Excerpts from the Book luxury nile cruise
(some excerpts abridged; endnotes not shown here)

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From the Prologue

Chiang’s diaries cast new light on major historical events, including his surprising rise to leadership of the Kuomintang, his early leftism, his bloody purge of the Communists in 1927, the repeated warlord rebellions, his appeasement of the Japanese for five years while building up his army, his famous 1936 kidnapping in Xi’an, his united front with the Communists and its breakdown, and his long, unique relationship with Zhou Enlai. New insights also emerged into his military strategy at Shanghai and afterward, his and Stalin’s mutual efforts to involve the other in war with Japan, his long struggle with General Joseph Stilwell, and his serious military commitment to the Allied cause after Pearl Harbor—a steadfastness that was marred by the repeated failure of the Allies to live up to their commitments to him and his calculated but unwise reaction to those failings.

New and fascinating insights are also provided into dramatic postwar events, including the doomed Marshall Mission to China, Chiang’s disastrous decision to stake everything on the battle for Manchuria, and his plans as early as 1946 to retreat to Taiwan. Finally, Chiang’s journals and other new material also provide a wealth of previously unknown facts about his long reign on Taiwan after his retreat to the island, such as his brutal and senseless intimidation and suppression of potential opposition among the native Taiwanese, unhappiness with his leadership within the KMT, his pessimistic views of the wars in Korea and later in Vietnam, his private recognition early on that he would not live to see the “recovery of the mainland” even while publicly announcing that the “counterattack” was imminent, his use of such warnings to receive special treatment from Washington, his success likewise in turning to his advantage the two near-nuclear Quemoy crises, and his turndown of a risky proposal by Eisenhower that could have led to a U.S.-China war.

Other critical events followed, but in Chiang’s last great crisis he responded pragmatically, among other things hiding his great loathing of Nixon, whose détente with Mao he apparently learned about early on from Zhou Enlai. Among major world leaders in modern times, the duration of Chiang’s uninterrupted, active engagement at the highest levels in transformative world events may well be unsurpassed. For this reason, however one judges Chiang Kai-shek’s mixed record over this tumultuous period, his story is a compelling one.

Chiang on the gunboat Yong Feng with
Sun Yat-sen
(June 1922)

Chiang’s time alone with Sun Yat-sen aboard the gunboat Yong Feng was the turning point in his career. Clearly, Sun was more impressed than ever. Chiang had performed well as a tactical military officer in the field, chief of staff in a multidivision unit, urban guerrilla, and clandestine operative involved in two assassinations and other covert assignments. He seemed the quintessential loyalist, but one not afraid to disagree strongly with the supreme leader. Moreover, despite Chiang’s limited education, he was a thinker who kept abreast of world affairs, talking knowingly, for example, about the new society in Russia, and early on submitting a blueprint for the Northern Expedition. He was courageous and apparently honest. It was a great advantage that Chiang had no base of support except one wealthy patron, the diminutive Zhang Renjie. He had a few interesting friends like Dai Jitao and Zhang Qun, but no network of influence or, in the Chinese phrase, guanxi—no conflict of interest or personal source of power that could compromise his total devotion to Sun and the movement. This lack of a power base was to be key to his rise.

Chiang and
Soong Mayling’s

Chiang’s marriage promised to be an excellent one in every respect. His wife was an attractive, even beautiful, woman who had been educated in the United States; she was cosmopolitan, articulate, intelligent, and wealthy. During the long, terrible years of resistance against the Japanese, she would convey to the world and to her own people an image of Chinese dignity and bravery. She knew her role and how to play it, including at least superficial and perhaps serious engagement in good works such as the YWCA and efforts to protect child workers. Completely unlike her husband, she did not have an austere, private lifestyle; rather she strove to appear moderately glamorous. She always wore makeup and a traditional qi pao dress with the slit stopping at the knee (albeit without expensive jewelry). Throughout her life, she enjoyed her wealth, about which she had no embarrassment. She had a full-time tailor, who made her a new qi pao every three or four days. She took numerous servants for granted and sometimes traveled with an entourage of sixty or more. Luxury and constant attendance by personal servants, however, do not necessarily ruin prospects for a serious life. Churchill all his life was dressed and undressed by someone else. food stamp fraud lawyer

