Canberra, 30 April 1957


Australian Representation in Formosa

The Australian Government has not given diplomatic recognition to the Communist regime in China. Australia recognises the Chiang Kai–shek administration on Formosa as representing the Government of the Republic of China and has accepted a Chinese Ambassador to Australia. This submission will examine the political aspects of Australian representation in Taipeh, leaving aside the question of the shortage of Australian diplomatic staff.

The Problem

2. Following on their withdrawal from the Mainland, Chinese Nationalist forces established themselves on Formosa where, with United States support, they have introduced a stable, if somewhat authoritarian government. This regime claims to represent the ‘Republic of China’ which is an original member of the United Nations and (under Article 23) a permanent member of the Security Council. Such an assertion is challenged by the Chinese People’s Republic (C.P.R.) which has effective control on the mainland of China, the support of the majority of the population, and claims sovereignty over the islands occupied by the Nationalists.

3. Legal arguments can be advanced to show, at least, that Formosa and the Pescadores do not belong to the C.P.R. Such arguments derive from Japan’s renunciation, under the Peace Treaty, of claims to sovereignty over Formosa and the Pescadores, without this sovereignty having been specifically transferred to any party other, in fact, than the Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in the Pacific. Chiang Kai–shek may truthfully claim to have established de facto control over these islands and a prima facie right of suzerainty would appear to exist. On the other hand, it is obviously unrealistic to accept Nationalist claims to represent the people of China itself.

4. Australia has publicly supported the United States in its determination to withhold international recognition of a regime which has refused to accept international obligations, has broken accepted codes of international behaviour and whose principles of government are defeated2 in the democratic world. Privately, United States officials have expressed concern that recognition of the C.P.R. would, by enhancing its international prestige, encourage subversion in South–East Asia. Australia, by reason of her close associations with the United States will need to give careful consideration before taking any decision to recognise the C.P.R. as this would undoubtedly cause United States resentment.

On the other hand, re–imposition of Nationalist control on the Chinese mainland, either by peaceful or military means, is becoming a remote possibility. Continued refusal to accept the fact that the C.P.R. is in effective control is making eventual settlement of the problem more difficult and is antagonising—or at least irritating—uncommitted countries who recognise the C.P.R. The point at issue, therefore, is whether Australia should, by establishing a diplomatic mission in Taipeh, confirm her recognition of a country whose sovereignty is in dispute, but whose independent existence is undeniable and for whom there is bound to be continued American support for the foreseeable future.


5. There would be a number of advantages in Australia establishing a permanent diplomatic mission in Formosa:—

(a) It would confirm our determination not to abandon the people on Formosa to Communist domination and not to lose an important area of Asia by default.

(b) Formosa offers alternative allegiance to over thirteen million overseas Chinese among whom the Communists are assiduously seeking support. Given the general unpopularity of Chinese communities in Asia and their reluctance to identify themselves with their country of residence, consular protection and national traditions must be available to them from a source other than the C.P.R. A permanent regime in Formosa could meet such needs, but only with Western support. The establishment of an Australian mission in Formosa would probably, in the opinion of the Chinese Charg� d’ Affaires in Canberra, be an encouragement to the Government on Formosa, and may well have the effect of confirming the allegiance of many of the overseas Chinese to that Government.

(c) Formosa is of considerable strategic importance, and it is in Australia’s defence interests to ensure that the Nationalist–held islands are available for use by the Western powers. The Australian Defence Committee believes that any weakening of the anti–Communist frontier in this area would enable China to concentrate her military resources elsewhere, in which case the most likely target for aggression would be South–East Asia.

(d) Australia has insufficient information about developments in either China or Formosa. A diplomatic mission would increase our capacity to assess the degree of Nationalist control, the extent of United States aid and possible intentions, and the likelihood of hostilities. The United Kingdom, although recognising the C.P.R., maintains a Consulate at Tamsui in Formosa, the Consul however being accredited to the Provincial Government.3

(e) Australian trade prospects with Formosa could be examined.

