Asia Program

Events

Soviet-Taiwanese Relations During the Early Cold War

September 23, 2009 // 4:00pm5:15pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Cold War International History Project
History and Public Policy Program

Shin Kawashima, Japan Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center

Studies of the Republic of China (R.O.C./Taiwan)'s relations with the U.S.S.R. have often focused on the R.O.C.'s goals in relation to the United States. For example, John Garver has explained Taiwanese hostility towards the Soviet Union in the 1950s in terms of geopolitical realism, that is, the R.O.C. was attempting to maintain the support of the United States and confirm commitment to defending Taiwan. Using an approach which stressed the centrality of ideology to foreign policy, Michael Share, meanwhile, explained a Taiwanese shift from hostility towards the Soviet Union in the early 1950s to a relationship of uncertain friendship towards the end of the 1960s. Czeslaw Tubilewics criticized Share by returning to the realist approach, claiming that the R.O.C'.s improved relations with the Soviets constituted a search for leverage over the United States. While there is some debate over the nature of Taiwan's stance towards the Soviet Union, these studies have usually relied on Soviet and American sources. Using diplomatic and party archives from the Taiwanese side, as well as former Taiwanese generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's recently-opened diaries, Wilson Center Japan Scholar Shin Kawashima analyzed these approaches on September 23, at an event co-hosted by the Asia Program and the Cold War International History Project.

In his presentation, Kawashima focused on two events that have often been canvassed in the literature on Taiwan's relations with the Soviet Union. The first was the "Tuapse incident," a symbol of confrontation between Taipei and Moscow. In June 1954, R.O.C. forces captured a Soviet tanker, the Tuapse, and held its crew hostage. The Americans played a significant role in the operation, providing intelligence about the tanker's whereabouts to the authorities in Taipei. While the United States may have provided this information, Kawashima disputes the notion that Chiang acted to seize the Tuapse out of an attempt to curry favor with the United States. Chiang noted in his diary, for example, that the U.S. Seventh Fleet declined Chiang's request for support in seizing the ship, prompting the Generalissimo to take action independently. According to Kawashima, Chiang was less concerned about using the operation to demonstrate loyalty to the United States, and saw it as a chance to exact revenge on the Soviet Union for siding with the Chinese Communist Party in its war on Chiang's Nationalist Party during the 1940s. According to Chiang's diary, the seizure of the Tuapse was intended as the first act of revenge against the Soviets.

The second historical event Kawashima reviewed was a visit to Taiwan by Victor Louis, a KGB operative and Moscow-based freelance reporter for the London Evening Star. While in Taiwan, Louis met with Chiang Ching-kuo, the Generalissimo's son, and his advisors. With relations between the Soviet Union and mainland China worsening, Louis told the Taiwanese that the Soviet Union and the R.O.C. should explore ways to cooperate in order to bring down Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Many analysts have framed the Chiangs' openness to Louis' message as an attempt to gain leverage over the United States, which too had noticed the Sino-Soviet split and was beginning to see China as a potential foil to be used against the Soviet Union.

However, Kawashima noted that in his diary, Chiang Kai-shek did not mention leverage over the United States in his relations with Victor Louis. Instead, Chiang continually stressed that his priorities lay with opening up possibilities for an attack on China, and that the R.O.C. "must not lose this chance" to cooperate with the Soviets. There is no mention in Chiang's diary that he later leaked information about the Louis visit to the international media, despite the assertion of some scholars that coverage of the visit was an R.O.C. attempt to secure a better bargaining position vis-à-vis the United States. Also, messages to Chiang from the U.S. ambassador in Taipei suggest that Washington was fairly sanguine about the prospect of Taiwanese moves toward the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, nothing much came of the meetings with Louis, and when Chiang made the provision of Soviet weapons to the R.O.C. a condition for Taipei's cooperation with Moscow, he was rebuffed. Chiang subsequently rejected further offers from Louis to meet, which indicate that his thoughts did not necessarily lie in using the appearance of improved Soviet-R.O.C. relations as leverage against the United States. While Kawashima believes that an attempt to gain such leverage was probably a factor in Chiang's calculations, there is not enough evidence in the Generalissimo's diaries to say that it was the primary motivation in his exploration of more conciliatory relations with Moscow.

Drafted by Bryce Wakefield, Asia Program Associate
Robert M. Hathaway, Director, Asia Program, Ph: (202) 691-4020

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