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114. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (McGhee)0


  • Offshore Islands
The considerations set forth in your memorandum of April 191 have prompted FE to take a fresh look at the Offshore Islands problem. As you know, this is a question which has come under review on several occasions during the past few years. We agree that evacuation of the islands should be a United States objective and that this should preferably be brought about before the Chinese Communists have nuclear weapons.
At this juncture we see only two possibilities to bring about GRC evacuation of the Offshores: the offer of an exceedingly attractive inducement, or the application of extreme pressures to compel withdrawal. I believe the price for either alternative would be exorbitant.
We might urge withdrawal in order to regain mobility for the troops so that they could be used in an attack on the mainland. The proposal would have to be coupled with a firm United States commitment at least to agree to a GRC counterattack against the mainland and perhaps also to give it full support. Otherwise the GRC would regard it as only a ploy. These assurances the United States Government is obviously not prepared to give, and I perceive no change in circumstances in the near future which might make such an offer feasible.
The application of extreme pressures on the GRC, such as the threat of flat disavowal of the GRC’s claim to the mainland, cessation of military assistance, and/or possible denunciation of our Mutual Defense Treaty might compel GRC withdrawal from the Offshores. Given the current urge for the GRC to go in the opposite direction—to return to the mainland—such a result would require stronger pressures than ever before. Such extreme pressures would involve the very real risk of provoking the GRC into a desperate and possibly suicidal attack against the mainland. Alternatively, these pressures might lead to the [Page 238]resignation or involuntary removal from office of President Chiang Kai-shek, quite probably followed by a period of dangerous political instability. This period of instability might even end in Communist control of Taiwan.
This being said, it should also be remarked that Peiping’s fundamental national interest would argue strongly against actual use of nuclear weapons against the Offshore Islands. The Chinese Communists have made much of the propaganda theme that Americans used the atomic bomb only against Asians. For the Chinese Communists to use the nuclear weapon against fellow Chinese would do them irretrievable psychological and political damage around the world and among Chinese everywhere. Even if the Communists were willing to accept this damage, they would probably estimate that this course of action would precipitate a nuclear exchange with the vastly superior forces of the United States. A Communist China with some nuclear capability might, however, be bolder and more inclined to take risks—against the Offshore Islands and elsewhere.
We shall, of course, remain alert for any developments which might reasonably offer hope of inducing the GRC to withdraw from the Offshores. We would point out that the Offshore Islands policy of the GRC is inextricably connected with its other policies, of which that calling for the return to the mainland is central. Accordingly, the alteration in circumstances which made evacuation possible would have to be radical. If we are to alter the circumstances instead of waiting on events, we shall have to alter radically main policies towards the GRC. The Offshore Islands may well become a side issue in a perhaps inevitable showdown over the whole project of return to the mainland. If the timing of such a showdown is to be decided by the United States, the decision will have to be made on the basis of domestic as well as external political considerations, and at the highest level.2
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 893.1901/5-3062. Secret. Drafted by Arthur H. Rosen of FE/EA, Yager, and Rice.
  2. McGhee’s April 19 memorandum to Harriman suggested a review of the offshore islands problem, commenting that “if the GRC and/or US are ever to disengage from the offshore islands this should be done before Communist China’s detonation of a nuclear device, which is expected by 1963-64.” (Ibid., 893.1901/4-2062)
  3. McGhee replied in a memorandum of May 30, filed with the source text, that he realized “the present critical situation in China would perhaps argue against any fundamental change in our present relations with the GRC” but assumed Harriman would give the matter continuing review.