Friday, Jul 28, 2017, 8:48 PM CST – China


Inaugural Cross-Straits Talks

Branches Divided

Unbeknownst to many, the Chinese mainland authorities held a series of indirect talks with Taiwan concerning potential reunification in the 1950s and 1960s

Luo Qingchang (left), then office director of the CPC’s leadership working group on the Taiwan issue, with former KMT military officer Wang Yaowu, who was captured by the Communists during the Chinese Civil War Photo by CNS

Although no joint statement was issued nor any agreement signed, when Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Taiwan’s outgoing leader Ma Ying-jeou on November 7 in Singapore, the two set a symbolic milestone for the cross-Straits relationship.

In the more than six decades since the Communist Party of China (CPC) founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) following the retreat of the Kuomintang (KMT) to Taiwan after defeat in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949), top leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Straits have never met. Instead, each side has characterized itself in part by a pledge to “liberate” the other from tyranny.

However, given the changes in international geopolitics following the Korean War (1950-1953) and the increased interest of the United States in the Taiwan issue, the mainland and Taipei have used a variety of channels to indirectly discuss the potential of various forms of peaceful unification.

Some overseas media sources revealed, for example, that then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai met with either KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek or his son Chiang Ching-kuo in a closed-door negotiation in 1963. While mainland sources confirm a meeting that year between Zhou and a top-level Taiwanese dignitary, they have consistently denied that the personage sent by Taiwan was either of the Chiangs. “It was someone with direct access to the top leadership in Taiwan, but, in the interests of security, his name has been kept confidential to this day,” Liao Xinwen, a former director of the CPC Party Literature Research Office, told NewsChina.


No matter the identity of Taiwan’s mysterious “negotiator,” there were evidently covert efforts by the mainland to ease tensions in the Taiwan Straits after the US ramped up support for Chiang’s regime as a bulwark against the spread of communism in East Asia following the Korean War.

On June 27, 1950, two days after the Korean War broke out, the US deployed its Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Straits, a region viewed by the Pentagon as being of vital strategic importance in the Western Pacific. Instead of offering only indirect support for Chiang, US President Harry Truman attempted to “neutralize” the Taiwan issue, stating that “the determination of the future status of [Taiwan] must await the restoration of security in the Pacific.” At the end of the Korean War, during which both US and Chinese troops had fought to a bloody stalemate on the peninsula, the US concluded its Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan, pledging to protect Taiwan from an attack from the mainland while also pledging to prevent Chiang’s Republic of China (ROC) from launching a strike against the PRC. The CPC responded to the US move by accusing Washington of having “complicated” the cross-Straits issue by obstructing the “final unification of China.”

Intending to concentrate greater effort on domestic economic development following the Korean War, the PRC government established a leadership working group on the Taiwan issue in 1954, proposing to launch a campaign to “peacefully liberate” the island.

“We are willing to talk with Taiwan about the specific process and conditions of peaceful liberation, and we hope that the Taiwan side will send a representative to Beijing or some other place they think proper for these talks,” Zhou Enlai remarked at the Third Plenum of the First National People’s Congress on June 28, 1956. Liao Xinwen told NewsChina that this statement marked the first time that the CPC had publicly proposed cooperation between the CPC and the KMT since the Chinese Civil War. Previously, the only cooperation between the two political entities had been CPC support for the KMT-led Northern Expedition to reunify China in 1924, and an agreement by both sides to wage war jointly against Japan after the latter’s invasion of China proper during World War II.

Influenced both by political pressure groups, including some supported by right-wing elements in Japan calling for Taiwanese independence, and rumors that the US intended to replace him with a more obedient figure, Chiang Kai-shek tacitly consented to the talks, allowing his son to appoint a middleman Cao Juren, a former journalist with the KMT-controlled Central News Agency who later served as the Hong Kong correspondent for the Singapore-based newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau.

According to Cao’s Nanyang Siang Pau reports, he met with mainland leaders, including Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, three times in 1956 alone, focusing negotiations on what he called the “actual value” of Taiwan being fully incorporated into the PRC.

“The value is true and practical,” Zhou reportedly told Cao. “We are not here to induce a surrender from Taiwan, but to negotiate. The CPC will not engage in tricks or plots. As long as China is united, [the CPC and KMT] can talk about anything.”

During the second meeting in October, Cao conveyed a message from Taiwan’s leaders to the mainland, giving the official position that there was “little possibility for a World War III,” and that, if the conditions were ripe, negotiations could be successful “overnight.”

