Taiwan in Time: May 30 to June 5
After picking up US deputy secretary of state Warren Christopher from Songshan Airport in late December 1978, Leonard Unger found their limousine surrounded by an angry mob.
The truck ahead of them had stopped, and there was no way to escape. The protesters broke the car’s windows and began poking their sticks inside. Finally the truck started moving again, and Unger instructed the driver to take a backroad to his residence in Yangmingshan.
Photo courtesy of US National archives
“We didn’t really know that anything serious had happened to us; we didn’t feel physically hurt at all,” Unger said in a 1989 interview with The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs. “But when my wife saw us, she gasped. Apparently, we were bleeding profusely without knowing it, but only from superficial cuts.”
“I inspected these cars in Taipei four months later,” late American Institute in Taiwan director David Dean wrote in his memoir. “They were total wrecks.”
This was probably not what Unger imagined when he arrived in Taiwan in late May 1974 as US ambassador to Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Republic of China government. After a long diplomatic career in Europe and Southeast Asia, Taiwan was to be his last stop before retirement.
Prior to the attack, on the evening of Dec. 15, Unger was pulled aside at an American Chamber of Commerce gala and given the unenviable task of informing president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) that the US had decided to severe ties with Taiwan and formally recognize the Beijing-based People’s Republic of China.
Unger had a matter of hours to find Chiang before US president Jimmy Carter made the formal announcement the next morning, finally tracking him down at his residence and convincing his aides to wake him up around 2am.
Unger read to Chiang a letter from Carter, which announced the end of formal relations but guaranteed that “substantive relations” would still continue. All treaties would remain in place except for the Mutual Defense Treaty, which would terminate in one year. The letter also stated that the US would continue to provide “carefully selected defensive arms” to Taiwan — although, per an agreement with China, no transactions were made during the year of 1979.
Historian Henry Tsai (蔡石山) explains why everything was so rushed in his book, Maritime Taiwan: “[National security advisor] Zbigniew Brzezinski was concerned that if Taiwan had too much time to prepare … the KMT authorities might ask the powerful senator Jesse Helms to block Carter’s scheme.”
New York Law School professor Chen Lung-chu (陳隆志) writes in his book, The US-Taiwan-China Relationship in International Law and Policy, that even the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee was not informed by Carter until three hours before the announcement.
Unger knew this would happen at some point, as it was the direction which Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had been steering the country toward despite opposition from many Chiang supporters in the US government. But it still came as a surprise.
“I was not sure whether or not I was going to be the last ambassador, but recognized that there was a pretty good chance I would be,” he said a decade later. “In some fashion or other, we would be working out a new relationship with Beijing which would oblige us to reduce our representation in Taipei.”
Taiwan’s international standing had plummeted in the previous decade, and it had been out of the UN since 1971. But the nation was in outrage, seeing it as a betrayal by one of its oldest supporters. Chiang called it a “great setback to human freedom and democratic institutions” and citizens protested outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, throwing stones and eggs at the US embassy. An AP article stated that protesters burned the US flag on the street.
Unger was ordered to leave on Dec. 31, 1978, the last day the US recognized Taiwan. But he said he tried to stay as long as possible to try to “help the government of Taiwan adjust to the new situation.”
Facing pressure from Washington, he finally left about two weeks later, and his deputy Bill Brown remained until the Taiwan Relations Act was passed in April, authorizing de facto relations through the American Institute of Taiwan.
A year later, Unger seemed to be feeling positive about Carter’s decision — at least in terms of US concerns. He wrote the following in an article for Foreign Policy magazine:
“Taiwan continues to prosper. The dire predictions of a Soviet-Taiwan alliance, development of nuclear weapons by Taiwan and the proclamation of an independent Republic of Taiwan have not come to pass. And the Chinese have not attempted to take the island by force. None of these calamities appears likely to happen in the foreseeable future.”
Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.
May 25 to May 31 Three months before his 90th birthday in 2015, Chung Chao-cheng (鍾肇政) woke up shortly after midnight and experienced a inexplicable sense of clarity. “Suddenly, my mind started going all over the place. There were some recent memories, but also many that I thought I had long forgotten. They would appear and disappear from my brain one after another, and they were so clear, so lucid. Even the memories from 70, 80 years ago felt like they happened yesterday. I suddenly thought, if I still remember so much, why don’t I write everything down?” Despite his solid
Green, spiky and with a strong, sweet smell, the bulky jackfruit has morphed from a backyard nuisance in India’s south coast into the meat-substitute darling of vegans and vegetarians in the West. Part of the South Asia’s diet for centuries, jackfruit was so abundant that tonnes of it went to waste every year. But now India, the world’s biggest producer of jackfruit, is capitalizing on its growing popularity as a “superfood” meat alternative — touted by chefs from San Francisco to London and Delhi for its pork-like texture when unripe. “There are a lot of inquiries from abroad... At the international level, the
In troubled times, people have been known to hoard currency at home — a financial security blanket against deep uncertainty. But in this crisis, things are different. This time cash itself, passed from hand to hand across neighborhoods, cities and societies just like the coronavirus, is a source of suspicion rather than reassurance. No longer a thing to be shoved mindlessly into a pocket, tucked into a worn wallet or thrown casually on a kitchen counter, money’s status has changed during the virus era — perhaps irrevocably. The pandemic has also reawakened debate about the continued viability of what has been
The Lunar New Year vacation had just ended when Alice Wu began to worry about COVID-19. Not long after, on Feb. 10, Wu — who didn’t give her Chinese name to speak freely for this story — received the first of several coronavirus-related sales messages through her smartphone. The pitch came from an acquaintance who represents Amway, an American multi-level marketing (MLM) company that’s been active in Taiwan since 1982. “I’ve only met her once, and I’ve never bought from her. If her sister wasn’t one of my daughter’s teachers, I’d probably block her,” says Wu, who lives in Taichung. MLM, sometimes