The Korean War began with North Korean leader Kim Il-sung launching an attack on Seoul, South Korea’s capital on June 25, 1950. This attack, was made with the tacit approval of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and three days later, Seoul succumbed to Kim’s forces.
On June 27, then-US president Harry Truman ordered the US Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait to protect Taiwan from invasion by communist forces. Subsquently, a UN force, led by General Douglas MacArthur, was formed on July 7, following a decision by the UN Security Council. Those forces landed at Incheon shortly after and pushed the forces of North Korea back. At this point, however, Kim called on Mao Zedong (毛澤東) to dispatch his troops to the Korean Peninsula.
What was happening in Taiwan during this period? On Dec. 10, 1949, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who resigned as president earlier that year, flew from Chengdu in China to Taipei’s Songshan Airport. Central government agencies had already relocated to Taipei.
On March 1, 1950, Chiang announced he was officially resuming his duties as president. At the time, US reaction was rather cool. Not long before, in a statement issued on Jan. 5, Truman had announced that although the Cairo Communique and Potsdam Declaration had effectively placed Taiwan under Chiang’s control, the US would not provide any form of military support or consultation to his forces stationed in Taiwan.
Truman changed his policy less than six months later when he ordered the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait. However, no decision was made regarding Taiwan’s future status, as this question was deferred to a time when security in the region was more stable, a treaty was signed with Japan, or a decision reached by the UN.
Chiang responded to a UN call for assistance in its “police action” in Korea and offered to send 33,000 troops and 20 air transports to help. His proposal was, however, declined by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 30, 1950, as they sought to limit the war to the Korean Peninsula.
It is generally understood that MacArthur’s judgments were formed by the instincts of a career soldier. He viewed Taiwan as a natural shield, a fortress island capable of repelling enemy submarines, ocean-going vessels and aircraft. As far as he saw it, Taiwan should be been given up under no circumstances.
Truman made the decision on April 11, 1951, to dismiss MacArthur for being “unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the US and of the UN in matters pertaining to his official duties.”
In his testimony to the US Senate’s Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees following his dismissal, MacArthur made clear that Taiwan’s status had yet to be decided by any official treaty and it consequently remained under Japan’s de jure sovereignty. Just as the Allies had placed Japan under the supervision of the US, Taiwan had likewise been placed under the supervision of the Republic of China, he pointed out.
At the same public hearing, MacArthur responded to questions regarding the Cairo Communique, by saying that previous decisions had been a serious mistake putting Taiwan at risk of falling into the hands of the communists and that this issue had to be dealt with properly by signing a treaty with Japan. The Treaty of San Francisco, signed in 1951, stipulated independent status for Korea and gave sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands to the US, since transferred to Japan. As far as Taiwan was concerned, the treaty merely stated that Japan was to renounce its sovereignty over it. From that point on, Korea and Taiwan would have very different destinies.
Chen Yi-shen is chairman of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
TRANSLATED BY TAIJING WU
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