Monday, December 14, 2009

Paper on Parade: Declassified State/NSC Paper on Taiwan's Status and Future, 1949

It's time once again for our regular irregular feature, Paper on Parade. This piece is the Jan 1949 State Department memorandum to the NSC on the status and future of Formosa. An interesting, sometimes prescient document that navigates between many different poles, it offer a glimpse of what US policymakers knew even before the Chiang regime retreated to Taiwan. It also shows how similar the Taiwan problem of 1949 was to the Taiwan problem of 2009. The more things change....

Note first that US policy then and now is unchanged: China does not have de jure control over Formosa, balanced by the need to recognize de facto control so that Chiang Kai-shek can still be used as a weapon against Chinese communism. The document also recognizes that the Formosans -- a much better term than "Taiwanese" -- have their own identity.... back to the 19th century at least. I suspect the reference to "independence" herein is to the Republic of 1895. As the page above shows, the document also differentiates between Formosans and Chinese, knows that Chiang totally misgoverned Formosa, and knows that locals want independence.

Check out the prescient statement at the top, where the memo notes that the PRC can gain control of Formosa either by attacking it or by making a deal with the local Chinese rulers. Not much has changed in the ensuing sixty years....

Nice discussion of the politics of basing -- one that applies to our misguided invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

An alternative that the US was unable to take hold of and use: the building up of local anti-Communist forces. That failure too, with the US turn to the KMT instead of the DPP, is another theme that has traveled down through the years.

The last paragraph before the conclusion recognizes, again, the desire of the Formosans to rule themselves. The conclusion is interesting.

Note that at least twice the US speaks of curbing the influx of Chinese into Formosa.

The last sentence: a sad epitaph to four decades of martial law.
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fvarga said...

Very interesting, especially as you wrote, US policy is unchanged...
It's a pity that this kind of document is not more publicized.
Thanks for sharing it.

Jonathan Benda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This is an awesome find. This should be translated into Mandarin if it isn't already.

This is interesting, not just for the points that Michael has commented on, but also because the KMTs self-image and its image as many Taiwanese see it is no where nearly as bad as in this NSC paper. Many Taiwanese don't know that the KMT was already known for be incompetent, corrupt, power hungry, and an inciter of the worst ethno-nationalistic tendencies, and that this was well-known to the US.

Excellent find.

Zhuxiu said...


Do you have a link to this paper? Is it a PDF file?