Where is John Foster Dulles when you need him?

By Diane Alden
web posted August 23, 1999

The modern explosive history of China and Taiwan began after World War II. By 1949 the communists under Mao Tse-tung, had crushed all political opposition through terror, intimidation and slaughter. The Nationalist party with a million followers led by Chiang Kai-shek fled to Formosa, now known as Taiwan. Many Chinese escaped to Hong Kong, various Pacific rim countries and the United States.

The setting for this contemporary Chinese odyssey lies in the geography of the Far East. Basically, a fragmented series of archipelago-island chains, these islands have figured prominently in relations between nations in the area. As part of vital trade and commerce routes for the last 500 years, they have also had immense significance for the West. The United States and Britain in particular have spent time, money, and the blood of its people in order to keep the sea lanes open, totalitarian regimes in check, and the entire area free for trade and colonizing.

In the 1950s, the quarrel between mainland China and Taiwan nearly led to nuclear war. On the seemingly insignificant islands of Quemoy and Matsu, Chiang Kai-shek made a stand against the People's Republic of China (PRC). Today, there is the decided possibility that history may repeat itself.

Unrealistically, Chiang Kai-shek proposed to use Quemoy and Matsu as a jumping off place in order to take back the mainland. Chiang tried on several occasions to provoke a military response from the communists and both times the U.S, responded with military actions -- including the threat of nuclear war against the mainland.

Angered by Chiang's actions, President Harry Truman declared that the United States would not get involved in the Taiwan dilemma. If the Chinese communists attacked Taiwan, the Taiwanese were on their own. But as fate would have it, on June 25, 1950 the Korean War broke out and Truman declared a neutralization of the Formosa Straits. Truman sent the Seventh Fleet with orders to prevent any attack on the island of Formosa--Taiwan. However, the U.S. military was also under orders to prevent Chiang from attacking China. This confluence of events came to be the benchmark for the beginning of U.S. military protection of Taiwan.

The next round between China and Taiwan came after Dwight Eisenhower was elected president. He backed the Formosa Resolution, which passed Congress in 1955, authorizing the use of force if China invaded Taiwan. At that time, China was experiencing severe domestic problems which were echoed on the foreign policy front.

The "soft" foreign policy based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in the mid-50s, gave way to a hard-line approach by 1958. At that time, the United States was having problems of its own in the Mid-East over Suez and Lebanon. The PRC believed that the time was ripe to tie another knot in the Taiwanese tail, and at the same time get back at the United States. Thus, began the shelling of the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu.

Considered by many to be the quintessential hardliner, President Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, began advocating a possible nuclear strike into the heart of the mainland China, should the PRC persist in their invasion plans. He proposed a "clean" nuclear strike. In a 1957 memorandum, limited nuclear strikes were seriously considered and military targets in the Shanghai-Hangchow, Nanking, Canton areas were on the list. Eisenhower referred to the use of such weapons saying they would "be used as you would use a bullet." Eisenhower also stated "don't worry, I'll just confuse them, (the Chinese)." Apparently he did.

In a recently released 1959 interview with Russian diplomat S.R. Andropov, Mao Tse-tung emphasized that he did not believe that the United States would go to war over the coastal islands of Quemoy and Matsu. He told Andropov that Chiang Kai-shek knew that China would not invade Taiwan. In any case, Mao asserted that he would not provoke a war with the United States. Although in public, China continued to declare its intention to conquer Taiwan. The gravity of U.S. intentions was brought home to Mao when Eisenhower sent the 7th Fleet into the Straits of Formosa.

There is a certain historical deja vu in the existing situation between China, Taiwan and the U.S. As in the 50s, China's domestic problems are manifested in their belligerence towards Taiwan and the United States. The increasing independence of splinter groups such as Falun Gong, and the concurrent goofy Chinese responses to an economy on the brink of a depression, is reminiscent of the time period prior to the shelling of Quemoy and Matsu during the Eisenhower era.

The Chinese economy is in extreme crisis, but according to the Asian Economic Review, this summer, economic reforms are taking a back seat to such nonsense as the "three stresses" campaign. Nearly all of China's burgeoning yuppie class is being required to take part in dozens of group meetings in "which they have criticized their own and each other's political failings." Apparently Communist party boss, Jiang Zemin is attempting to instill discipline and order into the wobbling party structure. This "stress" campaign is scheduled to come to an end before the 50th anniversary of the PRC on October 1.

