Focus Taiwan App
Download

FEATURE/ROC sovereignty and the 'Whampoa Spirit'

07/11/2024 08:27 PM
To activate the text-to-speech service, please first agree to the privacy policy below.
CNA photo June 16, 2024
CNA photo June 16, 2024

By Joseph Yeh, CNA staff reporter

On a scorching June 16 morning, more than 2,000 young military cadets gathered on a drill ground in southern Kaohsiung to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Whampoa Military Academy.

Addressing the crop of future officers, President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) said that the "real" Army officers fight for the survival and development of the Republic of China (the official name of Taiwan); and without that spirit and ambition, it is a "fake Whampoa."

Lai's invoking of a "fake" and "real" Whampoa was a response to the People's Republic of China's (PRC) recent embrace of the academy and courting of retired graduates from Taiwan.

Beijing largely spurned commemorations of Whampoa until the mid-1980s, but has reportedly invited 3,000 Taiwanese Whampoa alumni to attend a series of centennial events in China this year, including a new exhibition at the school's original site in Guangzhou.

On June 17th, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) urged the country's Whampoa alumni association to carry on the "patriotic and revolutionary tradition", firmly oppose "Taiwan independence" separatism and "promote national reunification."

It may appear incongruous to object to Xi's characterization of Whampoa, given the academy was founded by members of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to unify a then-fractured China.

But, as Lai sees it: "The spirit of Whampoa follows where the ROC goes."

CNA photo June 16, 2024
CNA photo June 16, 2024

China's first modern military school

The Whampoa Military Academy was founded in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province on June 16, 1924. The academy's first superintendent was Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正), who later became ROC president.

The academy graduates formed the ROC's first "model" regiment, which suppressed several insurrections against the country's then-KMT government. By the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the majority of Chinese divisions were commanded by Whampoa graduates.

Following the KMT's 1949 retreat to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War, the academy was reformed in southern Kaohsiung's Fongshan District in 1950 as the ROC Military Academy. The original Guangzhou site is now a museum.

Although many leading CCP revolutionaries, including Zhou Enlai (周恩来) and Ye Jianying (葉劍英), one of the 10 PRC Marshals, passed through Whampoa's ranks during the First United Front, it was not until in June 16, 1984, that an alumni association was established in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Since the 1990s, the Beijing-based association has often invited Taiwan-based graduates of the ROC Military Academy to visit China or attend Whampoa anniversary celebrations there.

However, Yen De-fa (嚴德發), head of Taiwan's Veterans Affairs Council (VAC), said fewer than 100 retired ROC military personnel visited China for this year's centennial events.

Veterans and alumni sing during the ROC Military Academy's centennial celebration in Taipei. CNA file photo June 16, 2024
Veterans and alumni sing during the ROC Military Academy's centennial celebration in Taipei. CNA file photo June 16, 2024

Tool of unification

Commenting on the cross-strait fight over Whampoa, two Taiwanese scholars told CNA that there is no doubt that the PRC's Whampoa celebrations are simply a tool to promote unification.

Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a research fellow at Taiwan government-funded think tank, Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), described Beijing's activities as "nothing more than united front work."

Chieh Chung (揭仲), a researcher at the Taipei-based think tank, Association of Strategic Foresight, also said that the CCP is trying to divide the Whampoa graduates in Taiwan and create the false image that those who visit China for the anniversary celebrations are siding with Beijing against the ROC.

Unlike Lai's May 20 inaugural address, in which he focused more on ROC's history in Taiwan after 1949, the president's remarks on June 16 took a slightly different approach by also highlighting ROC's history before 1949 when it was still based in mainland China, Chieh noted.

In addition to invoking the "Whampoa Spirit," Lai highlighted the role the academy and its graduates played in defending the ROC against Japan, and then the PRC following the retreat to Taiwan.

ROC Military Academy alumni join the cadets in the military march at the academy in Kaohsiung. CNA photo June 16, 2024
ROC Military Academy alumni join the cadets in the military march at the academy in Kaohsiung. CNA photo June 16, 2024

Historical sensitivities

Despite Lai's efforts to resituate Whampoa's legacy, the United States seemed reluctant to overly involve itself in a cross-strait battle over history.

Although U.S. personnel from the Virginia Military Institute and the University of North Georgia were spotted taking part in rehearsals for the Kaohsiung event, they ultimately did not march on June 16.

This could be interpreted as a signal from Washington to Lai to refrain from further angering Beijing, Chieh said.

Regardless, the president's ode to Whampoa avoided crossing any of China's red lines, he added.

Enditem/ASG

View All
0:00
/
0:00
We value your privacy.
Focus Taiwan (CNA) uses tracking technologies to provide better reading experiences, but it also respects readers' privacy. Click here to find out more about Focus Taiwan's privacy policy. When you close this window, it means you agree with this policy.
172.30.142.81