183. Telegram From the U.S. Pacific Command to the Department of State and the White House1

State for Secretary and Holbrooke from Christopher. White House for Brzezinski. Subject: Report to the President on Mission to Taiwan.

I. Overview.

On December 28 and 29, I met pursuant to your instructions with President Chiang Ching-Kuo and other officials of the Taiwan Government to discuss the new arrangements which the United States is prepared to create for maintaining cultural, commercial and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.2 I had two meetings with President Chiang3 and we had three plenary sessions in which their side was led by the Foreign Minister, the Vice Foreign Minister, and the Chief of their General Staff. Despite the disturbances which marred our arrival in Taipei, we were able to proceed with our discussions in a serious and business-like atmosphere.4 At the same time, the tense mood [Page 681] in Taipei and the apprehension which the Taiwan authorities feel for their future gave their presentations an intensity and occasional bitterness that kept the tone from being friendly.

The Taiwan officials were pre-occupied during the discussions with one point: Taiwan’s legal status under U.S. law. They used this point as a surrogate for rearguing our basic recognition decision and repeatedly asked us to reconsider our position. I explained that our position could not be changed.

Nevertheless, they repeatedly urged us to recognize “the Republic of China as de jure, entitled to exercise governing authority in respect of the territories presently under its control.” In this way, they argued, they could continue to have government-to-government relations with the United States. They said repeatedly, with great emphasis and feeling, that they cannot accept relations with the United States on other than a government-to-government basis and that they considered this a matter of “life and death” importance. At my second meeting with President Chiang, he put forward “five principles” which stressed this point, along with emphasizing the lack of prior consultation and the need for explicit security guarantees.

The Taiwan officials stressed that the ROC’s extensive foreign exchange and other assets in the United States would be placed in serious jeopardy by our refusal to recognize Taiwan. They gave particular emphasis to the unpredictability of what United States courts will decide when issues concerning the ROC’s properties or other assets are brought before them. They asked what our position would be with respect to such properties and assets. I explained that this was a complex legal question to which there was no simple answer. Rather, courts would consider a variety of factors, including, for example, the nature and history of the assets, and whether they had been generated by the people of Taiwan. I said we would be studying carefully the legal status of such properties and assets and that our position with respect to any given assets would depend upon the applicable legal considerations. I stated, however, that in any litigation, we would certify that we recognize the PRC as the Government of China.

I believe the Taiwan officials were so adamant on the question of Taiwan’s legal status because they believe they have a chance of gaining congressional acceptance of their position, or some variant of it. They may characterize their position for Congress as nothing more than an appeal to us to recognize the ROC for what it is: a legally constituted government exercising sovereignty over Taiwan. They seem to think that such a formulation has an inherent reasonableness which will find appeal on the Hill.

The principal value of our mission lay in giving us an opportunity to explain and clarify our position, to underscore the firmness of it, and to allow the Taiwan officials to complain and blow off steam.

[Page 682]

No communiqué or joint press statement was issued. In view of the tenor of the discussions and the tense conditions on Taiwan, it was not feasible at this time to ask President Chiang to issue the kind of positive unilateral statement which you had suggested. He is beleaguered, but he was cordial to me personally, and it may be possible to get something from him later on when his friendship for the United States and his self-interest overcome his present emotions.

II. Our Four Principal Objectives.

You instructed me to seek Taiwan’s agreement to four principal points. The first point was that all treaties and agreements in force between us shall remain in effect after January 1, 1979, with each side retaining such rights of abrogation or termination as are provided in the treaties and agreements themselves or inherently in international law and practice. I was able to gain Taiwan’s agreement on this point. The Taiwan officials sought to use our discussion of this point as a vehicle for emphasizing their overriding concern with their legal status under U.S. law. For example, they argued that since the treaties and agreements exist between the U.S. and the ROC, their continuation necessarily implies our continued recognition of the ROC as a government. We explained that this was not the case and that it is possible to have a treaty or agreement with an unofficial entity. With respect to abrogation and termination rights, the Taiwan officials expressed particular concern about those treaties and agreements with provisions which allow for abrogation or termination on short notice and asked that we consider waiving those provisions in such instances. We said we would look at the treaties and agreements on a case by case basis.

Second, I was instructed to seek Taiwan’s agreement that the staffs of our respective Embassies and their associated instrumentalities, Consulates and Consulates General, may continue to function after January 1, 1979 and until February 28, 1979 in order to provide accustomed services, including consular services. I was also able to gain Taiwan’s agreement on this point. Again, they sought to use discussion of this issue as a vehicle for pressing their position on Taiwan’s legal status. They asked whether the fact that the staffs of the Embassies and other entities would function for an additional two month period did not in fact mean that during that period the ROC would continue to be recognized by the United States. We responded that was not the case and that the respective Embassies would be operating during that period on an unofficial basis.