(f) The United States would welcome the mission as further expression of support for her Far East policy.

(g) Asian signatories of the Manila Treaty would be assured of our resolution to stem Communist encroachment and of our support for all Governments pursuing anti–Communist policies.

(h) Morale in Formosa has been based on the prospects of a return to the mainland. These prospects are assessed to be remote and diminishing. Any increase in our support for the Nationalists would help reduce the possibility of their succumbing to Communist pressure through sheer ennui.

(i) Australian representation would reflect our determination to insist on Communist observance of accepted principles of international conduct as a prerequisite to formal recognition. It would also help to discourage the Communists from launching an attack on Formosa in the belief that international support for the Nationalists had diminished.

(j) Australia would gain more credit from the decision to reciprocate Nationalist representation if this were done before international settlement of the problem leads a number of countries to do so. On the other hand there is no reason to believe that a lead by Australia would be followed by Asian countries.


6. Advantage are, however, offset by a number of disadvantages.

(a) The opening of a post in Taipeh may have to be accompanied by a statement of Australian Government policy on the recognition of the C.P.R.4 Such a statement, together with our representative’s letter of accreditation, would have to assert our acceptance of Nationalist claims to represent the Chinese people; anything less would probably be unacceptable to the Nationalists. To make such an assertion, and to refuse to concede that the C.P.R. is in effective control of the mainland, would have a bad effect on the African–Asian countries who have recognised the C.P.R., and it would probably embarrass anti–Communist Asian leaders well–disposed to the West. A statement to the contrary would probably remove one of the obstacles to our ability to influence the uncommitted countries.

(b) The Australian Government may be unwilling to risk domestic political differences of opinion on recognition of China, particularly if no international understanding had been reached on the question.

(c) The impression may be created that Australia had taken the decision as a result of United States pressure.

() Increased foreign representation in Formosa might lead the Communists to believe that a peaceful solution to the problem is unlikely and may provoke them into mounting a probing offensive against, firstly, the Offshore Islands and subsequently, against Formosa itself.

(d) The Nationalists may misinterpret our interest and embarrass us by pressing for membership of the Colombo Plan and SEATO.

(e) We would lose any possible advantage that might occur, in our future relations with the C.P.R., from an early decision to recognise it and support its membership of the United Nations.5


7. The main advantage of our decision to open a post in Taipeh would appear to result from the reflection of our determination to insist, in whatever solution is reached of the ‘Two Chinas’ problem, on Formosa being maintained as a democratic bastion in the Far East and an alternative source of allegiance and protection for the Overseas Chinese. The chief disadvantage would arise from the antagonism likely to be expressed by Asian countries to our continued refusal to recognise the C.P.R. Australia herself may suffer from closer identification of Australian and United States foreign policies. In the long term, it appears to be in Australia’s defence interest, having regard to her future position in Asia, to ensure that Formosa and other non–Communist countries of the area are not lost by default even at the expense of relations with other Asian countries.

8. If our long term aim is to recognise Communist China eventually but only in respect of the mainland and to recognise Formosa as a separate state, this aim would not be prejudiced by the establishment of a diplomatic mission in Taipeh.

9. Subject therefore to administrative difficulties being overcome, it is not considered that there are any overriding objections to the establishment of this mission.6

[NAA: A1838, 519/3/1, iii]

1 R.N. Birch, Second Secretary, Defence Liaison Branch, Department of External Affairs.

2 In a draft of this minute, the word ‘defeated’ reads ‘detested’.

3 Commenting on this sub–paragraph, Tange wrote: ‘This is the major point We have not, as we have in other countries, access to UK and Canadian information. US information may not always be objective’.

4 Tange wrote in the margins: ‘I do not see why this is necessary. The less noise the better’.

5 Tange noted here: ‘These arguments do not appear to me to be very impressive’.

6 In a marginal note to Plimsoll, and referring to the minute as a whole, Tange wrote that he wanted to bring the question to the attention of Casey.