The Cold War’s Unlikely Duo: The Secret Rendezvous Between Taiwan And The Soviet Union

Thursday, March 8, 2018
Feng-en Sung, James Wei and an official, West Berlin City Government meeting in West Berlin, ca. 1968

Feng-en Sung, James Wei and an official, West Berlin City Government meeting in West Berlin, ca. 1968
Feng-en Sung (right), James Wei (middle), and an official from the West Berlin City Government meeting in West Berlin, ca. 1968. Both Wei and Sung were key players in the clandestine Soviet-Taiwanese diplomatic gambit during the Cold War.

By the early 1960s, the Sino-Soviet alliance began to show signs of strain. Polemical battles were under way, and shortly these battles were beginning to split the international Communist movement. As the rift intensified during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), Mao Zedong elevated the Soviet Union to the rank of social imperialists, while the Red Guards harassed the Soviet diplomatic staff, and border incidents reached a new height. Toward the end of the 1960s, policy makers in Washington, DC began to see an opportunity to serve America’s larger strategic interests by playing the “China card” against the Soviet Union. It was felt that reconciliation with Beijing could put Moscow on the defensive, escalate its military costs while lowering those of the United States, and force it to be more cooperative with Washington, DC.

In Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek was resentful and uneasy as he watched the process of reconciliation and the normalization of relations between Washington and Beijing. A shifting international scenario unwittingly led Moscow and Taipei to explore ways of cooperation so as to maximize their respective strategic options. Among the many secret channels of communications was one that took place between Victor Louis, a KGB agent-cum-journalist, and James Wei, head of Taiwan’s government information bureau (whose diaries are among Hoover’s archival treasures), in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. These contacts illustrate how Chiang endeavored to collaborate with the Soviets, whom he had castigated for decades as the source of all evil in Asia, against their common Communist Chinese enemy in Beijing.

Sung's several cryptonyms
Sung’s notes, on which he scribbled his negotiating strategies with TASS reporter Boris Pakhomov. For the sake of secrecy and security, Sung devised several cryptonyms (right) to be used in his communications with Taipei.

The personal papers of Feng-en Sung, a recent acquisition by the Hoover Archives, shed further insights into the extent to which Taipei and Moscow sought to exploit the deteriorating Sino-Soviet relationship and create a de facto alliance to meet their ultimate goal of toppling Mao Zedong’s rule on the Chinese mainland. As chief of the Berlin office of Taiwan’s government information bureau, between 1969 and 1972, Sung engaged in over fifty secret meetings with Boris Pakhomov, his counterpart from the Russian news agency TASS. The Soviets were so eager to acquire information on Mao’s China that they proposed joint intelligence ventures between Moscow and Taipei in West Germany, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. The Kremlin was anxious to know the game-plan of Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo, the de facto leader of the Taiwanese government since the 1970s, vis-à-vis a rapidly shifting US policy toward China. Taipei, on the other hand, carefully weighed the feasibility of closer ties with the Soviets, who might be useful in filling Taiwan’s defense requirements, offsetting the impact of a Sino-US rapprochement and preventing the Chinese Communists from taking over the island with military force. The secret contact in Berlin gradually faded after 1973, although rumors continued to float around about Soviet-Taiwanese flirtations throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s.

The Feng-en Sung Papers contain photos, writings, correspondences, and over one hundred pages of minutes of meetings between Sung and Pakhomov in Berlin. They complement what the Hoover Archives already has about Taiwan’s “Soviet Option” and help to advance our knowledge about the complicated history of the Cold War.


Hoover fellow and Library & Archives curator Hsiao-ting Lin

Hsiao-ting Lin

Curator, Modern China Collection / Research Fellow

Hsiao-ting Lin is a research fellow and curator of the Modern China collection at the Hoover Institution, for which he collects material on China and Taiwan, as well as China-related materials in other East Asian countries.