Sun, Jan 06, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The ousted president who opposed both Chiang and Mao

Interim ROC president Li Tsung-jen didn’t come to Taiwan with the KMT in 1949, and turned against the party through the CIA-supported Third Force movement in Hong Kong

By Han Cheung  /  Staff report

Chiang Kai-shek, left, and Li Tsung-jen at Li’s swearing in ceremony as Republic of China vice president.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jan. 7 to Jan. 13

When the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) moved the Republic of China (ROC) government to Taipei on Dec. 7, 1949, it was without its president.

Not Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who also wasn’t in Taipei and who had stepped down as president 10 months earlier. It was Li Tsung-jen (李宗仁), who had taken over in an interim role.

Li was on medical leave in the US at that point. He refused all calls to head to Taiwan, remaining stateside until 1965 when he returned to China. Meanwhile, he became a vocal critic of Chiang and helped start and fund the Third Force (第三勢力), a Hong Kong-based anti-Chiang and anti-communist organization.

Chiang resumed his presidency on March 1, 1950 and, through Martial Law era provisions, clung on to the title until he died in 1975.

PRESIDENT FOR PEACE

According to Breaking With the Past, a Hoover Institute publication, the KMT was in turmoil by mid-1945 as “factional struggles, corruption and low morale were on the increase.”

The second phase of the Chinese Civil War had just started, and public support for the KMT was plummeting. The situation continued to worsen and by late 1948, even the US was pressuring Chiang to step down and allow the KMT to negotiate for peace with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Chiang resisted for months, but in early 1949, he left the KMT capital of Nanjing for his hometown. He was “seen off in his luxurious Skymaster,” according to a Reuters report, with “no trace of emotion on his face.” Official statements used the word “temporary absence” because “he wanted to leave the way open for possible return to power if peace negotiations failed,” the report stated.

However, Chiang retained considerable power as KMT chairman and commander of its armed forces. Li’s peace talks fell through and the CCP resumed their advance in April, while the KMT continued moving its institutions and possessions to Taiwan as it lost ground.

Li and Chiang’s bad blood trace back to 1930 when Chiang embarrassed Li and his coalition of warlords who attacked Chiang’s headquarters of Nanjing. Their relationship only worsened during Li’s presidency. In his memoir, Li accuses Chiang of sabotaging his efforts from the shadows.

“This is the third time you’ve retired,” he writes. “You assured [us] repeatedly that you would stay away from politics for at least the next five years, which to me meant that you would trust me with the job and let me operate freely. But what you did was the complete opposite.”

He continues to attack Chiang in a long list of accusations of misconduct, concluding: “These are all absurd actions where you did not keep your promises and had no respect for government authority!”

‘PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES’

Li’s flight to the US was “a decision when [his] mood was best expressed by the oft-repeated phrase, ‘a plague on both your houses,’ and with the hope that an aseptic and democratic ‘third force’ could be established,” writes Robert Bedski in the study, Li Tsung-jen and the Demise of China’s ‘Third Force.’

In March 1950, Li told the Associated Press that the people would rise and overthrow both the CCP and KMT, and that the CCP only won because of Chiang’s incompetence. The KMT impeached Li in response, but he remained vice president. When Chiang bended the rules to extend his reign in 1954, Li wrote a him a letter slamming his actions as illegal, and the KMT stripped him of the vice presidency.

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