Mayling liked Western music and cigarettes, and before her marriage, parties and dancing. She was always a night person, reading and writing until midnight, even as Chiang went to bed early and rose before dawn. She was an avid reader; a student of Chinese—and world—history and politics; and by all accounts, a truly devout Methodist. She was politically determined and often a shrewd behind-the-scenes manipulator, and she passed the test for personal courage on numerous occasions, often joining her husband in camp during his war campaigns, living in tents or railway cars. She was talkative and easygoing, in stark contrast to the stuffy and humorless Chiang, who was shy but emotional, and for a Chinese male wept easily. He tried to change his taciturn image. For some while, perhaps since his mother’s death and as part of his conscious effort to soften his public persona, he had begun to show a more benign public face, often smiling gently throughout interviews and of- ten in photos.

Chiang and Mayling’s life as a couple was an interweaving of profound differences, mutual irritations, a common grand cause, genuine affection, and perhaps passion. When Mayling was twenty-one she wrote to an American woman friend, “There is nothing disgusting about it [sex] if you consider it in conjunction with the other elements that make up love.” This obscure comment on the subject may not reflect an enthusiastic view of sex, but stories that the marriage was purely political and even unconjugal are not believable. Chiang possessed a high libido, but he had always been involved with women intellectually and socially beneath him. The new object of his desire had attributes that he had never encountered in a woman—independence, intellect, and power—and they must have been exhilarating. Mayling called him “Darling,” and, abbreviating the English word, he called her “Da.” He picked flowers for her and held her hand in public, a shocking gesture to most Chinese.

Soong Ch’ing-ling, who disliked Chiang but was close to her sister May- ling, said it became a “love match.” He had a bad temper but so did she. She thought she was much smarter than he and certainly more sophisticated, and his stubbornness and faithfulness to those loyal to him frustrated her. But still she thought he was a great man.

Chiang Returns to Nanking from Xi’an
After his December 1936 Kidnapping

When Zhou reported back from Xi’an, Mao was aghast that Chiang had only given his word that he would halt the civil war. He feared that the hated enemy who only days before had seemed in his grasp was now free to unleash his “rapid and cruel revenge.” Zhou, however, said Chiang would “probably not go back on his word,” explaining—in a probably sarcastic manner—that this was “the vainglory of a self-appointed hero.” Mao then remembered his own previous caricature of Chiang’s naiveté and agreed. Chiang, he said, would again likely play the part of “Ah Q,” the writer Lu Xun’s literary symbol of China’s self-delusion and obscurantism. Mao believed that, like Ah Q, Chiang suffered delusions about both his own virtue and sincerity and that of traditional China, and moreover, that the CCP could take advantage of this ingenuousness. With this image in mind, Mao accepted Zhang Guotao’s suggestion that the Communists act outwardly humble toward the Generalissimo but inwardly vengeful, like Goujian, the prince of the fifth-century BCE state of Yue, who bided his time and “ate bile” until he could achieve complete victory.

Indeed, Chiang had promised nothing publicly and after sending away the previously rebellious divisions could have quickly deployed a massive force to surround the Yan’an base area. But once free of his captors, Chiang never considered the military option. As Zhou foresaw, he carried through with his promises and ended the “bandit suppression campaign.” Moreover, he began to remit 200,000 to 300,000 yuan a month to the Communist forces. Chiang saw evidence of “the treacherous nature” of Mao’s acceptance of his (Chiang’s) leadership of a united front but he continued to treat the CCP as a loyal junior partner. Likewise, he abandoned his efforts to weaken the warlords. He was now focused entirely on the coming war with Japan and he needed national unity and Soviet military aid.

Chiang Warns Stalin
of Hitler’s
Coming Attack

When Chiang heard that Hitler’s disciple Rudolph Hess had landed in England seeking peace between the two countries, he was further convinced that Hitler was on the brink of invading the Soviet Union. On June 18, when Chiang read the translation of a Western news service report of a new German-Turkish Treaty, he immediately and correctly interpreted the item as the final sign that Hitler was covering his flank in preparation for a gargantuan onslaught against Turkey’s neighbor. “There will be no more than a few days before Germany attacks the Soviet Union,” he wrote in his diary. According to Comintern documents, Chiang then urgently called in Zhou Enlai to tell him that the German attack on the USSR would commence on June 21 and he urged that the CCP warn Stalin. On June 22, the Nazi juggernaut—some 2 million men—surged into Russia. Chiang quickly aligned China with the Soviet Union, broke relations with Berlin and Rome, warned Moscow of a possible Japanese attack, proposed a treaty of alliance with the USSR, and encouraged America to support the giant, beleaguered Communist state, which in the long term he greatly feared. This reaction to Hitler’s attack on Communist Russia reflected again the highest priority that Chiang at this time gave to the defeat of Japan. 

