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151. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • President Chiang Kai-shek
  • Foreign Minister Shen Chang-huan
  • Director of Government Information Office James Shen (Interpreter)
  • Ambassador Alan G. Kirk
  • Deputy Chief of Mission Ralph N. Clough
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  • Yang Ming Shan Official Residence

Ambassador Kirk opened the conversation by mentioning the various changes of top personnel in U.S. Agencies. He took the occasion to point out that all heads of U.S. Agencies in Taiwan operated under his general direction in accordance with President Kennedy’s directive of May 29, 1961.1 He said he would like to present two of the new agency heads to President Chiang at the President’s convenience. The President replied that he would be glad to receive them and that a time would be set. Ambassador Kirk went on to say that cooperation between the U.S. and GRC in the fields of economic aid, military aid and diplomatic cooperation seemed to be going forward smoothly. President Chiang commented that they found U.S. Agencies most cooperative.

Ambassador Kirk said that the Chinese Communist build-up on the Fukien Coast appeared to be completed and the forces in that area were substantially stronger than they had been prior to June 1962. We thought their purpose was probably defensive but the possibility of aggressive action could not be excluded.

Ambassador Kirk said that the U.S. Government had noted an improvement in GRC intelligence, but it was still essential for both U.S. and GRC intelligence agencies to work harder. It would be very difficult for President Kennedy to make sound decisions without good and up-to-date intelligence.

President Chiang replied that there could be little of what the U.S. Government regarded as “hard” intelligence until and unless there was action against the mainland. The GRC had many sources of intelligence which had not been revealed to the United States. Even if these should be revealed he was afraid they would not be taken at face value. Many such sources were based on oral arrangements and would not become known, visible or tangible until action took place.

Ambassador Kirk said that the United States Government had been following closely GRC plans for an early small air drop. Although U.S. intelligence people had some reservations concerning the desirability of the area chosen, they were cooperating closely with the GRC in the preparations. Ambassador Kirk added that this drop, the first since 1959, should test the vulnerability of the Chinese Communists and produce intelligence obtainable in no other way. He said he assumed that the drop had not taken place within the last couple of days because of the typhoon.

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President Chiang replied that there had been two typhoons, one right after the other, which had flooded the drop area and created many mountain freshets. Therefore, it was necessary to postpone the drop for a few weeks. Ambassador Kirk said that was the reason we had been uneasy about the area because there were so many rice paddies, canals, and so forth. He remarked that when the 101st Airborne Division was air-dropped into Normandy many soldiers landed in the flooded area behind Utah Beach. This force was very embarrassed by finding itself landing in deep water. President Chiang replied that was also the GRC’s concern and that was why they had called off the planned drop.

The Ambassador told the President that in order to facilitate the small drop program the U.S. Government now intended to send two C-123 aircraft to Taiwan as soon as they were ready and the crews trained. Five Chinese crews had already departed for the United States for training. The President commented that this was good and he expressed his thanks.

Ambassador Kirk inquired whether his understanding was correct that the purpose of these air drops was to test whether underground resistance elements could be contacted. The President replied that it was. The Ambassador said only if such actions were successful could we consider going further.

President Chiang said it was more important for us to explore and locate weak points on the other side where one or two thinly garrisoned or undefended cities could be seized by means of a large air drop. Unless the GRC were able to do that it would be difficult to rally large numbers of people to rise against the regime. In such an event the Chinese Communist armed forces, especially the officers with whom the GRC has established contacts, would be able to rise. One or two cities must be seized before this could take place. One reason the Communists transferred away from the coast troops previously stationed there was because the Communists were afraid they were becoming too friendly with the local people. However, their transfer does not halt the contact between these troops and the GRC. [3-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] The reason this information was not passed to the U.S. was to enable the U.S. to stay clear of the Communist charge that U.S. “imperialism” was meddling in Chinese affairs.

Ambassador Kirk said the United States Government still feels action had best be limited to small air drops, to which President Chiang replied that this matter could be discussed further.

The Ambassador said President Kennedy’s view was that United States actions must be peaceful and defensive. Although the President had made a careful study of the GRC requested for bombers and landing craft he did not feel justified in making such items available at the present time as they would certainly appear to be aggressive in character. If circumstances [Page 309]warranted it the United States Government would, of course, be willing to reconsider the GRC request.

