by Ian Easton
In the summer of 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and his Republic of China (ROC) government appeared doomed. Shanghai and Nanjing, then China’s capital city, had fallen to Mao Zedong’s communist forces, and Chiang’s units all over China were collapsing under the weight of mass attack and defections.
Southeastern China’s harbors were clogged with ships ferrying ROC government officials, troops and treasure to Taiwan, the final redoubt of “Free China.” Soon, only a long string of offshore islands stretching from Zhoushan in the north down to Hainan in the south would be left under Chiang’s control. It was at this pivotal moment in history that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began planning the invasion of Taiwan.
From June 1949 to June 1950, PLA generals under Mao Zedong undertook intensive battle planning and preparations for what was to become the formative strategic challenge facing China’s new communist leadership. An unexpected turn of history kept Mao and his generals from putting their Taiwan invasion plan into action. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and U.S. President Harry Truman swiftly decided to save South Korea’s friendly government, while also ordering the U.S. Seventh Fleet to prevent a possible Chinese invasion across the Taiwan Strait.
As a consequence, China’s new government aborted the Taiwan invasion, and many of the forces that had been training for the mission were subsequently redeployed to the Sino-Korean border area. In October 1950, “Red” China intervened on the side of North Korea, sending a flood of troops equipped with jungle warfare kits into frigid battles against the United Nations forces led by the United States. This intervention resulted in what was to become two drawn-out and dangerous stalemates which still exist today: one on the Korean Peninsula, the other across the Taiwan Strait.
But why was China’s invasion plan not put into action before the outbreak of the Korean War? How did Taiwan and its ROC government survive? The answer lies in a little known, but deadly, case of espionage.