290. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McElroy0


  • Smaller Offshore Islands (U)
At the Department of State–Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting on 1 May 1959,1 the Department of State representatives requested the Joint Chiefs of Staff to examine the military/political implications of U.S. participation in or support of the defense of the smaller offshore islands now occupied by the Government of the Republic of China (GRC) with a view toward recommending:
U.S. policy in the event of an assault by the Chinese Communists, and
Whether the GRC should be notified of the U.S. policy in advance.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed current U.S. policy concerning defense of the offshore islands, including the 25 August 1958 decision to limit U.S. interests in the offshore islands to Kinmen (Quemoy), Little Kinmen (Little Quemoy) and the five larger islands in the Matsu area.2 In addition, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have noted the repeated but unsuccessful attempts by the United States to persuade the GRC to withdraw its forces from the Tan Islands.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that:
In general, the smaller offshore islands are of limited military value. However, some of the GRC occupied smaller islands in the Kinmen group are military outposts and constitute extensions of GRC defenses of the larger islands in the group.
Because of the expressed GRC determination to maintain garrisons on the smaller offshore islands (see Appendix hereto) despite the U.S. position to the contrary, it is considered politically unprofitable for the United States to continue to urge the GRC to withdraw.
Considerations other than military make it necessary that the United States be prepared in the event of a Chinese Communist assault against one or more of the GRC occupied islands:
To support GRC forces by providing material, intelligence, technical and training assistance without planned engagement of U.S. forces in combat operations, or
To participate in the defense of the islands by the active engagement of U.S. forces in combat operations to defeat attacking Chinese Communist forces.
The determination of the nature and extent of U.S. participation in or support of the defense of the smaller offshore islands should be made in the light of circumstances prevailing at the time. In general, active U.S. participation in the defense should be limited to those cases where it is considered necessary to prevent destruction of major GRC forces and to assure the defense of Taiwan and the Penghus.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the GRC not be notified in advance of U.S. policy with respect to the defense of the smaller offshore islands because of the possibility the GRC might initiate precipitate action which would not be in the best interests of the United States. Any announcement concerning U.S. support or active participation in the defense of the GRC-occupied offshore islands should be based upon the prevailing situation and timed to insure determined effort on the part of GRC forces and maximum advantage to the United States.
It is requested that the above views be forwarded to the Secretary of State.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Arleigh Burke3
Chief of Naval Operations
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/8–2759. Top Secret. Filed with a covering letter from Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Robert H. Knight to Murphy, August 27. Attached is an appendix, headed “Smaller Offshore Islands Occupied by GRC Forces,” which lists the islands, together with their locations and the forces on each. The islands are listed as Ta Tan, Erh Tan, Pei Ting, Tung Ting Hsu, and Hu Tzu Hsu (ranging from 2 to 14 miles from the Kinmens) and Tung Yin Shan (26 miles from the Matsus) and Wu Chiu Hsu (midway between the Kinmens and Matsus). See Supplement.
  2. See Document 279.
  3. See Document 43.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.