151. Telegram From the Embassy in the Republic of China to the Department of State1
7484. Department also pass CINCPAC. Subject: Démarche to President Chiang re ROC Arms Request. Ref: State 278289.2
1. On Monday, November 6, accompanied by DCM, I called on President Chiang for one hour. Also present were Vice Foreign Minister Fred Ch’ien and the President’s Special Assistant James Sung.
2. I read the complete presentation as set forth in Ref A adding/reinforcing a few points in passing:
—With regard to new armaments we would need congressional approval which the administration is now prepared to request.
—The ROC Military Mission (Pat Wen) in Washington might now wish to get in touch with the Defense Security Assistance Agency regarding purchase of Maverick and laser-guided bombs.[Page 588]
—I was well aware from past conversations of President Chiang’s negative attitude towards the Kfir.3 Our mention of it in this presentation was nevertheless a reminder that the option does exist.
—Based on my conversations in Washington and messages I had subsequently received it was clear that Washington had given extremely careful and sincere consideration to the ROC’s weapons requests bearing in mind the security situation in the Taiwan Strait.
3. President Chiang initially queried me as follows:
—Is there a final decision not to design/produce the F–5G or is the issue still open (“Is there still hope”)? I answered that the decision was still open.
—Is co-production of the 48 F–5E conditioned upon replacement needs for losses from the existing inventory? I replied that my understanding was that the 48 additional units to be co-produced (which I emphasized would extend the co-production schedule until 1983) stood on their own merits. I took the occasion to reiterate that we were also willing to sell even more F–5E’s produced elsewhere and that once the deals were cleared by Congress the ROC would then have F–5E’s with considerably improved armament (Maverick & LGB), which could also be applied to the existing inventory.
4. President Chiang then followed with a lengthy summary of the situation as he now sees it coupled with appeals for the reconsideration of the F–5G and the F–16. Specifically:
—The common objective of the USG and GROC is to maintain peace and security in this part of the world. However, a fundamental prerequisite for this is that between the two contending parties, the Communists and the ROC, there must be maintained “parity or equilibrium” in military power. If the other side should gain substantial advantage over the ROC peace would be sabotaged.
—The most important factor at present is air power on which ROC defense mainly depends. The Communists already have a great quantitative advantage over the ROC for whom quality is therefore so important.
—The main elements of ROC air power, the F–100’s, P–104’s and F–5E’s are already in a category which should be replaced with follow-on aircraft. The ROC is now far behind others in this respect. For instance, South Korea has the F–4 and Japan has the F–16. Obviously if the ROC’s weakness in this regard increases it will lead to the strategic weakening of the whole Free World.[Page 589]
—Therefore, the ROC feels it needs the F–5G now. It has waited a long time and “it is a great disappointment to receive this answer.”
—Although the ROC badly needs the F–5G to cover the situation in the next 3–4 years, looking farther down the road it needs the F–16 and “I therefore hope the US Government will continue to consider the F–16.”
—The ROC has sought additional F–104’s from some European countries. Maybe some will be available; if not the ROC cannot meet its present requirements with what it has.
—Although the Kfir is a better aircraft than the F–104, the ROC does not want to go to Israel or any country other than the U.S. for new types of equipment which would lead to maintenance and supply problems. “We want U.S. planes and equipment. Please convey this to the USG and ask President Carter to give personally favorable consideration to the F–5G and thus help us solve our present problems.”
—As for the F–16 “maybe we’re too far ahead of our time in making this request but as current developments in Southeast Asia (particularly recent fighting along SRV’s northern frontier) demonstrate, the situation could suddenly turn unfavorable.
5. Assuring President Chiang that I would convey his views accurately to Washington I made a few observations:
—The USG had made no final decision on producing the F–5G or some other follow-on aircraft to the F–5E. Therefore we could continue to give consideration to his request.
—Our decision on the F–16 was explicitly negative but I would call Washington’s attention to his request.
—On the F–5E we had been positively receptive, not only to continue co-production but also to sell this aircraft produced elsewhere.
—Taken together with the F–5E decision our favorable response on the Maverick and laser guided bombs would now put the ROC in a favorable, even superior position vis-à-vis the PRC today. In this connection, we expected this year again to be visited here in Taipei by a team of experts from the Intelligence Community in Washington which could give a candid, objective overview of the current PRC capabilities in the Taiwan Straits. In the meantime, on the basis of my current information I could state that the experts do not feel that the PRC has deployable equipment superior to or even equal to the F–5E.
6. After stressing the need to plan for the future, bearing in mind also unforeseen unfavorable developments, President Chiang said he wanted to make a personal suggestion: When an ROC arms request had not been resolved it was better not to make too many public announcements or have too much public discussion on the subject because consequent press reporting often distorted the picture and added [Page 590] fuel to the fires of speculation. In the past the ROC had never made public announcements on such requests and he hoped that henceforth such matters could be handled in a more confidential manner. (For further evidence of his sensitivity on this point see septel.)4
7. In reply I agreed that there had been far too much distortion and erroneous press speculation in the past. Promising that I would convey his thoughts on the subject, I said that in this instance now that decisions had been made and I had transmitted our position Washington planned to make a brief press statement to clarify the situation. With that the conversation shifted to other matters.
8. Comment. President Chiang seemed well prepared for my démarche. He did not become agitated but his mood was sober and although he was courteous some of the warmth which had always marked our conversations before the September exchange on PDM was lacking.5
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780457–0534. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Beijing.↩
- Telegram 278289 to Taipei, November 2, instructed the Embassy to meet with Jiang and inform him that “It is and will continue to be the policy of the Carter administration to give careful and sympathetic consideration to ROC requests for defensive military equipment.” Although the ROC had asked for highly advanced F–16 or F–18L aircraft, “To do so would introduce into the Taiwan Strait area an entirely new and highly sophisticated level of technology, and thus would be counter to our international arms transfer policy.” A ROC request for F–4E fighter-bombers was rejected for similar reasons. Instead, “To meet the ROC’s needs for replacement aircraft, therefore, the USG would be prepared to agree to the ROC request to extend the present arrangements for co-production/co-assembly on Taiwan of F–5 aircraft by another 48 units.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780451–0841)↩
- Telegram 278289 to Taipei, November 2, also stated that the U.S. Government had “given its approval to the Israeli Government to offer to the ROC the Kfir jet interceptor which employs US engines and avionics components.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780451–0841)↩
- No telegram was found regarding Jiang’s concern about lack of confidentiality, but telegram 7479 from Taipei, November 6, conveys Jiang’s request for changes in the text of the press statement on the U.S. response to ROC arms requests. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780457–0461)↩
- Telegram 6040 from Taipei, September 8, described Unger’s meeting with Jiang in which they discussed the relocation of programmed depot maintenance from Taiwan to South Korea. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780365–1018)↩