182. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Republic of China1

325513. Taipei for Christopher.2 Subject: PRC Claims to ROC Property.

1) Begin summary: Assistant Secretary Holbrooke met December 27 with PRCLO Deputy Han Hsu at our request to present the U.S. po[Page 678]sition on PRC claims to ROC assets and on the reported attempt by the ROC Embassy to dispose of the Chancery, Twin Oaks and the Chinese Procurement and Services Mission. Holbrooke told Han that the PRC would have to establish title to the properties through the courts and the U.S. was prepared to certify to the court that the USG recognized the PRC as the sole legal government of China as of January 1, 1979. He indicated that if PRC was unwilling to be a plaintiff in U.S. courts, State Department was prepared to consider a U.S. action, but said that it was the opinion of our lawyers that chances for success in the matter would be enhanced if the PRC were the plaintiff. Holbrooke informed Han it was the USG’s desire to see the matter settled in the PRC’s favor. Han did not respond substantively on the legal points, but repeated the PRC view that the problem should be handled in accordance with international law. End summary.

2) In December 27 meeting with Han Hsu, Holbrooke provided USG response to Chai Tse-min démarches of December 18 to Secretary and Dr. Brzezinski on PRC claims to ROC property in the wake of normalization.3 Holbrooke emphasized that he was speaking on behalf of both the Secretary and National Security Advisor Brzezinski. Holbrooke made the following points (verbatim subsequently confirmed with PRCLO interpreter):

—We have been informed that the Embassy and Chancery of the ROC, as well as the Chinese Procurement and Service Mission have been transferred. We are currently confirming the status of these properties. Our lawyers are looking into this on an urgent basis.

—In the United States, the resolution of conflicting claims of title to real property is a matter for the courts.

—Should you wish to establish PRC title to these properties, this will have to be done through the courts of the United States.

—In any litigation in our courts, the Department of State would certify to the court that the United States Government recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China as of January 1, 1979.

—However, we cannot be certain in advance what effect such a certification would have on the court’s decision.

—Speaking for the Secretary and Dr. Brzezinski, it is our preliminary view that the PRC should be able to establish title to real property of the Government of China used for public purposes.

—If your government decides to initiate action in the courts of the United States, the United States Government would be prepared to render assistance in support of your claim.

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Holbrooke concluded by asking Han if he had any questions or requests for clarification.

3) Han responded that Ambassador Chai, in his meetings with the Secretary and Dr. Brzezinski, had made it clear that all of the property of the “Chiang clique” belongs to the PRC. He noted that those meetings had taken place on December 18, after the joint communique of December 15, and added, “In accordance with international law, the USG is obliged to protect the above-mentioned property and hand it over to the PRC in a timely manner.” Han acknowledged they had only seen news reports of the ROC attempt to transfer the property and were investigating the situation, but he concluded that the USG should take action and not allow the property to be deeded over.

4) Holbrooke replied that, speaking personally, the reason we had wanted to discuss this matter urgently was because a decision has been taken at the highest levels that we want to work with the PRC to resolve this issue. Even though our information is incomplete, the USG wanted to discuss the matter today to urge the PRC to speak to legal counsel. The USG is prepared to render assistance in support of the PRC claim, Holbrooke said, adding that he could assure Han that the USG believes the PRC will be able to establish title to the property. He noted, however, that the matter may well go to the courts, pointing out that this had happened in other countries. He said it is the opinion of our lawyers that chances for success would be much greater if the plaintiff were the PRC.

5) Han said that he was not in a position to comment on the legal aspects of the problem, and Political Counselor Tsao interjected that the Chinese would like the U.S. to give serious consideration to what Ambassador Chai had said to the Secretary and Dr. Brzezinski. Holbrooke replied that we had given Chai’s remarks serious consideration. He said the USG was prepared to consider U.S. legal action and was willing to consult the Justice Department on this matter. He reiterated, however, that in our view, chances for success would be much better if the PRC were the plaintiff.

6) Han repeated the PRC view that in handling the problem, the U.S. should approach it from the standpoint of international law. He said he wanted to note in passing a newspaper report alleging that certain U.S. officials had “tipped off” the “Chiang clique” about this matter. Holbrooke pointed out that it was hardly necessary to tip off the ROC Embassy and pointed out that we would not have done so in any case since it is the U.S. firm desire to see the property turned over to the PRC. Holbrooke concluded the meeting by emphasizing the Secretary’s December 18 statement that the U.S. wanted to cooperate with the PRC on this problem and suggested that the two sides be back in touch as soon as possible.

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7) Acting Legal Adviser Lee Marks, DAS Oakley and Anderson (EA/PRCM) sat in. Yang Yu-yung accompanied Han and Tsao.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780535–1024. Secret; Flash; Exdis. Drafted by Anderson and approved by Holbrooke, Feldman, Thayer, and Acting Legal Adviser Lee R. Marks. Repeated to Hong Kong and Immediate to Beijing.
  2. Christopher was in Taipei December 28–29 for meetings with ROC officials.
  3. See Document 176. No record of Chai’s meeting with Brzezinski has been found.