Third, I was instructed to seek Taiwan’s agreement that each side will establish and put into operation by not later than February 28, 1979, a new instrumentality created under its domestic laws which would neither have the character of, nor be considered as, official governmental organizations. I was not able to gain Taiwan’s agreement on [Page 683] this point. As explained above, the Taiwan officials refused to accept the proposition that we should conduct our relations in the future on an unofficial basis. We explained that we would nevertheless be proceeding to establish such an instrumentality and that we saw no legal obstacles to conducting relations through such unofficial means. Repeatedly, I stressed that such instrumentalities would enable our two peoples to maintain the essential elements of our existing relationships.

Fourth, you instructed me to seek Taiwan’s agreement that the two sides should meet at a time to be mutually agreed upon to work out the necessary detailed arrangements. I was able to gain Taiwan’s agreement to do this. The Taiwan officials did request that the participants in such discussions not be characterized as a “working group,” to which I assented. They hoped that such discussions will go on in both Taipei and Washington; I stressed Washington.

III. Points of Information.

As instructed, I set forth for the Taiwan officials our position on several particular matters. First, I informed them that agreements which depend upon or are linked to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) will also end or lose effect with the MDT and that the United States will provide a list of the agreements which we believe fall into this category. While they strenuously objected to our having moved to terminate the MDT, they did not dwell upon the fact that we will also be terminating the agreements which depend upon or are linked to the MDT.

Second, I informed the Taiwan officials that items of military equipment already committed will be delivered on schedule, including spare parts and other follow-on items, such as ammunition. I stated further that we will not make any new commitments until the end of 1979, but will consider at a later time requests for sales in 1980 and subsequent years. The Taiwan officials took great interest in these points and asked that the appropriate military officials in my delegation meet with their military officials to discuss in greater detail the “pipeline” items Taiwan will be receiving. Such an informational meeting was held between the military officials, and it proceeded in a business-like manner. At the same time, however, the Taiwan officials expressed concern about the military threat they believe the PRC poses against them. They took the position that our de-recognition of the ROC creates an entirely new situation that requires the United States, if it is truly interested in Taiwan’s welfare, to make large new commitments of weaponry to Taiwan. For example, the Chief of their General Staff argued that Taiwan will have a more pressing need than ever before for an advanced follow-on aircraft, such as the F–16 or F–18. He also asked that the United States bring Taiwan “under the U.S. nuclear umbrella,” by giving written assurance that in the event the PRC threatens Taiwan with nuclear weapons, the United States will come to Taiwan’s defense. [Page 684] In addition, he asked for a written arrangement which would serve in lieu of the MDT and assure Taiwan that we would help defend it from attack.

In response, I stressed our intention to continue to make certain defensive weapons available to Taiwan and the lengths to which we had gone in our negotiations with the PRC to preserve that position. On the broader point, I said I did not see the need or possibility of such written assurances under current conditions. (We will undoubtedly be faced with such request or initiatives from the Congress.)

Third, as instructed, I drew attention to the recent statements by Taiwan’s Premier Y.S. Sun with regard to plans to develop long-range missiles. I reminded the officials of Taiwan’s obligations and assurances with respect to the non-development of nuclear weapons. I was told that Premier Sun’s statement concerning the missiles really should have referred to missiles with a “longer-range” than artillery. It was explained that the range of the missiles in question would be 100 kilometers. With respect to the non-development of nuclear weapons, I was assured that Taiwan had no such intention and would fully live up to its obligations in this area and to the public and private assurances we have been given by President Chiang.

Fourth, I informed the Taiwan officials that we would be submitting appropriate legislation confirming the continuing eligibility of the people of Taiwan for such programs and benefits as are accorded generally by domestic United States law to foreign countries and nationals. I said we hoped Taiwan will take similar action to the extent required by its domestic legislation. The Taiwan officials were interested in this point and asked a number of clarifying questions, but their principal response was to press again their argument on the legal status of Taiwan. They were non-committal on whether they will need to enact any legislation of their own.

Fifth, CINCPAC Admiral Weisner and I conveyed the information you requested concerning the disposition of our military forces, facilities, and War Reserve Materiel on Taiwan. In response, the Taiwan officials again stressed great concern for the period after December 31st, 1979, and reiterated their view that some substitute, written arrangement ought to be made in lieu of the MDT.

Sixth, I told the Taiwan officials that we would like to discuss continued leasing of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group compound as the site of the new offices to be maintained by U.S. In Taipei. They implied they would be prepared to discuss this matter with us sympathetically.

