Sunday, February 19, 2012

Memories: Taiwan Betrayed, Again

An event forty years ago (February 19, 1972) brings back memories that are at once exhilarating and maddening for me. This was the day on which the “Shanghai Communique” was jointly issued by two governments at the end of President Nixon’s trip to China.

The exhilarating part of the memory, which I didn’t know until thirty-three years later after the verbatim account of the talks had been declassified, was the attention in the talks given to how human rights leader Dr. Peng Ming-min escaped from Taiwan two years earlier. Chinese Premier Chou En-lai was convinced that the U.S. authorities had spirited Peng out on a U.S. military aircraft and suspected that the U.S. secretly supported the independence of Taiwan.

President Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger protested that they didn’t know. Chou probably didn’t believe them, but they were telling the truth. They didn’t know that my former wife, Judith, and I, with Dr. Peng, two other missionary couples, a missionary in Hong Kong, an American Quaker friend in Japan, and two Japanese, arranged for his escape disguised and on a commercial airline flight to Hong Kong, then to Sweden. None of us had experience with escapes. But determination and luck trumped naiveté and Chiang Kai-shek’s Stalinist style security system. Chou, Nixon, and Chiang all went to their graves without knowing of our roles in Peng’s escape. The thought of three of the most powerful people in the world in that Beijing room not knowing still makes me chuckle.

But not much! What comes back with those memories is sadness that Dr. Peng was in exile, separated from his family and homeland. Hsieh Tsung-min and Wei T’ing-chao, who with Dr. Peng were our two closest colleagues and friends, were in the Detention Center of the feared Garrison Command at Jing-mei south of Taipei. They were arrested February 23, 1971, a week before Judith and I. Unlike the “fireproof moths” we were as U.S. citizens, Hsieh and Wei were being horribly tortured with wounds from which they would never heal.

Then there was the maddening agreement Nixon and Kissinger approved. In a PBS presentation in 1999, the Communique on Taiwan was summarized in this way:  
the PRC firmly rejected any "two Chinas" formulation, declaring unequivocally that "the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China" and "Taiwan is a province of China." The U.S., in deft phrasing, acknowledged "that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China," but neatly avoided the question of who should govern this "one China." 
What Kissinger’s “deft phrasing” didn’t avoid was the false statement that all Chinese on both sides maintain that Taiwan is a part of China. While Chiang and his Nationalists who had lost the civil war and retreated to Taiwan in 1949 and proclaimed it “Free China,” the majority population of the island knew better; they were clear that Taiwan was neither “free” nor “China.” In one simple sentence, Nixon and Kissinger put the U.S. on record accepting China’s false claim that Taiwan was a part of China.

The declassified account of the negotiations indicated that Nixon and Kissinger were quite willing to give Taiwan to China without regard for what the people of Taiwan wanted. According to James Humes, a speechwriter for Nixon on the trip, Nixon’s overriding goal was to drive a wedge between the People’s Republic and the Soviet Union. The people of Taiwan were expendable, if they entered Nixon’s mind at all. The only restraint was Nixon’s concern that “Congress and the American people wouldn’t stand for it [giving Taiwan to China].” He said he needed time to convince them.

It would be seven years and after three more communiques before diplomatic relations would be established between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China. But the Shanghai Communique gave U.S. legitimation to China’s claim to Taiwan.

Some with Nixon hailed the agreement as ending a generation of bitterness and taking an historic first step in creating a world of peace. To me, it sounded like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 agreement at Munich that gave Hitler the right to annex Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. Chamberlain called it “peace in our time.” Czechoslovakia, who was not represented at the conference, called it the “Munich Betrayal,” which was how I viewed Nixon and Kissinger’s Shanghai Communique in 1972. Like the Czechs, the people of Taiwan had no part in giving their land to the Chinese.

The Communique was a betrayal of the people of the Taiwan. It was not the first nor would it be the last.  Decisions made in ending World War II did not result in liberation for everyone. In fact, those decisions resulted in the enslavement of millions of others, including the people of Taiwan. The treaty signed at Yalta in 1945 between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin defined postwar zones of control, opening the door to the Soviet occupation of eastern and central Europe, and giving Taiwan to Chiang Kai-shek.

Chiang’s occupation of Taiwan in 1945 was another betrayal of the people of the island. The Nationalists on Taiwan were as brutal and corrupt as they were on the Mainland. After an incident on February 28, 1947, there was a civil and largely peaceful uprising. Taiwanese sent an appeal for reform to Chiang, still fighting the Communists on the Mainland. In response Chiang sent troops that massacred ten to thirty thousand Taiwanese, beginning the forty years of “White Terror.”

Against overwhelming odds, Taiwan has become a democracy. Freedom and democracy are precious but fragile, and can be lost far easier than attained. The main threat to Taiwan is from across the Taiwan Strait in the government of the People’s Republic of China. Like the now freed countries of Eastern Europe the rest of the free nations of the world have an important stake in the continuing freedom of the people of Taiwan. America’s resolve in this matter may be sorely tested, due in no small measure to the concessions made to the Chinese on February 19, 1972.

Freedom loving people may only hope that U.S. citizens won’t stand for betraying the people of Taiwan again, that the Taiwanese have an opportunity to decide their own future, and not continue to be pawns in China/U.S. geopolitical games as they have been for so long.

- Milo Thornberry   


dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan said...

proofreader to blogger: great blog post, very well said, but one small minor mistake re in second to last graf: ''The main threat to Taiwan is from across the China Straits in the government of the People’s Republic of China.''

should read ''The main threat to Taiwan is from across the TAIWAN STRAIT in the government of the People’s (sic) Republic of China.''

Milo Thornberry said...

Thanks, Dan! Not an insignificant mistake. Correction made.

Julie Wu said...

Thank you so much for this post! My novel, which will be published next year (Algonquin Books), describes some of the events of February 28th and the White Terror. I'm reading your book in the process of researching my next novel, which I plan to base on the lives of Taiwanese political prisoners. I am very impressed both with your book and with all that you have done to help Taiwan. I'd love to talk to you!

Julie Wu
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email: jwusauk[AT]
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