The stage was now set for a global civil war to be fought without quarter. Grouped on one side were the rational or secular humanist strains of both the Western and Chinese enlightenments—the liberal democratic, the pragmatic authoritarian, and the Jacobean totalitarian. On the other side were the ultranationalism, racism, and absolutism of atavistic fascism.

Chiang gives Stilwell Another Chance

Persuaded by all these voices and afraid that Marshall and even Roosevelt might be offended despite what T.V. had been told, Chiang asked his wife to tell Stilwell that it would not be good for the general’s reputation to be recalled, but if he could apologize and change his ways the Generalissimo might forgive him. The two sisters urged Stilwell to humble himself, to admit that he had made mistakes, to apologize, and to promise to make amends. Stilwell reports he hesitated a long time but the women insisted and he finally agreed.

Accompanied by his new female backers, he met with Chiang on the eve ning of October 17. According to Chinese accounts, Stilwell said he was sincere in wanting to help China and any misunderstandings were due to his “thoughtlessness.” He promised the offense would not occur again. Chiang lectured the general on the duties of the Supreme Commander and his chief of staff and suggested Stilwell curb his “superiority complex.” Stilwell promised to be an adviser to Chiang, the principal officer.

Chennault was sitting in the anteroom waiting to see the Generalissimo when Madame rushed out of Chiang’s office and announced that Stilwell had agreed to obey his Supreme Commander. Chiang separately called in T.V. for a breakfast meeting. Soong, in high spirits, started out by reporting that he had at last secured the unqualified support and understanding of the U.S. administration for Stilwell’s removal. Chiang replied that he had been very much concerned about Stilwell’s unwillingness to follow orders but that Stilwell had pledged he would in the future obey his instructions (ting hua) and be much more cooperative. Therefore, he had decided to give Stilwell another chance.

Soong was upset. All for nothing he had won the approval of the President of the United States for the recall of the man who, since he arrived, had been the bane of the Generalissimo’s existence. Soong argued that Chiang must not pass up this chance to remove Stilwell. At one point, he demanded, “Are you the chief of an African tribe that you should change your mind so capriciously?” At this, Chiang slammed his fist on his little breakfast table and the dishes clattered to the ground. Back at his residence, T.V. revealed to Alsop what had happened and burst into tears. ....

Soong wrote an abject apology to the Generalissimo but Chiang, who had been profoundly insulted when T.V. compared him to an African chief, put him under virtual house arrest. During the winter, Soong and Alsop often went for walks along the cold, empty rice paddies. Stilwell, meanwhile, was riding high and made no pretense in his diary and letters that he had been serious in promising to change his ways. He told his wife that through “the whole mess” he had felt “free as air . . . grand and glorious.” He described “Peanut’s” lecture on October 17 as “all balderdash.” In Chiang’s diary and actions, by contrast, it was clear that the Generalissimo was genuinely reconciled with Stilwell. Chiang Kai-shek was not one to hold a grudge.

