Tue, May 22, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letters: The Chiang link in democracy

As a strong supporter of Taiwan's self-determination and democracy, I nevertheless feel that the current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) campaign against Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) ignores an ironic but simple fact: namely, that had Chiang and the Nationalists not taken refuge in Taiwan, it is a near certainty that the island would now be a province of China. Of course one can discuss UN mandates, referenda, and so forth. All were talked about at the time. But the island then was desperately poor and little known to the outside world -- probably unrealistic goals.

Chiang arrived in Taiwan and brought with him international political clout -- in the form of the old "China Lobby" in Washington -- that the established population could not supply. Precisely because of Chiang's international political strength, many Americans wanted to get rid of him from the moment his plane touched down at Sungshan Airport in 1949 -- not in order to foster a Taiwanese democracy, but to remove an "obstacle" to relations with China. That sentiment only gained strength as time passed. Declassified papers clearly demonstrate that by 1971 Nixon and Kissinger were secretly determined to make Taiwan unity with China. In their planning they drew on work done within the US government long before. At the time, few people cared about Taiwan being Taiwan.

Chiang, however, was able to draw on his broad US connections to maintain a military alliance crucial to the island. His son was the last man who had the power to hand Taiwan over to China, no questions asked. But he did not respond to Deng Xiaoping's (鄧小平)blandishments or to US pressure. He could have made a deal and traveled to China. Can you imagine the welcome he would have received? Instead he opened the way to democratization. Surely the people of Taiwan have been fortunate with their despots.

As for the Chinese who fled with Chiang, they deserve some credit too. Not many soldiers were killed in the Cold War over the Taiwan Strait, but I would venture to guess that of the dead, many were Mainlanders. I well recall flying to Kinmen in the early 1970s. Nearly all the soldiers on the small plane spoke with strong mainland accents. Such Mainlanders were the core of the conscripted army that, often with great bravery, protected the Taiwanese from the horrors of Communist rule -- even as it enforced martial law at home.

History is complicated and rarely is it morally unambiguous. Thus I believe that every scrap of evidence about the 228 Incident and the White Terror must be dug out of party and government archives, brought to light, and properly dealt with. But I also believe that the contribution made by Chiang and his government -- which was no less than to keep Taiwan separate from China at a time when, arguably, no other group could have done so -- must not be ignored. Maintaining the separation in turn made it possible for Taiwan eventually to become a free and democratic state and determine its own future. Chiang Kai-shek had a lot to do with that.

Had Chiang not fled to Taiwan with his army, no memorial hall to him would stand in what would be today the dreary capital of Taiwan -- Province of the People's Republic of China, known chiefly for its pineapple and timber exports -- nor would any democratically elected president of Taiwan exist, able to change the name of that memorial, or lock its doors.

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