be drawn into a war without consultation. Mr. Murphy commented that in this case our ally was the GRC in Taiwan. He said it is not possible for us to answer the question further. If Taiwan were attacked we would then act under our treaty with the Republic of China. Mr. Green at this point read a pertinent passage from Anna Louise Strong’s article in the Moscow “New Times.” He said this showed that if we should appear to have divided counsels this would be an added incentive to the Communists for further probing and attacks.

Mr. Robertson said that if the Chinese Communists were to attack Taiwan by force they would be met with force by the United States and Mr. Murphy agreed that this was a fair statement. Mr. Daridan asked for an appraisal of the Russian attitude. Mr. Robertson said that he thought the Russians do not want the Chinese Communists to get into a major war at this time. The Chinese Communists depend on the USSR for war materials. Of all the shell fragments found on Quemoy not one was made in China; most of them were made in Russia with a few old United States shells mixed in. Peiping also depends on Russia for jet fuel and parts. It therefore must have a “green light” from the USSR before embarking on a major war. We believe that our policy on a trade embargo and playing for time had been a factor in maintaining peace in Asia. Russia will exercise its influence to prevent a major war, but in case one should break out its support would be given the Chinese Communists.

Mr. Daridan asked how Hong Kong would be defended. Mr. Murphy said that the United States would naturally take into consideration the views and wishes of the U.K. Sir Harold said that it was a question of intelligence. Was there any intelligence indicating the Communists intended to attack Hong Kong? He believed there was none pointing to an attack in the “proximate future,” although the ultimate intentions of the Chinese Communists were wide. The fact that part of Hong Kong is [Page 180] leased territory is not generally understood. The lease expires in 1998. Whether the Communists will “in oriental fashion” wait for that date we do not know. However, if British territory is attacked it is “axiomatic” that it will be defended. Mr. Robertson asked if the Communists did not feel that it is more advantageous to them to have Hong Kong in British hands, thus giving them a port for foreign trade and a “window on the world.” Sir Harold thought this was so.

Sir Harold asked: Is it not the object of our policy to “contain China in China?” Mr. Robertson agreed. He said that this was the core of our whole policy in the Far East: to deter Chinese Communist expansion by all means and prevent the taking over of Asia. Mr. Murphy said that we were also attempting to bring about a deterioration of the domestic situation in Communist China and were keeping a close watch on Sino-Soviet relations.

Mr. Robertson noted that the Russians were restraining Peiping for practical reasons. They wanted Peiping to gain ground—not lose.

Sir Harold said that time will tell whether Chiang Kai-shek is right. Chiang’s position essentially is that he must have all or nothing.

Ambassador Alphand recalled that before the first World War there had been an entente cordiale and the partners understood what would happen if Germany attacked Belgium. He said France wanted to be sure what would be the case in the future war. He said that he understood that if Taiwan were attacked the United States would be ready to go to war. Mr. Robertson said this was true of many places. He said that our Mutual Defense Treaty with the GRC was the same as defense treaties with many other countries.

Mr. Murphy made the point that the primary responsibility for defense of the offshore islands rested with the GRC. If the GRC should be unable to defend them against attack, then we would take another look.

Turning the discussion toward Korea, Mr. Daridan observed that Korea did not seem to be a “showcase” of democracy with the police bill developments which were taking place. Mr. Robertson observed that the United States presence in Korea was to carry out the purposes of the United Nations. He described our large aid program in Korea and mentioned the fact that Korea has an army of some 600,000 men. Our commitment to Korea is far in excess of the intrinsic importance of Korea itself. The last elections held in that country were regarded as generally fair and Rhee’s party obtained 70 percent of the vote. So far as the police bill is concerned, we did approach the Koreans on it to get some modifications, although we did not get as many as we would have liked. But our primary problem in Korea is keeping the Communists from taking South Korea and then moving against Japan.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 700.5/2–359. Secret. Drafted by J.W. Bennett of the Office of Chinese Affairs and initialed by Murphy. See also Document 92.
  2. The list is the same as the list in Document 92.
  3. On November 14, 1957, Mao addressed a conference of the Sino-Soviet bloc leaders held in Moscow November 14–16, 1957, and spoke about the Soviet Union’s leadership of the bloc. (Department of State, INR Files)
  4. The 21st Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was held in Moscow January 27–February 5, 1959.
  5. Khrushchev visited Peking July 21–August 3, 1958, for talks with Mao Tse-tung.
  6. Khrushchev’s letter of September 19, 1958, to Eisenhower is in volume XVIII, Document 110.
  7. Brackets in the source text.
  8. The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed at Panmunjom, Korea, on July 27, 1953. (4 UST 234)
  9. The Final Declaration on Indochina was signed at Geneva July 21, 1954.
  10. The Agreed Announcement by the Ambassadors of the United States and the People’s Republic of China was made in Geneva, September 10, 1955.