How and Why Chiang Lost Manchuria

The State Department’s White Paper, issued in 1949, declared that Chiang’s government “in occupying Manchuria took steps contrary to the advice of competent United States military observers who were aware that the Government could not reoccupy Manchuria and pacify the rest of China.” This claim is one of the most important unexamined, and incorrect, assumptions of the Chinese civil war. Wedemeyer did tell Chiang and the Pentagon in November 1945 that the Nationalists could not win in Manchuria and probably not in North China, but policymakers in Washington did not adopt this point of view. In addition, earlier that year Wedemeyer himself had been optimistic about the Nationalist Army’s prospects for dealing successfully with the Communists in the postwar period, including in Manchuria. Beginning with the negotiations on the Sino-Soviet treaty in the summer of 1945 in Moscow, the United States had made clear it wanted Chiang to take a tough stand in asserting Nationalist China’s sovereignty in Manchuria. After Japan’s surrender, America stood ready to transport almost a quarter million Nationalist soldiers to the region for this purpose and it completed the task during the Marshall Mission. At the beginning of the mission, the firmly, albeit privately, stated policy objective of Truman and Marshall was to support Chiang’s takeover of all of Manchuria while trying to prevent a civil war. To accomplish this goal, the United States sought to promote a coalition government, but did not make such a coalition a quid pro quo of U.S. assistance to Chiang. Marshall at first clearly encouraged Chiang to continue to try to assert his authority throughout the Northeast. Marshall’s original peace plan provided for a huge 14–1 advantage in government troop presence in Manchuria, and gave the Nationalist government the right to deploy its military anywhere in the region in order to establish its authority. Marshall even promised to find surplus winter clothing for the Nationalist troops heading north. As noted earlier, as far back as mid-November 1945, Chiang had decided tentatively to withdraw from Manchuria, but positive Soviet moves and Marshall’s initial steps and statements changed his mind.

It was not until the spring of 1946 that Marshall began to tell Chiang he could not defeat the Communists in Manchuria, but even then, still believing a genuine coalition was possible, he did not urge Nationalist withdrawal from the region. Prior to Marshall’s arrival, Chiang had ranged from less to more pessimistic about Soviet cooperation in Manchuria and thus about his own prospects in the Northeast, and probably he would have withdrawn if Marshall, during their first meetings, had strongly echoed Wedemeyer’s advice.

If Marshall had given this counsel, however, and Chiang had agreed, it would have saddled the United States with the responsibility for helping the Nationalists assert and maintain control along a line somewhere south of the Great Wall. America would have been caught up in the enormous civil war over whether there was to be one China under the Communists or two Chinas, and if two, where the lines between them would be drawn. Almost certainly, neither Marshall nor Truman had thought this through; they simply wanted the best of both worlds—to avoid getting caught up in the civil conflict while maintaining a united, non-Communist, non-Soviet, allied China that included Manchuria. Thus they pursued the chimera of the optimal solution: Mao’s abandonment of not only his revolutionary ideology, powerful army, and large territorial and population base, but also his support from China’s superpower neighbor, all in order to serve as junior partner in a democratic government and a truly amalgamated army under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.

Within weeks of Marshall’s arrival, Chiang began to fear that the Americans were headed down the path of appeasing the Communists, and he could have easily abandoned the struggle for Manchuria. It was primarily the Nationalist military victories in 1946 that misled Chiang into thinking he could hold the southern half of Manchuria, and he proceeded to pour in more and more troops for another almost two years, even when, beginning in early 1947, he again recognized that it was highly unlikely he could succeed. During the final and decisive 1948 Manchurian campaign from September to late October, Chiang, as usual, sent detailed instructions to the field commanders and often made it difficult for his senior commanders to give their subordinate generals tactical as well as strategic orders. But according to General Barr, “in spite of this unorthodox procedure,” the plans Chiang made and the orders he gave in the decisive battles for Manchuria in the fall of 1948 “were sound.” Had they been obeyed, the American general concluded, “the results probably would have been favorable.” Barr’s assessment seems highly doubtful given the powerful position the Chinese Communists with Soviet help had established in the region and the financial and moral decay within the Nationalist regime. But it does give some weight to the argument that had Chiang pulled out of Manchuria even as late as the spring of 1948, he might have had enough military strength to hold the line at either the Yellow River or the Yangtze, albeit only with large-scale U.S. military and economic aid.

The Chiangs' Three Priorities on Taiwan

After their departure from Nanking in January, Chiang Kai-shek and his son spent many hours alone discussing how they and the Republic of China could survive. The first priority, they clearly believed, was to consolidate- the government’s hold on Taiwan, which would mean eradicating Communist agents and Taiwanese dissidents. Chiang gave his son broad authority over internal security, intelligence, and paramilitary organizations. While in Gaoxiong, Ching-kuo established a political action committee to coordinate the myriad intelligence and secret police bureaucracies that had crowded onto the island. During the year, internal security men arrested about 10,000 Taiwanese for interrogation and put more than a thousand to death in another horrific example of “killing the chicken to scare the monkey.” Given the absence of any organized, much less violent, underground Taiwanese opposition, these killings were as malicious as those the CCP would soon carry out on the mainland to condition the populace to accept the permanence of the new order. Another key element of internal security among the KMT in Taiwan was enhanced surveillance of all senior Nationalist generals on the island no matter how trusted, including Chen Cheng and Sun Liren.

