Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Taiwan Strait Crisis, First (1954–1955)

Shelling of offshore Chinese islands in the Taiwan Strait from 3 September 1954 to 1 May 1955, initiated by the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC's birth in October 1949 did not signify complete victory in the Chinese Civil War, at least not in the mind of PRC Chairman Mao Zedong. Jiang Jieshi's Guomindang (GMD, Nationalist) government still retained control of Taiwan and a number of the offshore islands in the Taiwan Strait, and Jiang continued to harbor quixotic ideas of retaking Mainland China. Mao in turn wished to complete his victory by capturing Taiwan and crushing the GMD. In fact, both Mao and Jiang had devised military plans to carry on the civil war so as to liberate the territories held by the other. The Korean War, however, had temporarily put these plans aside.

The first sign of a resumption in the civil war occurred in summer 1954. In August, Jiang deployed troops to the Jinmen and Matzu islands, known to Westerners as Quemoy and Matsu, two clusters of small islands located 8 miles off Mainland China's southeastern coast. At the same time, ongoing negotiations in Manila for a Southeast Asian mutual defense treaty, initiated by the United States during the Geneva Conference in April 1954, were about to conclude. Rumors flew that Jiang's GMD and the United States were working on a mutual defense pact aimed at the PRC. Seeing these moves as unwarranted provocation by the West, Mao was determined to stage a military showdown. On 3 September 1954, he ordered an artillery bombardment of Jinmen from Fujian Province, beginning the initial phase of the First Taiwan Strait Crisis, which endured until late October. In the process, both Jinmen and Mazu suffered heavy bombardment.

The second phase began on 1 November and ended four days later, when PRC forces shelled and raided the Dachen and Yijiangshan islands off Mainland China's Zhejiang Province, north of Taiwan. Afterward, China's bombardment subsided and resumed periodically on a limited scale while the PRC's government awaited U.S. and Taiwanese reactions. In the midst of the crisis, the U.S. Congress passed the Mutual Defense Treaty on 2 December 1954, which promised defensive aid to Taiwan. The PRC strongly protested the U.S. commitment to Taiwan, a stance that later secured the PRC's success at the Bandung Conference in April 1955.

The crisis reached a new zenith when PRC forces resumed heavy bombardment of the Dachens on 10 January 1955 and seized Yijiangshan on 18 January 1955. To halt further PRC advances, the U.S. Congress passed the Taiwanese (Formosan) Resolution on 24 January 1955, which authorized the use of U.S. military force to fight further hostile Chinese communist movements. Determined to avoid a direct confrontation with the United States, Mao ordered the shelling scaled back. At the same time, Washington also wished to prevent a full military confrontation, as it was not prepared to defend all of the offshore islands in the Taiwan Strait.

The stalemated crisis finally drew to a close in late April 1955, upon an initiative from the PRC. On 23 April 1955, Premier and Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai declared at the Bandung Conference that the PRC had no desire to engage the United States in a war and was ready to negotiate an end to the standoff. To show its good faith, the PRC stopped all bombing of the offshore islands on 1 May 1955, which effectively ended the First Taiwan Strait Crisis. Shortly thereafter, the PRC and the United States agreed to hold ambassadorial talks to resolve the Taiwan question. The talks began on 1 August 1955 in Geneva between the Chinese ambassador to Poland, Wang Bingnan, and the U.S. ambassador to Poland, Alexis U. Johnson. The Sino-American Ambassadorial Talks deadlocked, however, and were suspended in December 1957. In September 1958, the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis broke out, which resulted in another Sino-American confrontation.

Law Yuk-fun


Further Reading
Garver, John W. The Sino-American Alliance: Nationalist China and the American Cold War Strategy in China. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1997.; Soman, Appu K. Double-Edged Sword: Nuclear Diplomacy in Unequal Conflicts; The United States and China, 1950–1958. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.; Stolper, Thomas E. China, Taiwan, and the Offshore Islands. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1985.; Tucker, Nancy Bernkopf, ed. Dangerous Strait: The U.S.-Taiwan-China Crisis. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
 

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