44. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy0


  • United States Efforts to Effect Cessation of Government of Republic of China’s Support of Chinese Irregulars in Burma-Laos Border Area

In accordance with your request of Saturday, communicated to the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs by Mr. Kohler and Mr. Bundy, I am transmitting under cover of this memorandum a paper examining the problem posed by the Government of Republic of China’s support of the Chinese irregulars in the Burma–Laos border area. This paper reports the background of the problem, brings out certain basic factors involved in it, and, as requested by you, treats in considerable detail the efforts we [Page 90] have made and are currently making to cause the Government of the Republic of China to cease its support of the irregulars.

D. Rusk1


United States Efforts to Effect Cessation of Government of Republic of China’s Support of Chinese Irregulars in Burma–Laos Border Area

In 1949–50 some of the Chinese Nationalist military forces stationed in Yunnan Province retreated into Burma in the face of the advancing Communists and established themselves in a remote mountainous area of northeast Burma bordering on China, Laos, and Thailand, sparsely inhabited by tribal peoples and not effectively administered by the Burmese Government. The Burmese Government found the presence of these forces in Burma highly objectionable, and finally in March 1953 requested the inclusion on the General Assembly agenda of a resolution charging the Government of the Republic of China with aggression against Burma and calling on the United Nations to condemn its support of the irregulars and to take steps to bring about cessation of this support. Subsequently, a four-nation joint military commission was established in Bangkok under United Nations auspices, with the United States and Thailand lending their good offices to assist the Government of the Republic of China and the Burmese Government in working out and implementing a program to evacuate as many of the irregulars to Taiwan as possible. By September 1, 1954, when the Joint Military Committee terminated its activities, roughly 5,500 Chinese troops had been evacuated plus another 1,500 dependents and refugees. On October 31, 1953 the Government of the Republic of China’s delegate to the United Nations publicly disavowed the irregulars and promised that the Government of the Republic of China would no longer supply them. On September 18, 1954, following completion of the evacuation operation the Government of the Republic of China, through a statement by its Acting Foreign Minister, reiterated publicly that it would not maintain any relations with any irregulars remaining in the area nor furnish them with any support or assistance.

[Page 91]

Following the 1953–54 evacuation this problem lay largely dormant until 1958. Beginning that year we received mounting evidence of a revival of the Government of the Republic of China’s interest in the irregulars, marked by efforts to increase their effectiveness by supplying arms and equipment and by introducing Republic of China armed forces personnel into the area for training and leadership purposes.

There are certain basic factors which are essential to an understanding of the problem that Government of the Republic of China’s support of the irregulars poses to us. In the first place the problem involves a fundamental divergence of national interests between us and the Government of the Republic of China. In our view the presence of the irregulars in the area gives the Chinese Communists a continuing opportunity to intervene directly or indirectly, affects adversely our relations with Burma, and hampers realization of our objective of bringing about increased cooperation between the countries of Southeast Asia in the face of the Chinese Communist threat. To the Government of the Republic of China, however, and particularly to President Chiang, the irregulars represent the spearhead of the forces that will achieve his goal of recovering the mainland. All available information indicates that President Chiang personally is the driving force behind the whole irregulars operation. Undoubtedly influenced by the fact of his advanced age and his recognition that time may be running out for him, he is obsessed with the idea that positive steps must be taken without delay to exploit what he regards as the shaky position of the Peiping regime as a result of food shortages and general popular disaffection. In his mind the irregulars are a key element in the operations that he feels must be undertaken to spark this positive popular unrest into active revolt.

A second major factor in the situation is the composition of the irregulars. The 1953–54 evacuation removed from the area virtually all of the irregulars subject to control from Taipei. Those remaining (estimated at 5,500, including dependents) were either local tribesmen or Chinese from the adjacent province of Yunnan, many of them married to tribal women. For the most part these elements, as local warlords profiting from the opium traffic, were by their standards very well off. They had no real ties with the Government of the Republic of China or any interest in being resettled in Taiwan. These considerations are believed to be still operative in the case of the great majority of irregulars presently in the area. Clearly, however, they are not applicable to those personnel sent out from Taiwan during the past year or two (estimated at between 1,000 and 1,500), who are subject to the Government of the Republic of China’s control and could be evacuated to Taiwan if the Government of the Republic of China were prepared to cooperate.