The Chiangs’ second priority was intensive preparations to resist the in evitable Communist assault, which Chiang estimated would take the PLA at least a year to prepare. The priority given to the defense of Hainan, Zhoushan, Quemoy, and various other offshore islands in Nationalist hands would depend on the feasibility and benefits of trying to hold each one. Military preparations for the defense of Taiwan itself involved not only training but also an intense effort to eliminate the various abuses that had afflicted the Nationalist military for so long. The Chiangs agreed on the immediate centralization of all financial matters in the military, most especially payrolls. In one stroke this change did away with the principal form of graft as well as most “ghost soldiers” on military unit rosters.

The third priority was currency stability. The island’s separate currency since its liberation in 1945 had largely protected it from the tornado of inflation on the mainland. Moreover, the first postwar Chinese provincial government in 1945 had taken over vast land holdings, real estate, and business and financial assets from the Japanese government and Japanese companies and these acquisitions had provided a huge and instant source of revenue for spending and currency support. In October 1948, Wei’s provincial government, unquestionably with Chiang Kai-shek’s approval, had banned the sale or transfer of food and other products from the island to the mainland, further insulating Taiwan’s economy from the tribulations across the Strait. Shortly after his arrival in southern Taiwan, Chiang noted that all the necessary gold and hard currency funds for monetary reform in Taiwan were in place. On June 15, the Taiwan provincial government issued a new currency, the Xin Taibi (New Taiwan Dollar).

In June, the CIA, referring to KMT-administered territory on both the mainland and Taiwan, concluded that Nationalist China was “virtually bankrupt”; the “process of disintegration and fragmentation is so far advanced as to render almost impossible the establishment of a functioning government.” The U.S. consulate in Taipei and the CIA predicted not only economic collapse in Taiwan, but also terrible food and housing shortages, grave health problems, and social chaos, fragmentation, and disintegration. But under the direction of Chen Cheng’s commissioner of finance, C. K. Yen, and the Central Bank’s O. K. Yu (who had opened the vaults in Shanghai), retail prices in Taiwan advanced only 35 percent in March over February— nauseatingly high by most standards but not at all stratospheric in the context of the mainland, where the inflation rate had risen 20 to 50 percent in a single day.

Shortly after the Generalissimo’s arrival in early June, C. K. Yen, a technocrat trained at the American-run St. John’s University in Shanghai, pegged the New Taiwan Dollar to gold, with conversions allowed freely—a remarkable policy for a government supposedly about to “disintegrate.” At Chiang’s insistence in early 1950, the government set a limit on the amount of New Taiwan Dollars that could be converted to gold each month. But for six months there was no limit and the currency gained credibility.

Chiang's Real Views on the Counterattack

During the Truman period, Chiang did not press on the Americans his increasingly high-decibel domestic theme of promising an early “counterattack” to recover the mainland. In July 1952, he finally showed his mainland invasion blueprints to the visiting U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William N. Fechteler, who, after examination back in Washington, declared them “totally impractical.” But Chiang continued talking up the “counterattack” for military and mainlander civilian morale as well as because it was central to his rationale for ruling over the island. He thought “recovery of the mainland”—one way or the other—was destined some day, but he did not expect the “counterattack” in his lifetime. “Realistically,” he wrote, “the restoration of our country is almost impossible in the [foreseeable] future. My confidence in the revolution and restoration of our country, however, has never swayed . . . From now on every plan must be designed for the success of my successors, not for my own success.” He carefully kept this realistic appraisal from the Americans as well as his own people. Likewise, in his mind, the military debacles in Korea and the continuing long-grinding stalemate there confirmed that he had been right in avoiding sending troops by attaching conditions that always made such a deployment appear a long-term possibility at best. When in 1952 Admiral Arthur W. Radford, the new commander of the Pacific Fleet, asked him if 50,000 Nationalist troops would be available, Chiang said he could only agree to one division or about 10,000 troops. The subject was never pursued.

