174. Telegram From the Embassy in the Republic of China to the Department of State1

5869. Eyes Only for the Secretary and Assistant Secretary Green. Subj: Conversation of Vice Foreign Minister Yang Hsi-kun With Ambassador.2

Following is an account of an important presentation which Foreign Vice Minister Yang Hsi-kun made to me end of last week at a tete-a-tete luncheon. Its extremely sensitive nature will be self-evident. I feel any additional distribution should be severely restricted but undoubtedly White House should be aware of it. I hope that Green will be in a position to discuss it with me preliminarily when I see him in Honolulu next week.
H.K. Yang launched almost immediately into discussion of critical situation facing GRC following October 25 expulsion from UN. He recalled he had told President Chiang last winter that withdrawal from UN would mean “eventual political suicide” for GRC. Expulsion amounted to about the same thing as withdrawal, and he feared that the increasing isolation that the Chinese Communists can force on the GRC from their improved position within the UN will mean the rapidly increasing besiegement and eventual strangulation of the GRC unless drastic change is undertaken immediately.
Yang continued that he has spoken very privately and frankly to President Chiang since his recent return after the UN debacle. Yang had found President Chiang impressively open-minded and willing to listen. Yang said he had spelled out the full depth of his misgivings and had indicated in a general way the sweeping nature of the changes which he felt would be mandatory if not only the GRC but the future of the people on Taiwan is to be preserved. He characterized the [Page 600] President as not necessarily concurring in any proposed changes but as showing a profound awareness of the existing realities and dangers and a willingness to examine the case for far-reaching changes in the existing structure.
Yang said he had told the President that it is of paramount importance to issue in the near future a formal declaration to the world that the government on Taiwan is entirely separate and apart from the government on the Mainland and that henceforth the government here will “have nothing to do with the Mainland.” The declaration should prescribe a new designation for the government here, namely “the Chinese Republic of Taiwan.” It would be stipulated that the term Chinese did not have any political connotation but was used merely as a generic term stemming from the Chinese ethnic origin of the populace on Taiwan. It would be used in a way similar to the manner in which the various Arab countries use “Arab” in their official governmental titles.
Yang said that most of the President’s top advisers around the President see the need for some sort of sweeping move to counter the ChiCom drive to isolate the GRC internationally and force general recognition of ChiCom right to take over Taiwan as an integral part of China. It does not mean they necessarily endorse his formula but they are showing some resilience in the face of the crisis and are open to persuasion.
He said that the principal negative, stand-pat influence was exerted by Mme. Chiang who seems determined not to budge an inch from the old claims, pretensions and “return to the Mainland” slogans. He believes she still wields considerable influence on the President. He said she in turn is greatly influenced by her nephew, K.L. Kung, the son of Mme. Chiang’s elder sister and her deceased husband H.H. Kung. He said K.L. Kung from the security of his New York residence is waging a reactionary campaign for the GRC to stand absolutely rigid. He termed K.L. Kung’s influence extremely malign. He said that K.L. Kung is very vocal in various influential quarters. Yang said that he had refused to see K.L. Kung on his trips to New York in recent years despite various requests from Kung. Yang spoke contemptuously of the Soong–Kung family group as fanatically advocating a die-hard line, although he said most of them were among the first to retreat to safety when the Communists moved.

Yang said that when Chang Chun was in Japan last summer, he had a very significant talk with Prime Minister Sato and ex-Prime Minister Kishi. After that talk Sato and Kishi transmitted a closely-guarded message to President Chiang through Chang Chun to the effect that the only hope for the future of the Republic of China was to adopt a course of separation, giving up all Mainland claims and pretensions.

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The message strongly urged President Chiang to adopt such a course. He felt sure that CCK knew of the message but he believed that neither Vice President C.K. Yen nor Foreign Minister S.K. Chow knew about it.

