First Taiwan Strait Crisis

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The First Taiwan Strait Crisis (also called the 1954-1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis or the 1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis) was a short armed conflict that took place between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) governments. Fighting took place on Matsu and Quemoy in the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese Civil War had receded in scale in 1949 with the Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) and 1.3 million Kuomintang members abandoning the Chinese mainland and establishing a refuge on the island of Taiwan (also known as Formosa) which became, with the islands of Matsu and Quemoy, the sole territory under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China.

The Matsu and the Quemoy island group, situated in the Taiwan strait between the main island of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, were the Nationalists first line of defense against the Communist Party of China and were highly fortified by Chiang.

While the United States recognized Chiang's government as the sole legitimate government for all of China, President Harry Truman announced on January 5, 1950 that the United States would not become involved in the dispute of Taiwan Strait and would not intervene in the event of an attack by the PRC. However, after the outbreak of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, Truman declared the "neutralization of the Straits of Formosa" and sent in the Seventh Fleet of the United States Navy into the Strait to prevent any conflict between the Republic of China and the PRC, effectively putting Taiwan under American protection.

In June of 1950, President Truman issued the following statement"[1]:

The attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war. It has defied the orders of the Security Council of the United Nations issued to preserve international peace and security. In these circumstances the occupation of Formosa by Communist forces would be a direct threat to the security of the Pacific area and to United States forces performing their lawful and necessary functions in that area.
Accordingly I have ordered the 7th Fleet to prevent any attack on Formosa. As a corollary of this action I am calling upon the Chinese Government on Formosa to cease all air and sea operations against the mainland. The 7th Fleet will see that this is done. The determination of the future status of Formosa must await the restoration of security in the Pacific, a peace settlement with Japan, or consideration by the United Nations.

President Truman later ordered John Foster Dulles, then Foreign Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State, to carry out his decision on neutralizing Taiwan in drafting the Treaty of Peace with Japan of 1951 which legally excluded the participitation of both ROC and PRC and thus left Taiwan's status undetermined[2]. According to George H. Kerr's Formosa Betrayed, Taiwan's political status was under the trust of the Allied Powers and later the UN if it could not be solved in near future as designed in the treaty.

The Kuomintang maintained as its goal the objective of invading the mainland and renewing the civil war in order to overthrow the People's Republic of China and liberate China from Communist rule in favour of rule by the Kuomintang. Truman and his advisors regarded this goal as an unrealizable fantasy but the Truman Administration was criticized by anti-Communists for preventing any attempt by Chaing Kai-shek's forces to liberate mainland China.

Truman, a Democrat did not run in the 1952 presidential election which was won by Republican Dwight Eisenhower. On February 2, 1953, the new President lifted the Seventh Fleet's blockade in order to fulfill demands by anti-Communists to "unleash Chiang Kai-shek" on the mainland.

In August 1954, the Nationalists placed 58,000 troops on Quemoy and 15,000 troops on Matsu. The ROC began building defensive structures and eventually began shelling PRC installations on Quemoy. Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People's Republic of China responded with a declaration on August 11, 1954 that Taiwan must be "liberated." He dispatched the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and began shelling Quemoy and Matsu.

Despite warnings from the U.S. against any attacks on the Republic of China the People's Liberation Army unleashed heavy artillery bombardment of Quemoy on September 3 and intensified its actions in November by bombing the Tachen Islands. Since the PRC was unrecognized by United States Department of State at the time, Chiang Kai Shek was the only leader they could negotiate with. Chiang Kai Shek had to be supported by the United States because Taiwan had become an important ally in the vicinity of South East Asia.

After the Korean War it had become far more vital to the United States to accept Chiang Kai Shek's argument that the PRC had initiated the attacks. On September 12, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended the use of nuclear weapons against the mainland. Eisenhower, however, resisted pressure to use nuclear weapons or involve American troops in the conflict. However, on December 2, 1954, the United States and the Republic of China agreed to a mutual defense treaty which did not apply to islands along the Chinese mainland. The treaty was ratified by the United States Senate on February 9, 1955.

The PLA seized Yijiangshan Island on January 18 1955 destroying the Republic of China's forces. Fighting continued along the coast of the Chinese mainland and on Matsu and Kinmen islands. On January 29, 1955 the Formosa Resolution was approved by both houses of the United States Congress authorizing Eisenhower to use U.S. forces to defend Formosa and its possessions in the Taiwan Strait against armed attack.

In February, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned the U.S. against using nuclear weapons but in March, United States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated publicly that the U.S. was seriously considering a nuclear strike. In response, NATO foreign ministers warned at a meeting of the alliance against such action. In late March, U.S. Admiral Robert B. Carney said that Eisenhower is planning "to destroy Red China's military potential."

The People's Republic backed down in the face of American nuclear brinksmanship and in light of the lack of willingness by the Soviet Union to threaten nuclear retaliation for an attack on the People's Republic. The People's Republic of China government stated on April 23, 1955 that it was willing to negotiate. On May 1 the PLA ceased shelling Quemoy and Matsu.

The fundamental issues of the conflict remained unresolved, however, and both sides subsequently built up their military forces on their respective sides of the Taiwan Strait leading to a new crisis three years later.

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First Taiwan Strait Crisis

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