President Chiang inquired what the U.S. attitude would be in case of a large-scale rebellion on the mainland. Ambassador Kirk replied that that would have to be judged at the time. He could not predict what the U.S. Government’s attitude would be but he was sure that the situation would be examined very closely to see what opportunities arose. Ambassador Kirk continued that the U.S. Government was ready to examine the GRC proposals for overt action. We have been working very closely with the GRC through the 420 Committee on intelligence matters. Overt invasion of a whole continent was quite another thing which would require a close study of GRC plans and preparations.

President Chiang said that the GRC should, of course, keep the U.S. Government informed and consult with it. However, if the U.S. Government should continue to stop the GRC from going ahead with its plans the time might come when the government would find it difficult to keep the people and army under control, especially since the government had started to collect the special defense surtax and had told the people what it was for. If there were still no action after a certain lapse of time the people would lose confidence in the government. The report that the United States Government had given the Chinese Communists assurances that the U.S. would not help the GRC had created an unfortunate impression in the minds of people that the GRC would be unable to act.

Ambassador Kirk commented that the U.S. position was limited to that set forth in the 1954 treaty, according to which neither side was to take action without the agreement of the other. Agreement meant examination of the facts and agreement on action to be taken. It did not mean the extension of a blank check to go ahead. What facilities did the GRC possess for really making a landing on the continent? Ambassador Kirk said he had participated in a couple of such landings and knew what was involved.

President Chiang said of course the GRC is ready to abide by any agreement it signed. However, there is a question of whether or not the treaty concluded in 1954 is still applicable. Times and circumstances have changed. Strict adherence to the treaty would enable the Chinese Communist regime to prolong its life and continue to suppress the Chinese people because the GRC was being bound hand and foot and prevented from going to their aid. Thus, the treaty favors an enemy instead of an ally. It is all very well for the United States to say that the GRC must stand by its agreement regardless of changes in the situation, but it is hard for the President to tell this to the people. The U.S. interpretation of the treaty is causing resentment in certain places and giving rise to a feeling that the GRC’s ally is not helping the GRC but helping its enemy. This [Page 310]is very difficult for the people and the armed forces to accept. Does the United States intend to hold to this position indefinitely?

Ambassador Kirk replied that the treaty works both ways. Treaties are of course always subject to revision. This could be studied if President Chiang desires to propose it. However, this is a serious matter. Does President Chiang propose to denounce the treaty, and therefore desire that U.S. military and other aid be halted? He didn’t quite understand President Chiang’s meaning. President Chiang responded that that was a policy for the United States Government to decide.

The Ambassador said that in addition to proposing increased cooperation in the intelligence field, we had been considering the advisability of a study group to consider plans for overt action against the mainland, keeping in mind that this would be action against a continent and not an island. He wanted the President to know that he had been busy about many matters other than official calls during the past two months and was now prepared to suggest such a study group. Perhaps President Chiang would like to consider it.

The President said that the GRC must, of course, keep the U.S. Government informed and consult with it, but the U.S. Government must realize the great importance of the feelings of the people and armed forces. The hopes of the people on the mainland are such that it is impossible to deny them indefinitely. They hope for deliverance, preferably with U.S. assistance. The U.S. may succeed for a time in keeping this feeling down but not indefinitely. The U.S. Government could state publicly that the question of the GRC’s return to the mainland is a Chinese domestic affair. Instead the U.S. Government has taken on itself the responsibility of preventing the GRC from going back. This could not go on indefinitely. Eventually it would be difficult for any government to keep things under control. The GRC is ready to abide by the treaty but when things change the treaty must be reconsidered. He knows Ambassador Kirk has been working hard, that he is staunchly anti-Communist, and that he is sympathetic with GRC aspirations.

Ambassador Kirk said that President Chiang, in raising questions about the treaty, had moved to a higher plane than the Ambassadorial level. If he were not satisfied with the terms, perhaps his Ambassador should take this up in Washington.

President Chiang responded that he had spoken at some length on the treaty because it had been brought up by Ambassador Kirk. Revision or annulment of the treaty was one thing, but it was another to let the world know that under the treaty the GRC is not free to do this or that. This was not doing the United States any good and was creating resentment. The U.S. could have said if a large-scale uprising took place on the mainland this was an internal matter. Instead the U.S. Government was [Page 311]letting it be known that under the treaty the GRC was not free to attack the mainland.