Ike Proposes a Joint Blockade of China

The talk of peace from Peking and of détente from Moscow, as well as the continued absence of PLA air attacks against Quemoy, quickly deflated the war scare in the United States. But the trauma of the crisis made Eisenhower determined to get Chiang off the “infernal” little islands, as he now called them. In April, he dispatched Admiral Radford and the diplomat Walter Robertson to Taipei with a dramatically new plan to solve the problem. In a meeting that ran on until 11:00 at night with Chiang, Soong Mayling, and Foreign Minister Yeh, the two envoys explained that President Eisenhower had categorically decided that the United States would not help defend Quemoy and Matsu because doing so would “undoubtedly require nuclear weapons” and would cause “tremendous” opposition at home and abroad.

The two envoys went on to say that if the Generalissimo withdrew from the offshore islands under U.S. Navy protection, the United States would join with the Nationalist government in creating an interdiction line running four hundred miles through the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the East China Sea, from Swatow in Guangdong province in the south to the port of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province. The purpose of the joint interdiction by the two navies would be to search all ships in the area, foreign or Chinese (including junks), and seize all “contraband and war-making materials.” The interdiction force would also replace Quemoy and Matsu as early defense blocks to any invasion force leaving Amoy or Foo-chow. The joint naval action, Radford said, would in effect be “a blockade of China’s coast,” and it would be difficult for Peking not to challenge it with military force, but the PLA Navy would have to fire first on U.S. Navy ships and thereby assume the burden of starting a war. Eisenhower, in effect, was offering to engage in what many would see as acts of war against China in undisputedly Chinese waters. Robertson urged the Generalissimo to give “full consideration” to “all implications” of the interdiction proposal, seeming to suggest that a conflict between the United States and Communist China would most likely result. Radford apparently assumed that Chiang would see this outcome as being in his interest.

If Chiang wanted to encourage a Sino-American war, here was his chance— an opportunity offered by the American President himself, who seemed on his own to have devised this scheme so full of flawed assumptions and unpredictable and possibly profound consequences. Chiang had had no idea what message Redford and Robertson intended to deliver. But instead of consulting privately with his wife and foreign minister before replying, he immediately turned down the proposal. In sorrow rather than anger, he said that his government and armed forces would defend Quemoy and Matsu with or without U.S. help. To abandon the islands would be “to lose the respect of the Chinese people.” The Generalissimo and Madame Chiang then took a short break.

When the couple returned to the room, Chiang calmly recounted the changing U.S. commitments to him regarding the offshore islands. He then explained that if he pulled out of Quemoy and Matsu the Chinese people would not support him, then “the United States would have to find another Chiang Kai-shek” and inevitably, the situation would lead to “pressure for a trusteeship for Formosa.” But, he said, he had no wish to embarrass the United States. Where matters were in doubt, he went on, “[Nationalist] China should be the loser, not the USA.” He said he had no desire to involve the United States in a war on behalf of his government and that he understood President Eisenhower’s position. But he believed the Communists would not attack Quemoy and Matsu except as part of an attack on Taiwan and this would not happen until Russia was ready to order a world war. Thus there was “no need to get jittery or to worry over these two islands or the buildup on the China coast.” In other words, the blockade was not needed and there was no need to risk a war.

This was an improbable turnaround in Chiang’s assessment of the threat from the mainland to Taiwan as well as the offshore territories. The Americans must have been puzzled—that is, until a meeting the next evening. There Chiang gave Radford and Robertson what was undoubtedly his most important reason for turning down Eisenhower’s offer to blockade much of China’s coast. He told them that he simply “lacked faith” that after he had given up the islands, America would long continue the proposed blockade. Implicit was his calculation that if the proposed U.S. naval action threatened war with China, the United States, facing severe domestic and world opposition, would soon back down, or if a conflict actually began, the Americans would eventually seek peace and desert Taiwan. Concluding the talks on a cordial note, he asked Radford and Robertson to convey to the President his “great respect and personal faith in U.S. motives” and offered his “humble apology” for not being able to go along with the President’s bold proposal.

Chiang’s sangfroid reaction was not repeated in his diary. He thought the Americans were “completely deceiving” and “naïve and ignorant” to think he would believe them. He also thought the proposal was a British-originated plot to get him off the offshore islands.


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