Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Jinmen and Mazu

Two island groups in the Taiwan Strait and the source of military tensions between the People's Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland and the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. Jinmen, known to Westerners as Quemoy, and its eleven smaller islands totaling 95 square miles are located at the mouth of the Bay of Xiamen off the mainland's Fujian Province along the southeastern coast, 170 miles northwest of Taiwan's southwestern port of Gao Xiong. North of the Jinmen Islands is Mazu (Matsu) and its smaller eighteen islands totaling 18 square miles, situated off Fujian's Min River and 130 miles northwest of Taiwan's port of Jilong.

Finally convinced of its defeat by communist forces in the Chinese Civil War (1947–1949), the Guomindang (GMD, Nationalist) government gave up the mainland and fled to Taiwan in early 1949, the largest and farthest offshore island from Fujian in the Taiwan Strait. The GMD also retained a number of smaller islands, including Jinmen and Mazu, close to the mainland. The GMD held these islands for two main purposes: as a strategic fortress to defend the relocated ROC and as a springboard to retake the mainland in the future. Once settled, the GMD government issued the Emergency Decree, which imposed martial law on all territories under its jurisdiction. Jinmen and Mazu were placed under military administration and were heavily reinforced.

To the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the GMD's continued possession of the offshore islands meant that the PRC's birth on 1 October 1949 was merely a de facto termination of the civil war. Hence, securing the Taiwan Strait became the PRC's primary task, and the first attempt to liberate the offshore islands took place on 25 October 1949 in the Battle of Kunington, when 10,000 PRC troops departed Xiamen and landed on Jinmen's northern shore. They were quickly repelled by GMD troops, however. Half of the PRC troops were killed, while the rest surrendered at Kuningtou, a northern coastal village of Jinmen on 28 October 1949.

The second attempt to liberate the Taiwan Strait was scheduled for October 1950, after the PRC had successfully taken all the islands off Guandong Province in August 1950. This campaign, however, was postponed because of PRC intervention in the Korean War (1950–1953).

The PRC finally launched another attempt to secure the Taiwan Strait in September 1954, when it began the bombardment of Jinmen from the Fujian coast, provoking the First Taiwan Strait Crisis (1954–1955). Because of the U.S. defense commitment to the ROC in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty signed in December 1954 and because of other diplomatic considerations, the PRC scaled down the shelling, ending the crisis in May 1955. Jinmen and Mazu remained under ROC control.

In August 1958, the PRC began a new massive shelling of Jinmen, leading to the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. Besides liberation, the PRC manipulated this bombardment to test the U.S.-ROC alliance. Despite its pledge to defend Taiwan, the United States had never clearly stated whether Jinmen and Mazu were entitled to American protection, a question stemming from the vagueness of the 1954 treaty. In the 1958 crisis, however, the Americans finally clarified that both Jinmen and Mazu fell within the U.S. defensive line. Besides providing naval forces to assist the GMD in reinforcing the defensive capacities on the islands, the United States threatened to retaliate with nuclear weapons. With American intentions now quite clear, the PRC's bombardment subsided, ending the crisis in October 1958.

American readiness to defend Jinmen and Mazu was reiterated during the 1960 presidential election. Both Republican candidate Richard Nixon and Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy pledged to use military force, including nuclear weapons, to defend the islands, but this commitment was never tested, as both the PRC and the ROC lost interest in upsetting the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

However, tensions continued between the Fujian coast and Jinmen and Mazu throughout the remainder of the Cold War, including routine and periodic exchanges of bombardment and the conduct of sabotage activities on both sides. Calm in the Taiwan Strait gradually set in during the 1980s after the PRC established a formal diplomatic relationship with the United States and the ROC decided to pursue non-official people-to-people diplomacy to improve its relationship with the PRC. As such, the military importance of Jinmen and Mazu was rendered moot. In 1985 martial law was lifted, and in 1992 both Jinmen and Mazu were returned to civilian administration. In 2001, as a result of nearly two decades of consultations, the PRC and the ROC created the so-called Little Three Links, or the Mini Three Links, allowing direct postal, transportation, and trade links between Fujian and the Jinmen-Mazu islands, which established the basis for a future China-Taiwan reunification.

Law Yuk-fun


Further Reading
Gong, Gerrit, ed. Taiwan Strait Dilemmas: China-Taiwan-U.S. Policies in the New Century. Washington, DC: Center of Strategic and International Studies, 2000.; Ryan, Mark A., David M. Finkelstein, and Michael A. McDevitt, eds. Chinese Warfighting: The PLA Experience since 1949. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 2003.; Tucker, Nancy Bernkopf, ed. Dangerous Strait: The U.S.-Taiwan-China Crisis. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
 

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