[Photo story] The Cairo Conference and Taiwan’s liberation
04 Feb 2022
In 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Fifty years later, amid World War II, Taiwan was returned to China following the Cairo Conference involving the US’s Franklin D. Roosevelt, the UK’s Winston Churchill and the Republic of China’s Chiang Kai-shek. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao gives us a glimpse into those times.
25 November 1943, Cairo — State leaders of the US, the UK and the Republic of China and their chiefs of staff pose for a group photo before the Mena House Hotel in Cairo. Madame Chiang Kai-shek served as the interpreter for President Chiang Kai-shek. The one standing behind US President Roosevelt is Wang Chung-hui, secretary-general of the Chinese Supreme Defence Council and a former minister of foreign affairs.
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In the spring of 1943, the Allied countries made gains in the Eastern and Western theatres of World War II, while the Axis powers saw a reversal of momentum from their initial victories.
In the European theatre, the Battle of Stalingrad ended in the early spring of 1943 after more than six months. Not only did the German army lose its elite troops and the initiative to attack, but they also experienced a fundamental decline in strength relative to the Allied troops.
During that time, in the Pacific theatre, the Allied and Japanese troops engaged in a terrible battle on land, air and sea in Guadalcanal, ending with a serious defeat for the Japanese. The Allied troops turned the tide in the Eurasian theatre with successive victories, and there appeared a glimmer of hope for final victory.
In December 1943, to plan for the new post-war world, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, head of China’s Nationalist government Chiang Kai-shek, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
The meeting was in two parts, with Roosevelt, Chiang and Churchill meeting first in Cairo, Egypt. The Soviet Union was not involved in the Cairo meeting as it had signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1941 and did not fight against the Japanese in Asia. The second part of the meeting was held in Tehran, Iran between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, where they discussed the war in Europe.
On 23 November 1943, Chiang led a 16-member delegation to Egypt. They stayed at the Mena House Hotel, near the pyramids of Giza in Cairo, where a series of trilateral and bilateral talks were held with Roosevelt and Churchill. It was agreed that the Allies would recapture Burma (now Myanmar), and Japan would have to return Chinese land after the war. On 26 November 1943, the US, China and Britain simultaneously released in Washington, Chongqing and London the Cairo Declaration, which said:
“The several military missions have agreed upon future military operations against Japan. The three great Allies expressed their resolve to bring unrelenting pressure against their brutal enemies by sea, land and air. This pressure is already rising.
“The three great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that Japan, shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China. Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed. The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.
“With these objects in view the three Allies, in harmony with those of the United Nations at war with Japan, will continue to persevere in the serious and prolonged operations necessary to procure the unconditional surrender of Japan.”
The most important factor in the post-war map of East Asia was that Japan had to return to China the territories it had taken, including northeast China, Taiwan and the Pescadores (Penghu islands), while the Korean peninsula gained its independence.
It has to be noted that on 18 September 1931, the Japanese army launched a sudden attack on Manchuria; the following year, it gave its backing to the last emperor of the Qing dynasty Aisin Gioro Puyi and established the puppet government of “Manchukuo”. However, China filed a complaint with the League of Nations against Japan’s invasion, and investigations confirmed that Manchukuo was a product of Japan’s invasion and not the choice of the people of Manchuria. So, it was internationally recognised that Manchukuo should be dissolved and the land returned to China after the war.
People of Taiwan’s resistance against the Japanese
However, the international legal status of Taiwan and the Pescadores was a different story.
In 1894, the First Sino-Japanese War broke out and Japan won the battle on land and sea. In 1895, both sides signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, where China had to pay heavy war reparations and ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan on a permanent basis.
That year, Japanese troops went to take ownership of Taiwan, but the people of Taiwan put up intense armed resistance. Over 50 years of Japanese rule, the Taiwanese resistance movement carried the spirit and sentiment of Chinese nationalism. The Japanese colonial authorities responded with armed — and bloody — suppression of anti-Japanese groups, including the Tapani Incident of 1915 targeted at ethnic Han resistance groups, and the Musha Incident of 1930 targeted at resistance groups consisting of indigenous people from the mountains. Its methods were so cruel that there was criticism within Japan.
The colonial authorities also wooed the Taiwanese with infrastructure and economic benefits, but many intellectuals in Taiwan rejected Japanese rule and chose to move to mainland China to join China’s resistance efforts, to which they made major contributions.
When the Pacific war broke out, Japan conscripted about 200,000 Taiwanese and sent them to the Nanyang region. However, as the Japanese army did not trust the Taiwanese, they became dogsbodies assigned to logistics work. By the time Japan surrendered, over 30,000 Taiwanese had died on the battlefield.