Seventh, as for the ROC’s real property in the U.S., I noted that in any litigation concerning it, we would certify to the court that we recognize the PRC as the Government of China.

[Page 685]

Eighth, because, as pointed out above, the Taiwan officials were unprepared to discuss the establishment of unofficial instrumentalities for conducting our relations in the future, there was no occasion for a detailed discussion of the reciprocal granting on an administrative basis of certain privileges and immunities to the new offices to be established on each other’s territory. I did flag the point for future discussion.

IV. Optional Points.

Of the five points you authorized me to make as necessary in the course of my discussions, I did not raise the first three because there was no need to do so.

We did inform the Taiwan officials that during 1979, CINCPAC will be authorized to establish a small, U.S.-manned planning group in Honolulu for Taiwan defense matters and that liaison with the Taiwan military will be maintained through the non-governmental personnel of our unofficial organization in Taiwan. The Taiwan officials were, to a degree, reassured by the former point, although they again expressed concern for what would occur after December 31, 1979. On the latter point, they urged that military to military contacts should be conducted by active duty U.S. officers. We explained that the United States would not be in a position to use active duty officers, but that the individuals who were handling such matters for our unofficial organization would be qualified.

I also made the point that in acknowledging the PRC position that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of China; the United States had not gone beyond the position it asserted in the Shanghai Communiqué. I found the continuity of our position over the last six years to be a useful point in rebutting the Taiwan officials’ argument that the United States should now suddenly take the position that the ROC is the de jure government of Taiwan.

V. Security of Americans on Taiwan.

After the disturbances that occurred on our arrival, President Chiang gave assurances that full provision would be made for the safety of me and my delegation. These assurances were fulfilled, and we were able to conduct our talks and depart Taipei without further incident, although this was accomplished only through the use of very heavy security precautions. Throughout our time in Taipei sporadic demonstrations took place. In addition, there was a recurrent and disturbing implication in some of the remarks made to us by President Chiang and his colleagues that there might be further substantial protests directed at Americans on Taiwan and that the authorities might have difficulty keeping the situation under control. While these are difficult matters to judge, I am concerned about the possible develop[Page 686]ments in this area, especially on January 1, when a massive, perhaps 100,000 person demonstration is scheduled to be held one block from the American Embassy. Similar concerns were expressed by our Embassy personnel and private Americans on Taiwan. I will be talking on the telephone today with Cy Vance about steps that might be taken to ameliorate the problem.

VI. Conclusion.

The Taiwan authorities have undergone a major shock and are still seeking to adjust to the new realities. They are deeply concerned about the military threat posed by the PRC in the absence of the MDT and about the status of their property, particularly their financial assets, situated in the United States. In a sense, they are continuing to deny to themselves the fact that we have recognized the PRC and that our decision is irreversible. I believe they may maintain this illusion so long as they perceive any hope, through congressional and public pressure, of forcing us to modify our position. Short of that they may hope to maneuver us into making seemingly minor adjustments in our policy which could damage our relations with the PRC.

Thus I expect the next two months will remain an unsettled period in our relations with the authorities on Taiwan. So long as they are looking for help from Congress, they will probably be reluctant to establish any kind of unofficial instrumentality. However, assuming we suffer no major reverses on the Hill, I would expect that as March 1st approaches, the Taiwan authorities would take a more flexible and forthcoming position with respect to the establishment of an unofficial instrumentality.

As stated above, the meetings in Taiwan provided a good start in this direction, by enabling us to confirm and clarify our basic position and allowing the Taiwan officials an opportunity to vent their emotions.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 10, China (PRC): Reaction to Normalization, 12/22–28/78. Secret; Sensitive; Specat Exclusive; Nodis.
  2. See Document 181 for Christopher’s instructions.
  3. Christopher provided accounts of his meetings with Jiang in telegram 8747 from Taipei, December 28, and telegram 8803 from Taipei, December 29. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840153–2126 and P840153–2099)
  4. Admiral Weisner, who accompanied Christopher, described the disturbances: “upon arrival in Taipei our motorcade en route from the Taipei airport passed through crowds of several thousand young people who were not adequately controlled. They did significant damage to the vehicles, but fortunately none of the occupants were seriously hurt. However, there was reason to believe that the demonstration was either deliberately orchestrated or at least sanctioned by the ROC Government. But because it was not adequately controlled it became seriously out of hand, and as a result, consideration was given to having the mission depart Taiwan immediately. After some deliberation, and conversation with Washington, the decision, as you know, was made to stay and proceed with the talks. I believe it was a good decision. The talks were important on both sides, and in my view, were necessary at this time.” (Telegram from Weisner to Rogers, December 30; Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–81–0202, China (Nats) 092)