The Government of the Republic of China’s resupply and reinforcement of the irregulars have been a source of growing concern to us during [Page 92] the past two years. Over this period we have made repeated representations to the Government of the Republic of China—both on the formal, official plane to top officials of the Government and to Ambassador Yeh and [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] to the persons responsible under President Chiang for carrying out the irregulars operation—urging that it desist from supplying arms and providing support to the irregulars. We have pointed out that the Government of the Republic of China’s support of these forces in Burmese territory placed it in a completely indefensible position, particularly in view of its categoric assertions in 1953 and 1954. We emphasized that our efforts to maintain the international position of the Government of the Republic of China would be seriously impaired if these continued operations in violation of its publicly pledged word were to become known. We also argued that the irregulars’ activity, spurred by Government of the Republic of China’s support, constituted a standing pretext to the Chinese Communists to move into the area or at a minimum to bring intensified pressure to bear upon Burma, Laos, and Thailand. Finally, we stressed we could see no potential benefit from the irregulars’ operations that could possibly outweigh the very real harm that was resulting from them. All evidence indicated that compared with the Chinese Communist forces facing them, they were an ineffective fighting force which presented no serious threat to Peiping’s control of the adjacent area of Communist China.

When these fears were realized late last year in the form of a joint Burmese-Chinese Communist military operation against the irregulars, we again spoke to the Government of the Republic of China urging that it immediately cease supplying arms and providing support to the irregulars and take expeditious steps to withdraw personnel under its control from the area to Taiwan. In January, with their headquarters and airfield in Burma overrun by the Chinese Communist and Burmese forces, the bulk of the irregulars withdrew across the Mekong into Laos. In the light of this new situation Ambassador Drumright on instructions from us (Tab A)3 met with President Chiang on February 7 and told him we considered it imperative that the Government of the Republic of China avoid resupply airdrops to the irregulars that might result in further deterioration of the situation, and by way of positive action commence straightway to evacuate personnel under its control to Taiwan and make arrangements with the Laotian and Thai Governments for the disarming and resettlement of the remainder. The Ambassador stated that we were prepared to assist these moves as necessary and appropriate. President Chiang told the Ambassador (Tab B)4 that he would have to consider our [Page 93] representations before giving us a formal reply, but his immediate comments did not indicate a responsive attitude, and action was therefore taken to supply Ambassador Drumright with our counter arguments to points made by the President and to impress on Ambassador Yeh the great damage that might be done to the larger interests of the Republic of China if it did not cooperate with us wholeheartedly in dealing with the problem.

In addition to our repeated representations to the Government of the Republic of China we have also been at pains to inform the Thai and Laotian Governments of our views on the irregulars problem. Following receipt of reports that the Government of the Republic of China’s supply operation was being facilitated by the use of refueling facilities in Thailand, we made it clear to the Thais in December, 1960, that we viewed the Government of the Republic of China’s support of the irregulars with extreme disfavor and strongly indicated our hope that the Thai Government would not cooperate with the Republic of China in continuing it. In January of this year, having heard that General Phoumi might be considering enlisting the support of the irregulars in the Laos conflict, we made strong representations to him personally cautioning him against further aggravating the Laos picture by injecting the irregulars into it.

During the past week the problem has been rendered even more acute by two new developments. First, the Burmese press, obviously inspired by the Burmese Government, has initiated a campaign charging that modern-type military equipment identified as being of United States origin has been found in the irregulars’ captured bases. Second, a Republic of China PB4Y which was apparently seeking to drop supplies to irregular units still remaining in Burma was shot down by Burmese fighter aircraft;5 one of the latter was also shot down, reportedly by ground fire. This flight was undertaken clearly in disregard of the Ambassador’s explicit representations to President Chiang on February 7. Our Embassy in Taipei reports that the plane was supplied to the Government of the Republic of China under our Military Assistance Program, but had not been supported under the Program since 1958. The Thai Air Force reports that examination of the plane (which crashed on the Thai side of the border) reveals that it was unarmed.