Ambassador Kirk reminded the President that President Kennedy had heavy world-wide responsibilities. Just as President Chiang was responsible to the Chinese people, so President Kennedy was responsible to his own people. He has as heavy a responsibility as any head of state. The treaty of 1954 provides that agreement is necessary.

President Chiang replied that he was fully aware of President Kennedy’s heavy responsibilities. He wished to assure him through the Ambassador that he would not do anything lightly. He would do nothing harmful to the prestige of the President or the United States. All the President needs to do is to say that the GRC action against the China mainland is entirely a domestic matter. Such a declaration would also discourage, if not prevent, any overt Soviet participation. He wished to reiterate his assurances that he would do nothing contrary to the provisions of the treaty but he wished the United States Government would devise ways of helping the GRC do its duty to its own people without violating the provisions of the treaty. There must be ways and means of doing this.

Ambassador Kirk said that the United States has responsibilities to its other allies in NATO and elsewhere. It could hardly send bombers and landing craft to Taiwan in secret. Such action would be regarded as aggressive.

The President said he did not have this equipment in mind when he suggested that the U.S. try to find ways and means to help. What he really had in mind was an appeal for a greater area of understanding between the U.S. and the GRC. The last thing which the U.S. should wish to foster is the idea that the U.S. is beginning to be a friend to the Chinese Communists while binding its ally hand and foot. The U.S. should not permit the Chinese people to get the impression that the U.S. did not distinguish between an enemy and an ally. The U.S. was even holding up the export of goods the GRC wished to purchase with its own money. This was in effect applying an embargo to the GRC. He wondered whether such an embargo was applied to the enemy. He said he was speaking very frankly to the Ambassador as a friend rather than as an Ambassador.

Ambassador Kirk replied that it was unnecessary to reiterate the friendship between the United States and China which had a background of over a hundred years. As was well known, for a long time all U.S. trade with Communist China had been prohibited. There was no reason to say that the U.S. was being friendly to an enemy. It was just that President Kennedy and his advisors were unable to agree at the present time to GRC plans and hopes, taking into account the world situation.

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President Chiang said he hoped that the longer Ambassador Kirk remained the deeper his insight would be into the importance of the problem of the China mainland. What happened there would have a vital affect on the rest of the world. It was for this reason that he felt it necessary to speak as frankly as he did.

Ambassador Kirk then explained in more specific terms that what he had proposed earlier was the organization of two groups. One to handle covert intelligence operations, and the other to study overt operations. The first group existed already in the form of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), while the second also existed, but in a somewhat vague status, in the form of the 420 Committee. What we were proposing was that expert personnel be added to the 420 Committee so that it would be possible to examine GRC capabilities with its present equipment for amphibious operations in the event of a mainland uprising. The President said that he would welcome the organization of such a group. The Ambassador said this suggestion of a study group needed reflection and examination prior to acceptance, and then inquired who would probably act as responsible head of the group on the GRC side. Would it be the President himself, the Vice President, the Defense Minister or someone else? President Chiang replied this would have to be given consideration. Perhaps it would be the Defense Minister. He inquired who would head the American element of the group. The Ambassador replied that he himself would.

On getting up to leave, Ambassador Kirk mentioned that General Taylor was arriving the following day and offered to bring him to call on President Chiang if convenient. The President replied that he would be glad to receive him.2

  1. Source: Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Kennedy-Johnson Administrations, Subject Files, Kirk, Alan G. Secret. Drafted by Clough. Attached to a September 10 letter from Kirk to Harriman. A letter of September 21 from Kirk to Harriman enclosed a copy of the GRC record of the conversation, which was of a revision of Clough’s memorandum.
  2. For text of the letter which President Kennedy sent on that date to all U.S. Ambassadors, see Department of State Bulletin, December 11, 1961, pp. 993-994.
  3. General Taylor visited Taiwan September 7-9 as part of a visit to several East Asian countries that he made prior to assuming the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He met with President Chiang on September 8. Telegram 403 from Taipei, September 17, reported that Chiang’s main points were that peasant resistance groups were forming on the mainland, that Khrushchev would not help Mao in case of trouble on the mainland because the animosity between them was so sharp, and that the Soviet Union would not intervene if Communist rule was overthrown in the part of China south of the Yellow River. (Department of State, Central Files, 120.1590/9-1762) For Taylor’s comments on his visit to Taiwan, see Document 153.