As the dream of a Californiaized Afghanistan melted before the Potomac jihadists’ eyes in late August, the specter of a new foundling to be taken under the wing emerged: Taiwan. As if on cue, bombers and fighter planes from the People’s Republic of China thundered in the Taiwanese skies, and the chattering class in the beltway went on high alert. Afghanistan is lost, but lo! A new mission springs to life! Defend Taiwan from invasion! Keep the Chinese from overrunning the Ilha Formosa!
I am very sorry to say this because I, too, want to defend Taiwan from Chinese invasion, but it is too late. By quite a lot. The Chinese invaded Taiwan 72 years ago.
In 1949, at the end of the long civil war which had been tearing East Asia to shreds since the fall of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty in 1911, the Kuomintang (KMT), the “Nationalists” under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, staged a tactical retreat to Taiwan, having lost the mainland to the Communists under Mao Zedong. The Nationalists were, of course, Chinese nationalists. This is why they looted China’s cultural heritage on the way out the back door; the museums of Taiwan have some of the finest collections of Chinese art, calligraphy, and bronzes in the world, because possession of China’s material legacy was designed to lend legitimacy to a regime which had lost possession of China itself. Even today, Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China, a lingering pretense to being the true government of all of China.
The Nationalists’ insistence on styling themselves as rulers of the territory once held by the Qing is why we have the fiction of the “One China” policy today. “One China” is the claim which both Taiwanese Strait Exchange Foundation leader Koo Chen-foo and mainland Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits leader Wang Daohan made when they met in Hong Kong in 1992 to hammer out a deal to enhance what are called “cross-strait negotiations.” The PRC and Taiwan eventually agreed to disagree over which side was the real China.
This so-called 92 Consensus is often heralded as a breakthrough in building PRC-Taiwan ties, but this is not true. The 92 Consensus was a shrewd decision by old feuding gangs—the Communists on the mainland and the KMT in Taiwan—to do business with one another and stop losing money by arguing over semantics. The decision had nothing to do with Taiwan. Taiwan was simply the platform from which the KMT negotiated with their mainland rivals.
Why do I say “feuding gangs”? As political and business analyst Fukada Moët points out in her latest book, Taiwan under the KMT has been dominated by the Green Gang (Qing Bang). Even before the KMT invaded Taiwan, the KMT was to the Green Gang what the Russian government is to organized crime. The Green Gang is a centuries-old mafia operation that, in the 1930s, made a fortune in Shanghai on the usual rackets of prostitution, drugs, and political chicanery. Fukada highlights the role of Du Yuesheng, for example, the notorious mobster and political kingmaker who got fabulously rich running opium for the Green Gang. She also foregrounds the importance of the Soong Family, whose patriarch, Charlie Soong, returned from a Christian-tinged sojourn in the United States to, as the Wesleyan College history delicately puts it, “become extremely wealthy” in China. Charlie Soong’s daughters married very well. One of them, Soong Meiling, married Chiang Kai-shek. She then used her English skills and purported Christianity to canvas the United States, seeking support for the Nationalists in their struggles on the mainland.
Du, Charlie Soong, and a host of other petty gangsters and high-rolling mafiosi supported the political leader Sun Yat-sen in his drive to take China back from foreigners and warlords. Chiang was Sun’s strong-arm protégé. This is the nature of the KMT. It was while studying in Japan that a young Chiang Kai-shek was introduced to Sun at the home of Miyazaki Tōten, a Japanese philosopher who wanted Sun to reclaim China following the collapse of the Qing. From the very beginning, the Nationalists were in cahoots with the Green Gang. The Green Gang did the Nationalists’ dirty work, such as breaking up Communist-inspired strikes and purging the Shanghai ranks of leftists in 1927.
Meanwhile, the Communists were no different. While there were idealists in the Communist camp, as there always are, the leadership was fighting essentially the same fight as everyone else in China following the Qing’s demise—a brawl among warlords to reach the top of the heap and control all the Qing’s resources for themselves. The Nationalists under the Green Gang and the Communists under the transnational Comintern gang were both striving to rid China of foreigners and of all other claimants to the “republican” throne.
The only difference was that Chiang Kai-shek focused first on fighting the Communists instead of Japan as the Japanese Empire got bogged down in a quagmire on the Asian continent. Chiang’s lieutenant, the warlord Zhang Xueliang (son of Zhang Zuolin, whom the Japanese had murdered in 1928), kidnapped Chiang in 1936 and forced him to unite with the Communists against Japan. This, along with the start of the U.S.-Japan war in 1941—which both the Comintern/CCPand the KMT were trying to foment—helped drive Japan out of China. Once that was done, the KMT and the CCP, as the last two gangs left standing, predictably turned on one another again. This time the CCP won out, and Chiang fled to Taiwan where he never gave up the fiction of ruling “One China.”
