Before he fell and injured himself in 1970, a fact hidden from the public until after his death, Chiang Kai-shek was a well-traveled man. He had lived in Japan and visited the Soviet Union before becoming President of China. His youngest son, Chiang Wei-kuo, was adopted. His parents were Chiang Kai-shek’s friend Dai Jitao and a Japanese woman. Chiang Kai-shek was very pro-Soviet when he was in his 30s, and sent his older son, Chiang Ching-kuo, to study there. During the Second World War, Chiang Kai-shek visited India and Burma, and participated in the Cairo Conference in Egypt. During the 1950s, Chiang visited a few other countries in Asia, such as South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam. In the 1960s, he travelled around the world more extensively.
In 1960, he began a tour of North America. He arrived in Vancouver, a city with a large overseas Chinese population that even had a branch of the Kuomintang present there. He met with Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. Chiang appreciated Diefenbaker’s opposition to racial discrimination and KMT operatives within Canada encouraged Chinese-Canadians to support him. He then went to visit Seattle and San Fransisco, giving speeches in Chinese to Chinese-American audiences along with T.V. Soong. He then visited New York and Washington DC, where he met with US President William Knowland, who had met with Chiang in China in 1959. He also met with Representative Walter Judd, a strong ally of the ROC in congress, and Vice President Everett Dirksen, who was China’s favorite candidate in the 1960 elections.
Chiang then moved on to Cuba. In 1959, the government had been toppled by a revolution. The new leader, Fidel Castro, took the Republic of China as an inspiration for a post-colonial future. Though he also had pro-Soviet sympathies, Chiang Kai-shek was willing to overlook that. He then went to Mexico to discuss trade with Adolfo Mateos. He then visited Guatemala and met Jacobo Árbenz. Though Árbenz enacted many leftist policies, and was not popular with the Americans, he was not a Communist. He had a lot in common with Chiang Kai-shek. In 1961, 5,000 Guatemalan students were given scholarships to study Chinese and other subjects. In the future Chiang would also go to Argentina and visit Juan Peron, another leader who was similar to Chiang Kai-shek.
Chiang visited Singapore in British Malaya to speak with Lim Chong Eu of the Malaysian Chinese Association, a political party aligned with the Kuomintang. Independence was coming soon, and Chiang Kai-shek hoped to send large numbers of Chinese immigrants to Malaysia in order to increase Chinese influence there. He visited Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. While in these countries, he got commitments from leaders there to treat Chinese minorities well. He also met with Chinese generals in Vietnam, including his son Chiang Wei-kuo, to discuss military strategy. Chiang was hopeful that all of Southeast Asia might fall under the Chinese sphere of influence. The May 5 Incident, the attempted Coup against Chiang Kai-shek, occurred right after he came back from Laos.
In 1965, Chiang went to London. He met with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home. Chiang Kai-shek was in his late 70s, and Britain was the most powerful country on earth when he was born. Now, Chiang sat at the table with the Prime Minister as an equal. Chiang dined with British royalty in London. Chiang could speak a little English, and had some phrases and jokes memorized for the feast. His wife, Soong Mei-ling, spoke excellent English and was a great help for him when he visited English-speaking countries or hosted English-speaking guests. Chiang’s previous dislike of the British was fading away. Though Prince Philip enjoyed the company of the Chiangs, he also made a remark that was culturally insensitive. Soong Mei-ling decided not to translate it.
(Left: Alec Douglas-Home, Right: Queen Elizabeth II)
Chiang’s other European visits were more controversial. In West Germany he gave a speech condemning Communism, where he was joined by Chiang Wei-kuo, his son who had served in the Wehrmacht . He also met with Francisco Franco, a dictator who was compared to Chiang and vice-versa. He visited Rome where he met with Pope Paul VI and also Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. China was helping Italy develop nuclear weapons. Chiang Kai-shek also visited Joseph Broz Tito in Belgrade and Nicolae Ceausescu in Bucharest. Tito and Ceausescu were criticized in much of the Communist world for meeting with an arch anti-Communist. Chiang Kai-shek was criticized by some of his own supporters like Chen Lifu for the visit.
Chiang Kai-shek visited Africa once more when he visited Madagascar, where there was a significant Chinese community. He also visited Australia, where he pleaded with Australian leaders to end the White Australia policy, with no success. Chiang’s final trip abroad was in 1969, when he met with Georgy Malenkov in New Delhi, India. Shortly afterwards, he visited Tibet, where he met with Tibetan politicians as well as the Dalai Lama for the first and only time. In 1970, he visited Taiwan and met with two promising young Kuomintang leaders; Lee Teng-hui and Lin Yang-kang. He would return to Nanjing and spend the rest of his life in mainland China. For the rest of his presidency, any foreign visits would be conducted by Vice President Sun Fo, Foreign Minister James Shen, or Chiang Ching-kuo.
1: Chiang Wei-kuo was sent to Germany to study the German military. He was recalled shortly before the invasion of Poland.