339. Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State0


  • Offshore Islands
The ChiComs have the capability at any time between now and the election to place the administration in an exceedingly embarrassing position. They can step up pressures against the offshore islands to the point where the US will either have to:
see the islands lost to force while still subject to an ambiguous US “commitment” which would be a further blow to US prestige m the Far East; or
take military action which would—to judge from our experience in 1958—be the object of bitter public and Congressional criticism.
It would be optimistic to believe that the ChiComs will not exercise this capability They came at us in 1958 during an election and they may well do so again this year—only playing for keeps this time.
Our object should be to deny the ChiComs this opportunity.
This can only be done by persuading the GRC to withdraw or to announce a future withdrawal, scheduled for a specific date, from the offshore islands. Such an announcement would enable us to defend the islands in the meantime with substantial support at home and abroad.
We have not so far been able to persuade the GRC to this course of action because we have never been able to convince it that the alternative of non-withdrawal would involve unacceptable risks and costs.
Evolving US public and Congressional opinion toward the issue of the offshore islands and the nomination of a Democratic candidate publicly committed to disengaging the US from the offshore islands and to “reassessing” our China policy may have created a somewhat different situation.
It might be possible now to make a persuasive private approach to the GRC along the following lines (particularly if the Vice President were known to be personally involved in the approach): [Page 693]

“The GRC should be aware from the trend of public and Congressional opinion during and since the last offshore island crisis that it is increasingly unlikely that any future U.S. administration would come to the islands’ defense. The nomination of a Presidential candidate publicly pledged to disengage from the islands dramatizes this fact. The next U.S. administration may well have to define its position under the Formosa resolution specifically to exclude the offshore islands, except as Formosa is being simultaneously physically invaded.

“Since the GRC cannot defend the islands alone, the choice is not whether it loses the islands, but how and when—and what goes with them.

“If the GRC stays on the islands, the ChiComs will probably play cat and mouse with them for some time before pouncing. Each time they do, they will stir up the same kind of reaction in the U.S. as we saw last time in 1958. Each time this occurs, more public and Congressional support for our broad China policy will be eroded. In the end, the GRC win lose not only the islands but a lot more besides. This is the more likely since the ChiComs will probably exploit this issue to the full during the next few months, when foreign policy will be under intensive debate in the U.S.—thus substantially embarrassing defenders of existing China policy in the U.S. and strengthening its opponents.

“If the GRC should now withdraw or announce that it intended to withdraw from the islands, on the other hand, it would greatly strengthen its position with the U.S. public and Congress—giving an impression of restraint and wisdom which would be money in the bank public relations-wise. Defenders of existing China policy would be encouraged and strengthened. This would be a way of getting a return from the islands that would be of maximum advantage to the GRC—not only in the US but internationally. To compound and exploit that advantage, the Gimo might visit the U.S. for the purpose of making a speech to the UNGA, in the course of which this announcement could be made. Such an announcement would do much to solidify support for the GRC in the UN and to re-establish the Gimo and his government in the affection and respect of the American people.

“If the GRC were minded to take such a step, we would be prepared to work out a deal which would involve a maximum amount of compensation and “face”—more military and economic aid, some amphibious lift to preserve the GRC ability to return to the mainland, increased U.S. base facilities and forces on Taiwan, and we could probably get pledges from our allies of support for the defense of Taiwan.

“If the GRC does not take such step it should be under no illusions as to what will happen if the ChiComs step up pressures on the offshores in the next few months—what will happen not only to the islands but to the basic position of the GRC in the U.S.”

I have no idea whether such an approach would succeed, but the possibility cannot at least be wholly excluded. If it did succeed, we would have scored a major foreign policy victory—accomplishing peacefully what is much desired by the vast majority of public and Congressional opinion in the U.S. without any loss of U.S. prestige or military defeat of the GRC. It would do much to re-establish the position of the U.S. administration as an effective seeker of peace, despite the Summit [Page 694] breakdown, and as a leader and molder of events in the Far East, despite recent events in Japan. If the approach failed, the GRC would probably be nonetheless somewhat shaken by it and its resistance might be somewhat weaker the next time we tried.
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Meetings with President, 1960. Secret. The source text is unsigned and bears no drafting information, but it was apparently drafted in the Policy Planning Staff. It is attached to a memorandum of July 28 from Herter to Gerard Smith; see the source note, Document 341. A July 6 memorandum from the Secretary’s Staff Assistant Roger Kirk to the Under Secretary’s Special Assistant Robert C. Brewster refers to the “long and short S/P papers on Taiwan and the offshore islands.” (Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers) For information concerning the long S/P paper, see footnote 1, Document 341.