[Page 94]

[1 line of source text not declassified] the Government of the Republic of China’s indirect, tentative response to the Ambassador’s February 7 representations to President Chiang. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that if agreement in principle is reached [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the Government of the Republic of China will approach the Embassy formally. In brief President Chiang offers to withdraw all Chinese military forces from Burma and repatriate to Taiwan those willing to leave the area, and promises not to supply further any irregulars remaining in Burma. In return he would want United States assistance in resettling the irregulars withdrawn from Burma in Taiwan, Thailand, or Laos. More importantly, he wants an agreement between the Government of the Republic of China, the United States and the Laotian Government that the 3,000–5,000 irregulars already in Laos should remain there retaining arms sufficient to defend themselves against hostile forces in the area. The latter condition would not be acceptable to us, and the President’s proposition while a step forward does not in our view meet sufficiently the demands of the present critical situation.

As the record shows, the Government of the Republic of China—specifically President Chiang—has consistently disregarded our representations on this problem. Periodically, therefore, we have considered whether we could take steps that would force Government of the Republic of China compliance with our wishes. In each case we have run up against a basic limiting factor, that the amount of leverage available to us is in a practical sense very limited. This reflects the importance of the role that Taiwan plays in our strategic efforts to contain Chinese Communist expansionist pressures. The large and well-trained armed forces of the Government of the Republic of China represent one facet of this, [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] are a variety of intelligence operations conducted on and from Taiwan that are dependent on the cooperation of the Government of the Republic of China. Any major sanctions against the Government of the Republic of China, such as termination or drastic reduction of our military aid program, would place these operations in jeopardy and also tend to undermine our larger interests in the region.

I do not conclude, however, that we are helpless in dealing with the situation. It is possible that the Government of the Republic of China’s cooperation can be forced by a limited, selective cessation of military aid, and that it could be handled in such a way that the adverse repercussions noted above would be avoided or held to a minimum. Again I think that results might be obtained by informing President Chiang that unless he complies with our wishes on the irregulars problem, we will not be able to continue to work with the Government of the Republic of China in training special forces personnel and planning possible operations by them against the mainland. On February 17, I authorized the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs to discuss [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] [Page 95] on an exploratory basis the desirability and feasibility of exploiting these possible areas of pressure. These discussions have been begun, and it is planned to send further instructions to Ambassador Drumright within the next few days.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/2–2061. Top Secret. Parsons sent the memorandum and enclosure to Rusk stating that both the Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, Foy D. Kohler, and McGeorge Bundy informed him that the President wanted this paper.
  2. Rusk’s signature appears in an unidentified hand, indicating Rusk signed the original.
  3. Drafted by Lutkins and cleared by Martin and Scott and in draft by Cleveland and Anderson.
  4. Not attached, but Drumright’s instructions are printed as Document 42.
  5. Not attached, but see footnote 4, Document 42.
  6. Allen Dulles provided the President’s Military Aide, General Chester Clifton, background information on the shooting down of the PB4Y aircraft in a letter of February 20. [text not declassified] the GRC could not desert the irregulars without loss of prestige among Chinese people in Taiwan, on the mainland, and overseas. The GRC could withdraw organized military units which numbered in the hundreds, but that would still leave thousands of “refugees with rifles” who would not come to Taiwan. A note on the letter indicates that McGeorge Bundy briefed the President on it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos, General, 2/20/61–2/28/61)
  7. In a February 23 memorandum to McGeorge Bundy, Parsons reported that Rusk instructed Drumright to impress upon President Chiang the utmost seriousness of U.S. concern over KMT irregulars in Burma and Laos. Parsons observed: “I do not recall any language of comparable severity being used with President Chiang on any subject in recent years.” The Department asked Drumright for his opinion on possible sanctions against Chiang. Parsons promised to follow the matter “with all possible vigor.” (Ibid., China, Vol I)