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President Trump has clashed with China over trade sanctions and coronavirus, which he has provocatively dubbed “the Chinese virus”. Then Chinese President Xi Jingping announced this week that it was important for his nation to “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war” amid claims that US politicians are stigmatising China for the pandemic. While tensions are rising with other nations too, such as China and Taiwan, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi said the US is forcing China “to the brink of a new Cold War”.
Yet, the BBC’s ‘Witness History’ from July last year revealed that there was a moment in time before the Cold War when China and the US were on the cusp of becoming allies.
The US had particularly high hopes of an alliance with China following World War 2 when the nation was breaking free after years of Japanese occupation — but civil war between the communists and the nationalists started up once again.
BBC journalist Claire Bowes explained: “When civil war broke out, America decided to step in, sending one of its greatest war heroes, General Marshall, to broker peace.”
Fought primarily between the Republic of China Party and the Communist Party of China, the two sides battled on and off between 1927 and 1949.
The nationalist government was trying to regain control of the country, but the communists were gaining a following in the north west.
Ms Bowes added: “Beyond China, the world had not yet split between the ideological lines of capitalism versus communism.”
This time between World War 2 and the Cold War was a period of uncertainty when different states grappled for power.
US President Harry Truman was concerned, as China was a potential ally — he decided to intervene.
He implored General Marshall to get a ceasefire between the two warring factions, as well as establish the foundations of a Chinese democracy which would be the ideal partner for the US, as well as pushing back the Soviet communists — without triggering another war.
The newspapers at the time described it as the “most difficult diplomatic mission anywhere in the world”.
An Army officer who accompanied General Marshall on the mission explained in a recording from 1969 that there was no chance of success without removing the communist army.
He said General Marshall “was the one person in whose presence I thought I could feel a powerful mind” and that he was known to have an astounding intensity.
Weeks after arriving, he had supposedly convinced communist leader Mao Zedong and nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek to meet and stop fighting.
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Historian Daniel Kurtz Phelan claimed this was assisted by the US and Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin, who was so impressed with General Marshall — and convinced the communists would not win China — that he pushed the teams to make an agreement.
General Marshall even went on a tour of China with both nationalist and communist representatives to announce the end of the civil war with a democratic government including both parties.
He and Mao then discussed the future of alliance between the US and Communists.
However, then Winston Churchill made his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in March 1946.
He told the US: “An Iron curtain has descended across the continent. All these famous cities lie in what I must call the Soviet steer.”
Mao took from this that the world was heading in a different direction to what the US had originally envisioned.
Historian Danial Kurtz Phelan told the BBC: “The communists then say this is a war we can afford to fight because it’s not going to be a peaceful global scene like we were told.”
The truce soon dissolved, despite General Marshall’s best efforts, and the Communists won control completely by 1949.
The communist state went on to support the Soviet Union in the Cold War and General Marshall was known for a time in the US as the man who “lost” China as an ally.
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