Clinton Dines, chairman of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Beijing maintains that, "This is the reaction of a leader who has been sending out orders and directives and finding that everyone is ignoring them...they (CP) have been feeling no end of frustration and may have reached the end of their tether."

The actions of the Jiang Zemin may indicate nothing more than the usual Chinese Communist attempt to put the free-market genie back in the bottle. But anniversaries also have a way of making the parties involved determined to contrive a "special" event. What better way to celebrate than to beat up on the offshore islands one more time. It is the perfect in your face response to the U.S., while at the same time striking a blow against Taiwan's bid for recognition and independence.

Add this to the fact that a PRC spokesman said last week, that it would rather let a thousand soldiers die in fighting than give up an inch of territory. Moreover, Chinese sources say that dozens of angry army generals have written to the Communist Party demanding that something be done about Taiwan.

So what is the PRC likely to do? It doesn't have the support mechanism to initiate an all out sea invasion of Taiwan. Most likely, it will not use nuclear weapons because that would bring the entire world down on its head. Strategic intelligence sources indicate that there are few options acceptable to the Chinese; because Taiwan could strike back if the United States provides it with real time intelligence necessary to maintain air superiority. As in the past, no doubt the United States will do what it must in order to make sure Taiwan isn't destroyed.

However, the unpredictable element in the whole scenario is the Chinese client state of North Korea. In the 50s, North Korea engaged the attention and best military efforts of the United States in the Far East - they may do so again. Improvements in Chinese-North Korean relations seem to be giving new life to the faltering Communists in China. It is they who may use Taiwan's recent attempts to gain international recognition as a separate entity, as a "wag the dog" reason to go to war.

There is a definite possibility that recent improvement of relations between the two Asian powers will lead to a coordination of action which will allow China to punish Taiwan for President Lee's comments about "state to state" relations. As Taiwan attempts to compel the world to recognize that there are two separate Chinese nation-states, North Korea is planning to launch a nuclear missile test in the area. If China moves on Quemoy and Matsu through invasion or bombardment -- the United States will have to do some fast dancing to keep a perennial conflict from escalating into a major war.

Realistically, the United States will be forced to recognize that its rightful loyalties and strategic interests lie with Taiwan. Taiwan's hope may be that the United States will accept reality. Perhaps this is part of the reason that Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's made his "state to state" declaration recently.

For the United States, commerce and trade with the mainland is not a good enough reason to abandon a strategic reality. Forsaking Taiwan, in order to accommodate an unstable, repressive and violent nation is senseless and dangerous to U.S. interests.

If PRC policy runs true to form, it will attack the outer islands in the archipelago by invading or pummeling them with sea and shore bombardment and air strikes. There is also a 50-50 chance that Taiwan will be the target of non-nuclear missile or air attacks.

Unless and until U.S. foreign policy takes on some rational form, the PRC may seriously miscalculate U.S. intentions. The present U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity regarding the two Chinas may not work anymore; and there is no new policy in sight.

Our allies Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan have come to depend on American strategic capabilities. Rightly or wrongly, leaving them in the lurch would be neither prudent, nor make the world a safer place for anyone, including the U.S.

At present U.S. foreign policy regarding China, seems to be dependent on dollar signs, high hopes and assumptions about how things might be in the best of all possible worlds. Our ship of state is like a rudderless schooner blown by the winds of chance and subject to Johnny Chung's checkbook contributions to the DNC and the whims of LORAL and Hughes. Captain Clinton may mean well -- but so did the captain of the Titanic. All the good business prospects in the world will not set the ship right or save it unless the U.S. draws clear policy lines and informs everyone on the world stage -- where the lines are.

During the 50s, the U.S. was fortunate to have statesmen like Eisenhower, Dulles, Herter, George Kennan and others capable of making understandable and cohesive foreign policy. The 90s don't seem as blessed.

One might legitimately ask - where is an Eisenhower or John Foster Dulles when you need one?

Diane Alden is a regular writer for Enter Stage Right and has contributed to many other web publications including Right Magazine.

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