This Day In History: The Chinese Nationalists Withdraw to Taiwan (1949)

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As  the Chinese Civil War entered its last phases it soon became clear that the Nationalists would be pushed completely out of China. The Nationalist leadership under the command of Chiang-Kai Shek decide that they would not surrender or seek terms from the communists. They knew that they would be treated harshly and would probably face execution. The Nationalists decided to withdraw from mainland China and depart to the island of Taiwan. They agreed to establish their new capital on the island and they vowed to carry on the resistance to the Communists. The Nationalist leadership with many soldiers left Chinese ports, such as Shanghai, for Taiwan, as they left they executed many of their communist prisoners.

This exodus of Chinese Nationalists from mainland China is regarded as the birth of modern Taiwan. The Communist saw the establishment of a Nationalist government on the island as an act of rebellion. The withdrawal of the Nationalists from mainland China was the effective end of the Chinese Civil War. A Chinese nationalist army that could not withdraw to Taiwan was able to enter Burma to escape the Chinese Communists.

Mao_Proclaiming_New_China
Mao proclaiming the Republic in Beijing

The establishment of the government in Taiwan was to pose a great diplomatic problem for America. The members of the ‘China Lobby’ who were fiercely anti-communist, and keen supporters of Chian Kai-Shek demanded that the American government recognize the Chinese Nationalist government in Taiwan. However, this recognition of Taiwan was to cause a strain in the Sino-American relationship. At one stage it was hoped that the Red Chinese would have a positive relationship with America. Mao was wary of the Soviet Union and Stalin and he did not want China to be dominated by Moscow. He was willing to draw closer to Washington to preserve Beijing’s independence. However, the issue of Taiwan scupper any hopes of a Sino-American rapprochement.   The Americans regarded the government of China Kai Shek as the real and legitimate government of China and not the Communist government under Mao, which infuriated the Chinese Communists.

Tensions remained high between Red China and Nationalist Taiwan after 1949. The Red Chinese and the Taiwanese navy and air force clashed several times. China even forced the Nationalists from some islands that lay between Taiwan and the south coast of China. By the 1970s after the Nixon visit to China, relations between China and America greatly improved. Beijing demanded that Washington no longer recognize Taiwan and recognized the communist government as the true government of China.  Despite this American continues to support Taiwan with arms and high-tech military equipment.

Taiwan became a one-party state under Chian Kai Shek and later his son. The first democratic elections were held in 1996. There are still tensions between Taiwan and China. Beijing continues to see Taiwan as a ‘rebellious province’ . The Taiwan issue continues to be a source of tension between Washington and Beijing.

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