34. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Republic of China and Commander, U.S. Taiwan Defense Command1

161648. Joint State/Defense Message. CINCPAC pass to POLAD. Subject: Modification of Taiwan Strait Patrol.2 Refs: A. Deptel 111806;3 B. Deptel 120842.4

We regrettably have found it necessary to modify Taiwan Strait patrol. In future patrol will be manned on intermittent basis as Commander Seventh Fleet can make forces available for this purpose. [Page 89] (FYI: We cannot now be more precise as to frequency, and wish to avoid being drawn into speculation on this point. End FYI) Decision necessitated as part of over 100 ship reduction in world-wide US naval deployment, made pursuant to recent $3.0 billion reduction in defense expenditures. Bulk of this reduction will fall primarily on CONUS- based naval forces. Outside of CONUS, majority of destroyer-type reductions will affect our commitment to NATO, while in Pacific area there will be some diminution in naval forces assigned to Southeast Asia along with modification of Taiwan Strait patrol.

We believe, however, that following offsetting factors should allay GRC concern for its security interests as a result of this change:

Modification carries no implication whatever of any change in US defense commitment or in ability of Seventh Fleet to perform mission contemplated for it under Mutual Defense Treaty.
Elements of Seventh Fleet will continue to call at Taiwan ports as in past, and thus will continue visibility of Seventh Fleet in Taiwan Strait.
We will in near future make forthcoming response to GRC request for surface ships (Refs A and B) as commented on by all addressees. FYI: Submarines will not be approved. End FYI. Real offset in above reductions is that they are largely responsible for availability of surface vessels now under consideration.

In presenting this decision to GRC, you also should try to keep modification of patrol in perspective for GRC by emphasizing that patrol has been only one aspect of presence of Seventh Fleet in Strait, that other aspects such as R&R visits and periodic calls by Commander Seventh Fleet will continue, and that whatever additional units of Seventh Fleet are necessary to fulfill our commitments under Mutual Defense Treaty are available for immediate deployment to Taiwan Strait area. FYI: This perspective of special importance in view of possibility that President Chiang may choose to interpret modification of Taiwan Strait patrol as contravening Secretary Rogers’ statement to him during August visit (when Chiang asked whether US would make “fresh demands for (GRC) to abandon Quemoy and Matsu so that US Seventh Fleet could be withdrawn from Taiwan Strait,” and Secretary responded that President Nixon did not “have any intention to move Seventh Fleet”). End FYI.

In giving comprehensive consideration to this decision, we recognize that it may reinforce type of concern recently expressed by GRC that major change in US China policy may be impending. It will be evident from foregoing that no change in our basic relationship with GRC is involved.
We request, therefore, that Chargé, accompanied by COMUSTDC, seek early appointment with Vice Premier Chiang Ching-Kuo to inform GRC of decision. We suggest that detailed presentation, drawing on paras 1 and 2 above, be made by COMUSTDC in order to emphasize primarily military nature of decision. COMUSTDC should also ask Vice Premier’s agreement that TDC brief MND on military aspects of decision.
Public announcement of that portion of force reduction involving Taiwan Strait patrol will be made at yet undecided date, and will avoid any direct reference to modification of patrol. Please inform Department as soon as notification given GRC inasmuch as public announcement must await this notification.5
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 6–2 US. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Froebe (EA/ROC); cleared by Sloss (J/PM), Captain Hayward (Office of the Under Secretary of the Navy), Rear Admiral Behrens (CNO, Ops–61), Colonel Mayland (Joint Staff, J–5), Colonel Karrick (ISA/PP), Rear Admiral Shepard (ISA/EAPR), Dr. Doolin (DASD/EAPR), Green, U. Alexis Johnson, and Kissinger; and approved by Shoesmith (EA/ROC). Repeated to CNO, CINCPAC, CINCPACFLT, and CHMAAG Taipei.
  2. In notes made during a September 11 telephone conversation between Johnson and Nutter concerning the Strait patrol, Nutter “said that there are various [budget] cuts which have political implications and that they have got to talk to individual countries in advance.” (Ibid., U. Alexis Johnson Files: Lot 96 D 695, Telcons, September–October 1969) A September 15 memorandum from Laird to Nixon stated: “Following my directive to the Services to reduce Fiscal Year 1970 expenditures, the Navy proposed, and I have approved, a number of force reductions that will affect our world-wide naval posture.” He added that the Commander of the Seventh Fleet would make forces available on an intermittent basis in the Strait. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, ISA Top Secret Files: FRC 330 72 A 6308, China, Rep. of, 1969, 000.1) In a September 18 memorandum to Haig, NSC staff member Howe wrote that Holdridge had drafted a memorandum recommending approval of the telegram to Taipei. Howe opposed the change in the patrol’s deployment, writing that “its withdrawal will have important political significance. The cable does not satisfactorily cover the implications of this decision on our relations with Peking and naively assumes, in my view, that Chiang Kai-shek will accept such a reduction with little reaction.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 519, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. III) Kissinger’s memoirs briefly mention the patrol, indicating that Kissinger and Richardson “worked out” this new policy in late September or early October. (White House Years, p. 186)
  3. In telegram 111806 to Taipei, CINCPAC, and CINCPAC POLAD, July 7, the Department requested information concerning the ROC’s request to purchase nine U.S. warships that had been placed on the stricken list, including four destroyers, four radar picket escort ships, and one diesel submarine. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 19–8 USCHINAT) The United States rejected the submarine request but agreed to sell the warships if the ROC decommissioned some of its old vessels. Armstrong suggested that the warship sale and the patrol be treated as separate issues. He wrote that “to suggest that the sale of warships in some way substitutes for present Taiwan Strait patrol could even tend to accentuate GRC concern that ‘modification’ of Taiwan Strait patrol is in fact indicative of US intentions to disengage from US 7th Fleet responsibilities related to our commitment.” He also pointed out that combining the patrol modifications, the refusal to sell submarines, and U.S. requests for ROC ship deactivizations in order to purchase newer vessels “would not be a particularly attractive package to the GRC.” (Telegram 4063 from Taipei, October 14; ibid.) On October 16 the Departments of State and Defense sent a joint telegram to Taipei accepting this proposal. (Telegram 175922 to Taipei, October 16; ibid.) After notes were exchanged in Taipei on November 28 and December 8, the United States sold three destroyers to the ROC. See Department of State Bulletin, January 5, 1970, p. 20. Armstrong handled these matters while McConaughy was away from post from late August through early December 1969.
  4. In telegram 120842 to Taipei, July 22, the Department requested that the Country Team evaluate an ROC request made on July 8 for the loan of four submarines. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 19–8 USCHINAT)
  5. On November 1 a joint message from the Departments of State and Defense requested that Embassy officials in Taipei notify the ROC Government of U.S. intentions. (Telegram 185493 to Taipei; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 519, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. III)