To do research on diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the US, it is not enough just to copy from the diaries of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石). One must also read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ telegrams, Chiang’s special diplomatic cables archived by Academia Historica and telegrams declassified by the US Department of State. Such documents are not declassified and made available to the public until at least 30 years after their creation.
Starting in November last year, WikiLeaks has been releasing US Department of State telegrams, and this has allowed people to read frank statements made in private by political figures from China and Taiwan. It would be a big mistake to think of these leaked documents as mere gossip.
In writing his diary, Chiang often touched on Taiwan-US relations. His frustration with top diplomats Hu Shih (胡適), Tsiang Tingfu (蔣廷黻) and George Yeh (葉公超) is clearly expressed in his diary entries.
Some of the cables released by WikiLeaks relate to Taiwan during the period from October 2004 to February last year. They faithfully record reports made to the Department of State by successive directors of the American Institute in Taiwan’s office in Taipei — Douglas Paal, Stephen Young and William Stanton — about their conversations with Taiwanese government leaders. Although these WikiLeaks releases are not as spicy as -Chiang’s diaries, some of the people involved have compounded their errors by spreading “Internet rumors” in an attempt to evade responsibility for whatever they may have said in the past.
The fact that Chiang’s family chose to entrust his diaries to Stanford University, rather than Academia Historica or another Taiwanese institution, shows that they have more faith in the US than they do in Taiwan. Lobbying Chiang’s descendants to allow his diaries to be published in Taiwan was probably not the wisest course of action for the government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Just providing Taiwan’s academic institutions with a photocopy of the diaries so that researchers from home and abroad could come to Taipei to take their notes instead of going to San Francisco might work better as a soft-power approach that would give Taiwan a voice on these issues.
The US has often criticized Taiwan for leaking secrets, but the fact that someone managed to hack into the Department of State’s telegrams reveals weaknesses in the US’ own data security. Nevertheless, the leaks have allowed people in Taiwan to get a clear view of what our top government officials and opinion leaders say in their candid conversations with the de facto US ambassador. Affected departments in Taiwan have set up WikiLeaks response teams, but that has not saved government officials named in the leaks from making awkward responses.
WikiLeaks has also released cables sent from US diplomatic offices in China between January 2006 and February last year, and these documents provide China-watchers in Taiwan with some useful source material.
Chiang had his criticisms of the US government, for example over its decision to recall former US president Harry Truman’s special presidential envoy, General George Marshall, from China. Be that as it may, Chiang depended on the US more than he did on Taiwanese doctors. Through WikiLeaks, we can now see how Taiwanese politicians have shared secrets from the inner circle with US officials, while feeling unable to trust others from their own political camp, never mind their opponents.
In the process, the US has been able to play to both the pan-blue and pan-green camps and get to know the full picture of Taiwan better than anyone else.
Lin Cheng-yi is a research fellow at the Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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