272. Special National Intelligence Estimate0

SNIE 100–4–59


The Problem

To assess Communist China’s capabilities, intentions, and probable courses of action with respect to the Taiwan Strait area over the next year.


We believe that Communist China broke off the Taiwan Strait crisis last October primarily because it believed that to increase military pressures to the point necessary for a successful interdiction effort against Chinmen carried unacceptable risk of hostilities with the US. Furthermore, relations between the US and the Government of the Republic of China (GRC) had not been impaired, Nationalist morale remained high, and the tensions created by Peiping’s actions were proving damaging to Communist China’s international prestige. Peiping was also concerned over moves by some Asian countries toward compromise proposals it considered unacceptable, [less than 1 line of 2-column source text not declassified]
There has actually been little change since last October in the military picture in the Taiwan Strait area. The Chinese Communists do not have the capability to prevent resupply of the Matsus or Big and Little Chinmen by artillery fire alone. They could at any time create considerably greater havoc on the Chinmen group than they did during the previous crisis should they choose to exercise their full artillery capability. Moreover, by supplementing artillery bombardment with attacks by aircraft and motor torpedo boats, possibly along with offensive mine-warfare, they could make resupply and reinforcement of the Chinmen and Matsu garrisons virtually impossible unless US air and naval forces were committed to keeping the supply lines open. The Chinese Communist forces remain capable of taking any of the smaller coastal islands quickly and with little or no warning. Barring US intervention, they also could seize the larger coastal islands, [less than 1 line of 2-column source text not declassified]
There are presently no indications of any Chinese Communist preparations for increased military pressures in the Taiwan Strait. There is no firm evidence that additional troops, heavier artillery, missiles, additional aircraft, additional motor torpedo boats, or minecraft have been moved into the Strait area. However, Communist forces could be quickly and heavily reinforced, and quite possibly without detection prior to their employment, [less than 1 line of 2-column source text not declassified]
The Chinese Communists will almost certainly seek to avoid hostilities with the US. We believe that they will not attempt to seize Chinmen or undertake an all-out effort to prevent its resupply. We also believe such actions unlikely against the Matsus, though the Chinese Communists may in this case be somewhat less certain of US intentions and possible reactions. However, we believe that the Chinese Communists will continue to employ military pressures in support of their essentially political and psychological campaign in the Taiwan Strait. They will probably attempt to keep the Strait issue alive and probably will not relax their military pressures to such a degree as to permit the situation to become quiescent over an extended period of time, [less than 1 line of 2-column source text not declassified]
There are a number of military pressures open to the Chinese Communists. They may engage in periodic heavy shelling and limited air and/or sea operations to harass the Nationalists in the Chinmen and Matsu areas; if the CCAF improves its proficiency, it might more aggressively engage the CAF. The Chinese Communists might attempt to seize one or more of the small, lightly-held offshore islands, particularly Ta-tan and Erh-tan, which could probably be taken by a surprise operation before effective counteraction could be mounted, [less than 1 line of 2-column source text not declassified]
In the course of the Berlin crisis the Chinese Communists may exercise their ability to heighten tensions in the Taiwan Strait, either as a part of coordinated Bloc strategy or in furtherance of their own objectives in the Far East. We believe that the Chinese Communists would not heighten tensions without prior consultation with the Soviets. In either case, the Soviet position would almost certainly depend on the course of the negotiations or on events in the Berlin crisis itself. The Soviets will probably desire to keep tensions in the Far East about as they are at present so long as they judge that the Berlin situation is progressing according to their liking. Should the Soviets estimate that the Berlin situation is going badly for them, they may advise the Chinese Communists to increase tensions in the Far East. The Chinese Communist response to such Soviet advice would be influenced not only by the Berlin situation and Soviet desires but also by Peiping’s own estimate of the advantages or disadvantages of heightening tensions in the Taiwan Strait or possibly elsewhere in the Far East. Any moves to heighten tension in the Taiwan Strait, however, would almost certainly be calculated to fall short of provoking major hostilities, [less than 1 line of 2-column source text not declassified]

[Here follow 19 pages of source text scheduled for inclusion in the Supplement but not declassified.]

  1. Source: Department of State, INRNIE Files. Secret. A note on the cover sheet reads in part as follows:

    “Submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence. The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and The Joint Staff.

    “Concurred in by the United States Intelligence Board on 13 March 1959.”