SOAS University of London

Centre of Taiwan Studies

How Westminster 'Dealt' with Taiwan: A Study of UK Taiwan Relations in the Post-war Era

Michael Hoare
Speaker: Michael Rand Hoare

Date: 5 February 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 5 February 2015Time: 9:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 116

Type of Event: Seminar


This study examines the history of  Westminster-Taipei relations in the Post  WW2  era in terms of the problematic  London-Washington-Taipei-Beijing  linkage.  Using the extensive archive papers now available, what I plan to present is not so much a narrative history, as an attempt to understand of the ‘personality’ of the London Foreign Office and how this responded to continuing dilemmas over the post-war decades.
In the earlier post-war years the fate of Hong Kong dominated all other Far-Eastern concerns in Westminster.  In the 1949-50 period, when both sides of the Atlantic considered  invasion and loss of Taiwan to be imminent, London feared most the knock-on effect on Hong Kong.   The recognition of the PRC in 1951, much to the displeasure of the Americans, did little to alleviate this, while the outbreak of the Korean War proved a complete ‘game-changer’, throwing all policy into disarray.  Yet throughout the developing ‘Cold War’ it was clear that America was ‘calling the shots’ and  the UK  was very much the onlooker.  When the ROC began attacking British ships in the Taiwan Straits, using American-supplied planes, Parliament took the Government to task for its supine response.  Yet protocol prevented any direct contact with  the now allegedly ‘non-existent’ Government in Taipei. When President Truman’s  June 1950 declaration put Taiwan into an effective military  ‘quarantine’,  many in Whitehall suspected that its ulterior priority was to appease the ‘China lobby’ and save Chiang Kai-Shek’s neck even at risk of a world war, an outcome which Chiang saw as his best chance.
Nevertheless, London was able to use its Commonwealth connections, which came into play during the doomed attempt to keep the ROC in the United Nations. Yet it had its own problems with the ‘New Commonwealth’  (India, Malaysia etc.) considered less reliable than the ‘Old Commonwealth’ (Canada, Australia, New Zealand).
As for relations with Beijing, the trepidations contnued well beyond the Hong Kong hand-back in 1997.  They were now to be part of the aptly-named ‘pre-emptive cringe’, which continued to inhibit UK-Taiwan relations and undermine trade prospects.  Earlier the situation was not helped by the ongoing presence of the British Consulate in Tamsui, which continued to function as little more than a listening post until 1972.  This was to give to rise to sometimes farcical contortions of protocol as Consuls bent backwards not to appear to be dealing with the ‘non-existent’ ROC Government.

Speaker's Bio

Michael Rand Hoare has been contributing SOAS seminars on Taiwan for well over twenty years, most recently as appointed  Honorary Research Fellow.  Other presentations have been at the Academia Sinica and the EATS.  Throughout the time his main focus  has been on UK Taiwan relations from the earliest Japanese colonial period up to the present.  One particular theme of interest has been the ‘228’ history and international reaction to the events.  He was fortunate to be invited to speak on this at the  50’th Anniversary  Conference in 1997, through a memorable friendship with  Lin Tsung-yi.  After early studies at the then  PCL in London and Shi-da in Taipei, he made frequent visits to Taipei and was able to collect material for his recent Intimate Chinese published there in 2012.
In what amounts to a parallel academic career he has worked in mathematical physics and written on English lexicography for the Oxford history of the subject, as well as a history of geodesy The Quest for the True Figure of the Earth, 2005.   An important preoccupation in recent years has been a major study in the cultural history of science in particular its relations with European literature.

Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies

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