Yang said that in his view the President in making the sort of declaration described should concurrently, or very soon thereafter, use his emergency powers to set aside the Constitution and dissolve all of the parliamentary type bodies. He should then set up a new unicameral provisional representative body to be composed of two-thirds Taiwanese and one-third Mainlanders. A new cabinet should be formed with some Taiwanese and some younger men included. He said a new image needed to be created with the government freed of the outworn trappings, encumbrances and shibboleths of the party and the establishment. He said the emergency decree of the President should provide for an island-wide referendum with universal suffrage to determine the future status of Taiwan and provide for a constituent body. Yang indicated further that he felt that the President might do well to make these fundamental moves next spring just before the end of his current term, and then move up to an emeritus position as head of the reformed party and revered elder statesman (somewhat parallel to Mao’s position), with C.K. Yen taking over as Chief of State and Chiang Ching-Kuo as Premier.
Yang identified George Yeh and Y.S. Tsiang as associated with his thinking.3 He identified as top officials who are concerned, realistic and open-minded, but not yet committed: Vice President C.K. Yen, Presidential Secretary General Chang Chun, Director of the National Security Council Huang Shao-ku, and Secretary of the KMT
Yang said no member of the current cabinet is informed of his thinking and none of them are involved or likely to take a position. He spoke rather deprecatingly of Foreign Minister S.K. Chow as not inclined to become exposed and he said K.T. Li and Y.S. Sun were nonpolitical in the sense he was talking about. He added that former Foreign Minister Wei Tao-ming was entirely out of the picture, also.
Yang said that although President Chiang is increasingly convinced of the imperative requirement for some early and radical action, [Page 602] he is not likely to move without the application of a powerful persuasive effort by the US Government. He felt that Vice President Agnew would be the right man to present the US position and make the major effort, supported of course by myself. He felt that Agnew even with direct message and mandate from President Nixon would need the help of an advance group of private American citizens who are old and close friends of President Chiang and completely trusted by him. (Presumably he has in mind such personages as Dr. Judd, Admiral Radford, ex-Senator Knowland and General Wedemeyer.) He said even Americans who know China can hardly visualize how difficult it will be for the President to fly in the face of all the deepest traditions and articles of faith by which he, his government and his people have lived since departure from the Mainland. Such a reversal of the course would be traumatic in the extreme. But he felt that the President is showing incredible adaptability and flexibility for a man of such advanced age. He had not yet given in to the urgings of his wife and he is keeping his options open.

Yang indicated that he had shared some but not all of what he had just said with Ambassador Christopher Phillips at USUN Headquarters.4 I gather that Phillips is the only other American representative who has been even partially clued in. Yang said he knew he did not need to urge on me the extreme and vital sensitivity of the subject and the absolutely overriding need of total security. Any leak would be disastrous and he hoped the number of persons informed could be kept to the absolute minimum of those who had to know in order to support the handful of senior officials who should be involved on the US side.

Comment: I have reported this conversation at length because it seems so pertinent to the kind of study you have requested regarding the prospect of US–Taiwan relations.5 I should emphasize, however, [Page 603] that although H.K. Yang is an important and highly responsible official, his views reflect the outer dimension of tolerable concepts and undoubtedly go beyond the point where practical considerations are likely to lead the government in the near future. Yang himself is imaginative and broad-gauged; he is also bold and seems to feel adequately protected to pursue his proposals. However, he tends to underrate the practical complications that inescapably concern the principal ROC leaders, or he rather casually seeks to enlist external intervention to help overcome resistance from his fellow countrymen. For example, there is not much real prospect that President Chiang would sweep away institutions and commitments of the past and establish a legislature composed of two-thirds Taiwanese and one-third Mainlanders. Similarly Yang probably underestimates the domestic and foreign consequences of changing the ROC’s international identity.

Nevertheless, Yang’s views strike me as highly important, both as an indication of the direction in which some responsible officials are thinking and as a symbol of the considerable ferment developing on Taiwan concerning the future. In brief, the evolution of US China policy and the UN defeat have precipitated some of the thinking that many would not have expected at least until President Chiang departed the scene.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL CHINATUS. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. This was not the first time that Yang had spoken with Americans about the Republic of China’s foreign policy and domestic politics. In July Yang met with McConaughy to discuss his efforts to have the ROC “keep its representatives in any diplomatic capital or in UN or any multilateral organization where they will be accepted.” Yang noted that Chiang was in “virtual isolation” in order to consider “the crises facing the GRC.” (Telegram 3541 from Taipei, July 20; ibid., UN 6 CHICOM) On November 3 Yang made similar statements to Green (memorandum of conversation; ibid.) and to U. Alexis Johnson and Brown (memorandum of conversation; ibid., U. Alexis Johnson Files: Lot 96 D 695, Memcons, 1971).
  3. “The Future of Taiwan” grew out of a September 30 memorandum from Kissinger, not found. According to handwritten notes on a November 15 memorandum from Lin-wood Starbird (EA/ROC) through Brown to Green, Starbird and Brown discussed Kissinger’s request and decided to expand its focus from succession and contingency planning for the ROC to a more general discussion of Taiwan’s future. Although Starbird wrote that the paper was to be submitted to the NSC’s Washington Special Actions Group by December 10, there is no record that it was discussed in subsequent WSAG meetings. (National Archives, RG 59, EA/ROC Files: Lot 74 D 25, Political Files (1964–1972), POL 1–1 Contingency Planning) On November 30 Brown submitted the 12page paper (drafted in EA/ROC) to U. Alexis Johnson. (Ibid., Central Files 1970–73, POL 19 TAIWAN) See Document 208.