December 8

This Day in History

Cold War

Dec 8, 1949:

Chinese Nationalists move capital to Taiwan

As they steadily lose ground to the communist forces of Mao Zedong, Chinese Nationalist leaders depart for the island of Taiwan, where they establish their new capital. Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek left for the island the following day. This action marked the beginning of the "two Chinas" scenario that left mainland China under communist control and vexed U.S. diplomacy for the next 30 years. It also signaled the effective end of the long struggle between Chinese Nationalist forces and those of the communist leader Mao Zedong, though scattered Chinese Nationalists continued sporadic combat with the communist armies.

At the time, many observers hoped that the end of the fighting and the Chinese Nationalist decision to establish a separate government on Taiwan might make it easier for foreign governments to recognize the new communist People's Republic of China. For the United States, however, the action merely posed a troubling diplomatic problem. Many in America, including members of the so-called "China Lobby" (individuals and groups from both public and private life who tenaciously supported the Chinese Nationalist cause), called upon the administration of President Harry S. Truman to continue its support of Chiang's government by withholding recognition of the communist government on the mainland. In fact, the Truman administration's recognition of the Nationalist government on Taiwan infuriated Mao, ending any possibility for diplomatic relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China. In the years after 1949, the United States continued its support of Taiwan, and Mao's government continued to rail against the Nationalist regime off its coast. By the 1970s, however, U.S. policymakers, desirous of opening economic relations with China and hoping to use China as a balance against Soviet power, moved toward a closer relationship with communist China. In 1979, the United States officially recognized the People's Republic of China.

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