“Timing depends on the [status quo], but we are in no hurry,” Mao reportedly responded. “Everything is set as long as Taiwan severs relations with the US, and rejoins its ‘branch’ to the mainland [tree]. They can send representatives to attend the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, keep Taiwan as it is. It is up to Chiang Kai-shek whether or not he conducts democratic reform and socialist transformation in Taiwan, and when.”

According to Cao, Mao prefixed every mention of Chiang Kai-shek’s name with the honorific “Sir.” Later, both Mao and Zhou allegedly made pledges that Chiang would retain political control of Taiwan, and that both the generalissimo and his deputy Chen Cheng would be given top-level positions in the PRC government.

According to Forty Years of Trials and Hardships, a memoir by former political secretary Tong Xiaopeng, who served under both Mao and Zhou, Chiang dispatched Song Yishan, a member of Taiwan’s legislative council and also the brother of Song Xilian, a high-ranking KMT general captured by the CPC during the Civil War, to Beijing in the spring of 1957 to confirm Cao’s account of the negotiations. Luo Qingchang, then office director of the CPC’s leadership working group on the Taiwan issue, met with Song and pledged that Taiwan could enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” after unification on the condition that any foreign military force on the island must first withdraw.


The mainland’s promise, however, did not dispel Chiang’s suspicions about the ulterior motives of the CPC. Possessed of a hatred of communists, he felt reluctant to give up his dream of one day launching a counterattack against the mainland. By the summer of 1958, KMT troop numbers on the offshore island groups of Kinmen and Matsu, which lay between Taiwan and the mainland, had increased to over 100,000.

On August 23, 1958, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) shelled the KMT barracks on Kinmen on the direct orders of Mao. The shelling lasted two hours and killed over 600 KMT soldiers and officers, plus two American advisors. “The bombardment did not target Chiang, but the US. Let’s see how effective their Mutual Defense Treaty really is,” Mao reportedly remarked at a CPC conference following the bombardment.

When the mainland guns fell silent on September 4, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made a public statement reaffirming that the US was obligated to protect Taiwan, but that there was “still room for negotiations.” The CPC responded with another barrage of 30,000 shells on September 8.

A week and a half after Dulles’ statement, China and the US resumed diplomatic talks between ambassadors in Warsaw, but made little headway. On September 30, Dulles told a press conference that the Mutual Defense Treaty, while applicable to Taiwan’s main island, did not cover Kinmen and Matsu. Analysts agreed that the US government was attempting to avoid drawing both the PLA and its main backer – the Soviet Union – into a full-scale military showdown in an already volatile East Asian region.

According to the historical records on the mainland, Mao expressly ordered the PLA to target KMT fleets to see if the US would defend them. The KMT forces, the official line states, would be disappointed. On October 6, 1958, Mao issued a public letter to the Taiwanese people in the name of Peng Dehuai, then his defense minister, calling for a “joint fight against imperialism.” About three weeks later, Mao issued another public letter, restating this idea while also announcing that Kinmen would be now shelled “every other day” – the island had previously been bombarded every day.

With hindsight, many historians have attributed the gradual de-escalation of the PLA bombardment to the huge military gap between the PRC and the US – the CPC did not establish a navy or air force until after the Korean War. Yet Chinese historians have opined that Mao actually hoped that Chiang could hold Kinmen, as losing or abandoning the island to mainland control would further isolate Taiwan, and likely push it closer to the US.

“We could cooperate with Chiang, if they resisted the US,” Mao reportedly told journalist Cao Juren during their 1958 meeting. “We agree to his control of Kinmen and Matsu as long as he divorces himself from the US. The US will eventually make Taiwan a colony or mandated territory. Only the CPC and the KMT are ‘twin branches’ [on the same tree].”

In The Generalissimo’s Son, a biography of Chiang Ching-kuo by American historian and diplomat Jay Taylor, evidence was cited that Chiang senior rejected a power-sharing proposal put forward by the US. According to Wang Yi, a Chinese-American academic working with the Library of Congress whom Taylor cited, Chiang sent a message to Mao through outside channels saying that he would have to withdraw from Kinmen and Matsu if the shelling continued, hinting at a “final separation” of the two sides.

One and Four

For unpublicized political reasons, Cao Juren stopped serving as a formal middleman between the mainland and Taiwan in 1959. But cross-Straits talks continued, with several other representatives who had deep relations with both the CPC and the KMT assuming Cao’s position.

