341. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Parsons) to Secretary of State Herter0


  • S/P Memo on Taiwan Strait and Offshore Islands Problem1

I have read this very thoughtful memorandum with great interest and find myself in agreement with much of what is said about the difficulties [Page 696] and dangers inherent in the offshore island situation. There are, as might be expected, some points in the analysis with which I do not happen to agree but I should like in this memorandum to concentrate on the recommendations which concern me most. Nevertheless, before turning to these it may be pertinent to note two assumptions with which I differ and which seem to me to underlay much of the drafter’s thinking.

It is assumed that Chiang’s objections to giving up the islands are based more on prestige than on other concerns (page 2). As this memorandum seeks to show, the matter in our opinion goes far deeper.
It is assumed that as the islands are associated in the minds of the two million Chinese on “Taiwan” with the return to the mainland that they would be used militarily, or at least are still conceived of as jump-off points for invasion (page 4). This concept was long ago given up by the GRC which recognizes as does the S/P memorandum that the Chicom military buildup opposite the islands would make this militarily unwise. Again the symbolic importance of the islands is something other than that which this section of the S/P paper implies.

The paper recommends that it should be U.S. policy to bring about the early evacuation of the offshore islands, but it acknowledges that it would probably be futile and certainly dangerous to rely primarily on threats and pressure. The belief is expressed that we should make a strong effort through arguments and inducements to convince the GRC that its best interest lies in voluntarily evacuating the islands. Several suggestions are made as to the arguments and inducements which could be set forth to President Chiang for this purpose.

While the paper is not sanguine about President Chiang’s response to inducements, it seems at least a reasonable possibility that they would be successful in changing his mind. I believe that there are no inducements which we could realistically offer at the present time which would persuade Chiang to evacuate the offshore islands. We have tried once to persuade Chiang to give up the offshore islands and failed decisively. Following the successful frustration in 1958 of what Peiping proclaimed was an attempt on its part to take the offshore islands, it seems even less likely that we could succeed now. Aside from whatever military value he may attach to the islands in terms of the defense of Taiwan (it is probably greater than we suspect), Chiang sees retention of the offshore islands as the only tangible symbol of his claim to the mainland and of his hope for its recovery. The strength of the GRC’s attachment to the offshore islands is indicated by a statement of Vice President Chen Cheng’s last March to the effect that in the fall of 1958 the GRC was prepared to give up its seat in the UN rather than give up the offshore islands. In Chiang’s eyes his voluntary relinquishment of the offshore islands would be tantamount to his acceptance of a “two Chinas” policy, or more accurately of a one China, one Taiwan policy. This would undermine the whole rationale for the existence of the GRC as such. Nothing we could do on Taiwan for the [Page 697] GRC would overcome the implication that Chiang had given up his belief in mainland recovery. Relinquishing the offshore islands would be the antithesis of his current desires (discussed with President Eisenhower) to carry the fight to the mainland. While I believe we can continue successfully to restrain him from going forward into destruction, I strongly doubt that we can persuade him that he must now pull back as a means of improving his chances of ultimately recovering the mainland. I feel that Chiang would see such an action on his part as setting in motion an irreversible trend toward “two Chinas.”

It might be argued that even though the chances of success appear virtually non-existent, we have nothing to lose in at least making an attempt to persuade Chiang that it is in his best interest to evacuate the offshore islands. However, I feel that there are definite risks involved in making the attempt and that the chances of success, at the present time at least, are so slight as to make these risks not worth taking. After having made the approach once and having been told no decisively, and after having since then given strong support in deed and word to the GRC’s holding of the offshore islands, it would create particularly deep GRC resentment for him [sic] to abandon the islands. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that, contrary to the fears of many (including some of our representatives in the field), Chiang responded most satisfactorily to our requests for the exercise of restraint during the 1958 crisis and did not embark on unilateral or aggressive moves in an effort to expand the hostilities and get us involved. I believe his restraint was due in large measure to his confidence in us generated by our actions in support of the GRC’s defensive efforts. If he is now led to feel that we would no longer afford him such support because we wish him to withdraw from the islands, his confidence in us will decrease and with it our influence with him. We would find ourselves then in a position of having accomplished nothing by our approach to him but the shaking of his confidence and the lessening of our influence. This could be dangerous.

