Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: When both sides claim victory

This week’s column examines the various theories and claims regarding the motivations behind the 1958 Communist bombardment of Kinmen and the ceasefire 44 days later

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

“By stopping when they did, the Chinese Communists left it ambiguous whether or not they could have successfully imposed an artillery blockade against the offshore islands,” the report states. “Thus the public record states that the Chinese Communists called off what might have been a successful invasion and thereby exercised restraint and statesmanship rather than making it clear to the world that their effort had ended in failure.”

However, Harvard University professor Michael Szonyi writes in his 2008 book, Cold War Island, that there is still disagreement among scholars as to what led the communists to attack Kinmen in 1958.

“Some scholars argue Mao wanted to eliminate what he perceived to be a real threat of attack from Taiwan, others that he used the attack as a ‘strategic probe’ to test and if possible to complicate the US commitment to the [KMT],” he writes.

Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs professor Thomas Christensen argues that in the context of mass mobilization for the Great Leap Forward program, the invasion was Mao’s way to “create a sense of external tension and threat and thereby arouse public enthusiasm in supporting his domestic agenda.”

Contrary to the Department of Defense report, Szonyi writes that Mao did not plan to take Kinmen.

“The Republic of China presence on Kinmen was a reminder that both regimes agreed that there was only ‘One China’ that would one day be reunified. If Kinmen were to fall, it might be a first step toward the permanent separation of the two regimes,” he writes.

While Chiang considered fending off the communists a major victory, Szonyi writes that Mao also considered the campaign a victory because it “successfully entrapped the US.”

“Whenever necessary we can shell Kinmen and Matsu,” Szonyi quotes Mao in the book. “Whenever we are in need of tension, we can tighten the noose … We will let them hang there, neither dead or alive, using them as a means to deal with the Americans.”

The Department of Defense report does address these claims but dismisses them as Communist propaganda.

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.

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