According to Tong Xiaopeng’ memoir, in 1959 CPC leaders met Zhang Shizhao, a former member of the ROC’s political advisory department who later engaged in the peaceful talks between the CPC and the KMT at the end of the Civil War, proposing two suggestions to solve the cross-Straits issue: to gradually resume cross-Straits communications step by step, or to grant Taiwan high autonomy in both political and military affairs on the condition that Taiwan admits that it is a part of China. The KMT side, however, gave the proposals the cold shoulder.

The CPC did not give up. On May 22, 1960, the PRC government officially defined its general attitude toward the cross-Straits issue, stating they “would rather leave Taiwan in Chiang’s hands than place it into those of the US.” The mainland proposed four measures it could enact to assure Taiwan: allow Chiang autonomy in all areas save foreign policy, financially support Taiwan’s military and social construction, not enact social or political reform in Taiwan without Chiang’s permission, and cease all cross-Straits espionage. Zhou Enlai also somehow managed to send a photo of Chiang senior’s hometown to the generalissimo, promising to take good care of his and Chen Cheng’s relatives still on the mainland.

According to Liao Xinwen, former director of the Party Literature Research Office, someone from Taiwan once sent a message to the mainland at that time, telling the PRC government that Taiwan would no longer send spies to “destroy the mainland’s order” and that cross-Straits talks were inevitable.

Yet Chiang senior still held a last glimmer of hope that he would “recapture the mainland.” Although the US opposed his “counterattack” plan, worrying that the CPC would retaliate by occupying Taiwan and severing a vital US supply line in Asia, Chiang saw his chance in the mid-1960s, in the wake of a famine in the PRC and at a time when Sino-Russian relations were beginning to fracture. In  the summer of 1965, Chiang Kai-shek launched a preliminary attack on the mainland to test PRC and US resolve, only to suffer a disastrous defeat at sea.

Secret Meeting

In 1963, Chen Cheng, who openly opposed the “Two Chinas” idea before the US, quit his job reportedly due to conflicts with both Chiangs – he had some disputes with Chiang Ching-kuo on internal affairs, and Chiang senior intended to pass his position to his son rather than to Chen, causing consternation on the mainland.

On December 6, 1963, the same month that Chen formally submitted his resignation, Zhou arranged a secret meeting with Taiwan after he made an official visit to 14 countries. Wu Ruilin, the commander of the frigate Zhou boarded, recalled that he was ordered to do a small military maneuver in order to evade observation, but he did not know its purpose until 30 years later.

One of Zhou’s guards recalled that they escorted Zhou to a small island after one night of navigation, but they were not allowed to stay for the meeting. However, he was sure that the person Zhou met was neither Chiang Kai-shek nor his son.

According to Liao Xinwen, Zhou told that person that the US was attempting to make Taiwan an independent political body against the wishes of both the CPC and the KMT. Zhou said that the mainland, weak or strong, would not abandon Taiwan. He also commented that it would be “best” that Taiwan returned to the mainland, but that it would also be “fine” if the KMT managed it for the time being. According to Luo Qingchang, who was present at the meeting, the person Zhou met later made a visit to Beijing, telling Zhou that he had relayed the mainland’s terms to both Chiangs, adding that Chiang junior was moved by Zhou’s gift to him, a bottle of his favorite baijiu, a Chinese liquor.

“The CPC and the KMT actually reached a consensus on the ‘One China’ principle,” Luo, who passed away in 2014, remarked in one interview.

Chen Cheng died on March 5, 1965. His last words, according to Liao Xinwen, had nothing to do with anti-CPC sentiments. Although some right-wing officials in Taiwan asked Chiang senior to say Chen died denouncing the CPC, Chiang refused, perhaps indicating a change in his attitude.

According to already declassified historical records, Chiang senior once told Cao Juren “six conditions” for Taiwan’s return, a draft similar to the CPC’s One Principle and Four Articles. But the PRC’s subsequent sweeping political campaigns once again shook his determination.

The last possible outreach was initiated by Chiang senior in the early 1970s after the US established diplomatic relations with the PRC. However, Zhang Shizhao, then 90 years old, died in Hong Kong before he could serve as mediator between the ROC and PRC. As Chiang senior, Zhou and Mao successively died and Taiwan’s pro-independence movement gradually developed with the founding of the Democratic Progressive Party, the Taiwan issue, as it is still termed by the mainland, remains a hard nut to crack.

“The Taiwan issue has remained an unsatisfied wish of the older generation, and I hope the new generation of Chinese leaders can fulfill it,” Luo Yuan, son of Luo Qingchang and also a retired PLA general, told NewsChina


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