Extending the Cross-Straits Cold War into the Third World: Taiwanese International Development in Asia and Africa

Lecture: Center for Chinese Studies: Institute of East Asian Studies: Center for Southeast Asia Studies | March 19 | 5 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 James Lin, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington

 Thomas B. Gold, Sociology, UC Berkeley

 Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS), Strait Talk, UC Berkeley, Center for Chinese Studies (CCS), Center for African Studies

In 1959 in the face of Communist insurgency in north Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam regime forwarded a request to Taiwan for twenty to thirty agricultural technicians to assist their rural development program and win the hearts and minds of Vietnamese villages. In response to this formed the inaugural Taiwanese international development mission that eventually was subsumed into Taiwan’s “Operation Vanguard” that sought to deploy its development expertise and success in order to combat communism globally and counter diplomacy from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) across the Third World.

Over two decades, Taiwan sent agricultural development missions to over two dozen nations across Africa and Asia. These teams extolled a model of Taiwanese development based on its low-capital yet high efficiency approaches to village organization, extension of knowledge, and high modernist science. In these instances, an explicit contrast was made of the relevance of Taiwan’s experience for other tropical, postcolonial states in contrast with the example of socialist PRC, which at the time was also engaging in development diplomacy to win recognition from the newly decolonized states of Africa and Asia.

Today, as PRC influence grows across Asia with the One Belt, One Road initiative and increases its investments into Africa, Taiwanese agricultural development 50 years ago seems a long-forgotten memory in many of these developing societies. Yet, Taiwanese and Chinese interests today continue to radiate outward into the global arena, often bringing cross-straits conflicts into the world. This history will speak to an earlier instance where Cold War tensions undergirded an ideological struggle played out in villages and across rice paddies through land reform and high-yield crop varieties.

 ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-2809