Another drawback of attempting a strong but almost certainly futile effort to induce Chiang to leave the offshore islands at this time is that such an effort might leak out and get mixed up in our domestic political campaign. While the GRC would have a strong incentive to maintain secrecy because of the seriousness of exposing such a division of opinion with the U.S. on such a vital issue, it would not hesitate if it felt pressed too hard on the matter to take its case to its friends in both political parties in the U.S., in an effort to create counter-pressures on the U.S. Government. Under these circumstances the efforts of the U.S. to induce evacuation of the islands would almost inevitably become known and might even be injected into the political campaign. Knowledge that we were trying hard to persuade a reluctant Chiang to abandon the offshore islands, while it might please our European allies, would cause apprehension [Page 698] among our Asian allies (possibly excepting Japan), and even among Asian “neutralist” governments which secretly count heavily on our maintaining a strong stand against Chinese Communist expansion. Fears about our reliability would be thoroughly exploited by Peiping both with respect to the Chinese on Taiwan and with respect to our other Asian friends. Furthermore, would not the exposure of a controversy with Chiang arising from our attempt to get him off the offshore islands confirm Tunku Abdul Rahman in his apparent conviction that the U.S. is about to change its policy toward Communist China and adopt a “two Chinas” approach?2 Would this not encourage him further to advocate the admission of Peiping in the next General Assembly? Wouldn’t the Japanese believe that they should also make a move in order not to be caught short?

One final point as to timing is the attitude of our President, for any serious effort to induce Chiang to leave the off shores would have to have his personal backing and even intervention. It would be presumptuous of me to pretend to be able to read the President’s mind, but I can’t help feeling that he would be reluctant to go so far as to urge Chiang to evacuate the offshores. In the 1958 crisis the President was of the view, I understand, that the GRC had far too many troops on these militarily vulnerable positions and he was interested in finding ways to persuade them to reduce their garrisons for military reasons. I never heard it intimated, however, that he favored urging Chiang to evacuate them all together. Judging by his reaffirmation of our present posture toward the offshore islands just last month in Taiwan and by the tenor of his reaction to President Chiang’s plea for support of Pegasus, it seems unlikely to me that the President would now want personally to urge Chiang to get out of the offshores.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/7–2060. Top Secret. The source text, which bears no drafting information, is filed with a memorandum of July 28 from Herter to Gerard Smith which reads: “I think you will be interested in the attached memorandum from Jeff Parsons. It is my feeling that, as of the moment, we might incur graver difficulties by opening up this subject with Chiang Kai-shek than by leaving it alone. However, when an opportune moment comes, I will talk to Dick Nixon about it.”
  2. Reference is to a 23-page memorandum, June 28, entitled “Taiwan Straits and Offshore Islands Problem.” It recommended efforts to persuade Chiang to evacuate the offshore islands; it admitted that this would involve costs and risks but declared that the current policy was one of “holding an intermittently live wire with no end in sight and no ends in view—except the ends of others, whose hands control the switch.” Copy 1 bears a note in Herter’s handwriting: “Will wish to see this on my return. C.A.H.” (Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Meetings with the President, 1960; see Supplement) Another copy indicates that Rice was the drafter. (Department of State, FE Files: Lot 65 D 497, S/P 1959)
  3. Reference is to the suggestion made to the press in June by the Prime Minister of Malaya for the admission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations; related documentation is ibid., Central File 793.02.
  4. A memorandum of August 1 from Rice to Smith commented that in his reading of the available records of the President’s visit to Taiwan he had found no statement by the President directly concerning the offshore islands. (Ibid., S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, China; see Supplement)