Taiwan is thus the unwitting stage for the seemingly endless rivalry between two warlord factions for control of China. Taiwan has nothing to do with China. The Taiwanese people are not Chinese. Taiwan has never been part of the People’s Republic of China (or else the “92 Consensus” would be even more absurd than it already is). It is even debatable whether Taiwan was ever part of any pre-PRC Chinese polity, either.
When American Commodore Matthew Perry asked the Qing government in 1854 about Taiwan, the Qing, probably partly dissembling, told Perry that Taiwan was a barbarian island which the Qing did not control. From 1895 until 1945, Taiwan was a part of Japan. The majority of Taiwanese today do not consider themselves Chinese (many elderly people, such as the late statesman Lee Teng-hui, feel much closer to Japan). The complicated waishengren (“outsider”) vs. benshengren (“native”) dichotomy is made even more complex, as the analyst Fukada argues, by the fact that the Taiwanese must contend with two groups claiming that their island is “Chinese”: the Nationalists (KMT) and the Communists (PRC).
Bottom line: Taiwan was invaded long ago. So what does this mean for Americans?
First of all, one hopes that if the Potomac jihadists are going to fire up the military-industrial-media complex again, and bomb far-off places so CNN’s ratings and the Joint Chiefs’ salaries can rise, the beltway know-nothings will at least take a few moments to study the history of Taiwan and decide from whom, and for whom, they will be “liberating” the island. Failing to understand the history and political realities of Taiwan will lead only to a repetition of Japan’s experience in Asian war: quagmire and horrific loss.
Second, before any Americans defend Taiwan, the U.S. might want to recognize it as a country first. The United States government defriended Taiwan in 1979, recognizing the “Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.” The State Department spins this by saying that the United States and Taiwan “enjoy a robust unofficial relationship.” That’s nice, but no Americans should die for an “unofficial relationship,” however “robust.”
There is a third consideration, however, which may be the most important of all. Analyst Fukada Moe, and Jason Ho, one of the lead designers of flight control and image-displacement systems for the F-35 fighter jet, told political watcher Sargis Sangari in April that Taiwan has become a hotbed for the CCP theft of American military and semiconductor technology. According to Fukada, this deception runs deep, with major players in the telecom industry in Japan working with Green Gang actors inside of Taiwan to funnel American and Japanese know-how to the PRC for profit. Taiwan, in other words, may have become, in part, a false front operation for the PRC. Yet another consequence of the invasion by a corrupt cabal of murderous warlords in 1949.
In early October of this year, reports emerged that United States Marines have been in Taiwan for at least a year, training for possible defense of the island alongside Taiwanese forces. These reports confirm speculation from much earlier about a possible reconfiguration of American military assets in the Western Pacific. As the PRC sends wave after wave of bomber and fighter sorties over Taiwan, it makes sense that the forever war crowd would be positioning troops where the action is.
But is Xi Jinping really this obtuse? Who benefits from his saber-rattling over Taiwan? Fukada points to the ancient strategist Sunzi (Sun Tzu), who argued that commanders must feint in an opposite direction while preparing to attack the real target. Maybe. That is not only Sunzi—the invasion of Normandy used that ancient technique to great effect.
But I think Xi Jinping is threatening Taiwan because he wants more U.S. military presence there. If Fukada’s assessment is correct and the KMT and CCP are really working behind the scenes to profit from Taiwan’s stranglehold on the semiconductor industry (remember that Taiwan appears to have played Wisconsin for a song with the Foxconn debacle there), then what better way to complement semiconductor dominance than with ready access to American military secrets and technology in-house? Xi’s belligerence could be a trap to lure more American forces to Taiwan, where they will be easy prey for the CCP’s network of spies to garner intelligence via the crooked underworld (and political elite) of the KMT run by the Green Gang.
If Xi has sized up the United States as a decrepit empire going downhill fast—and who could argue with him, given the senile word-salad specialist in the White House?—then why not rope-a-dope the Marines to Taiwan? The U.S. cut and ran in Afghanistan. No reason not to expect that it won’t do the same in Asia. Better to get what you can out of the U.S. while there’s still time, while the Potomac jihadis are still able to saddle up for one last campaign.
Let us bear all of this in mind, my fellow Americans. There is no need for China to invade Taiwan. Because the Chinese already did so, in 1949.
Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.
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