Generalissimo Chiang Kai‐shek’s political testament dated March 1975 called on his supporters to fulfill his dream of recapturing mainland China from the Communists and restoring their national culture
Until my trip to Taipei in November 2013, Taiwan would mostly conjure up Beijing’s threats of reuniting the ‘rebel region’ with mainland China even by force, if needed. I learnt more about Taiwan’s emergence as a major economy in Asia and one of the top producers of computer technology globally despite its diplomatic isolation when the Times of India, my then employer, nominated me for ‘A Day with Google’ event in Taipei.
Taiwan, which has been independent since the 1950s, has regular diplomatic relations with a handful of countries. China opposes diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, which counts the United States as its most important ally and protector.
I was unable to do much research on Taiwan before I landed in Taipei on a cold afternoon via Hong Kong. My first day in Taiwan started early as we were driven to the event venue for Google experts to show us how the tech giant’s services were becoming integral to our lives—from cooking to navigation and work.
Dozens of journalists from South and South East Asia were flown to Taiwan’s capital for back-to-back sessions, where the experts explained to us how features such as Google Translate, Google Now, Google Docs, and Google Maps made lives easier. The corporation’s latest gadgets were also showcased at the event.
Much of my time in Taipei was spent trying to keep up with the information overload. But I did not really have any reason to complain. For starters, my room at Palais de Chine Hotel, where I stayed, overlooked the Taipei Main Station and gave me a bird’s eye view of the Zhongzheng District.
I explored much of the district on foot and got acquainted with one of the important characters of the region’s history thanks to my curiosity about the origin of its name. I found the district was named after Generalissimo Chiang Kai‐shek, the President of Nationalist China.
Chiang died at a hospital near Palais de Chine Hotel at 87 after suffering a heart attack in April 1975. Chiang’s ideas also put into perspective why China remained sensitive about Taiwan.
His political testament dated March 1975 calling on his supporters to fulfill his dream of recapturing mainland China from the Communists and restoring their national culture was made public hours after his death.
Chiang, who was also known as Jiang Jieshi, participated in the uprising against the Qing Dynasty after returning to China after military training in Japan. The rebellion overthrew the dynasty and led to the establishment of a Chinese republic.
Chiang later became a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party and built the army. He spearheaded the reunification of most of China under a national government and suppressed the communists. He famously traveled to Cairo to meet US President Franklin D Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in November 1943.
With Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, Chiang would become one of the Big Four leaders of the Allies in the Second World War against Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Chiang’s growing international stature coincided with his weakening position at home. The Communists defeated the nationalists and established the People’s Republic of China in 1949 after a civil war that broke out three years earlier.
Chiang and his forces fled to Taiwan where he led a government in exile for the next 25 years. He was recognized as China’s legitimate ruler. Taiwan occupied China’s United Nations seat during Chiang’s lifetime. Beijing’s rise gave it leverage to isolate Taipei.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949 when the Communists led by Mao Zedong captured power from the nationalists.
Taiwan has emerged as an antithesis of China. It is a liberal democracy, which allows same-sex marriages. The island with 24 million inhabitants has a modern economy. But it is no match to China’s military might. China has about a million ground troops while Taiwan has just 88,000.
Taiwan was back in the news after the Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked fears about China imposing itself over the island it has threatened to forcibly reunite.
Chinese officials reiterated their commitment to ‘resolving the Taiwan question’ days after Russia invaded Ukraine. The New York Times reported in a call with President Joe Biden about Russia’s invasion, his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, appeared more concerned about Taiwan’s fate than the war in Ukraine.
The Times noted like Russia, China appears to see a void after Western powers pulled back from the world stage following its failures in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That China has benefited from the relative global peace over the decades it emerged as an economic power in an increasingly integrated world would possibly prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan as it could threaten Beijing’s economy.
Russia’s invasion has not progressed as Moscow thought and would discourage the Chinese from following suit.
Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide