The First Taiwan Strait Crisis (also called the 1954–1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the Formosa Crisis, the Offshore Islands Crisis or the 1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis) was a brief armed conflict that took place between the governments of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC), which by then fled and was based in Taiwan. The PRC seized the Yijiangshan Islands, forcing the ROC to abandon the Tachen Islands. The United States and the ROC Navies joined forces to evacuate ROC military personnel and civilians from the Tachen Islands to Taiwan. Though the Tachen Islands changed hands during the crisis, American news reports focused almost exclusively on the Kinmen and Matsu islands, which were the sites of frequent artillery duels.
The Chinese Civil War had receded in scale in 1949, with Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) government and 1.3 million supporters abandoning the Chinese Mainland and relocating the national government to the island of Taiwan (also known as Formosa). While hostilities in western and southwestern China continued, the territory under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China was effectively reduced to Taiwan, the Pescadores, and several island groups along the coast of southeastern China. Hainan island fell to the Communists in April 1950 and the Choushan islands were evacuated by the Nationalists in May 1950, even before the First Taiwan Strait Crisis.
The Matsu and Kinmen island groups, situated in the Taiwan Strait just off the coast of the Chinese Mainland, were the Nationalists' first line of defense against the Communist Party of China and were heavily fortified by Chiang. The islands off the shore of Zhejiang province were seen as a foothold to recover the mainland and housed the reduced provincial government of Chiang's native province.
While the United States recognized Chiang's government as the sole legitimate government for all of China, U.S. President Harry S. Truman announced on January 5, 1950, that the United States would not become involved in any dispute about Taiwan Strait, and that he 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 that the "neutralization of the Straits of Formosa" was in the best interest of the United States, and he sent the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait to prevent any conflict between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China, effectively putting Taiwan under American protection.
On June 27, 1950, President Truman issued the following statement:
"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, the Foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, to carry out his decision on neutralizing Taiwan in drafting the Treaty of San Francisco of 1951 (the peace treaty with Japan), which excluded the participation of both the ROC and the PRC. Since no recipient was specified in the treaty of Taiwan's sovereignty, it has been used by supporters of Taiwan independence to argue for their position that the sovereignty status of Taiwan undetermined, despite the Japanese having already agreed ‹See TfD› to return Taiwan to Republic of China through the Instrument of Surrender signed at end of the War. According to the author George H. Kerr, a supporter of Taiwanese independence, in his book Formosa Betrayed, the political status of Taiwan was under the trust of the Allied Powers (against Japan). It would be the responsibility of the United Nations if this could not be resolved in near future as designed in the peace treaty.
The NationalistChina Government (now based in Taiwan) maintained as its goal the recovery of control of mainland China, and this required a resumption of the military confrontation with the Red Chinese. Truman and his advisors regarded that goal as unrealizable, but regrets over losing China to international communism. was quite prominent in public opinion at the time, and the Truman Administration was criticized by anticommunists for preventing any attempt by Chiang Kai-shek's forces to liberate mainland China.
Truman, a member of the Democratic Party, did not run for reelection in the presidential election of 1952, even though he was eligible to do so. This election was won by the Republican Dwight Eisenhower, a World War II General.
On February 2, 1953, the new President lifted the Seventh Fleet's blockade in order to fulfill demands by anticommunists to "unleash Chiang Kai-shek" on mainland China.
In August 1954, the Nationalists placed 58,000 troops on Kinmen and 15,000 troops on Matsu. The ROC began building defensive structures and the PRC began shelling ROC installations on Kinmen. Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People's Republic of China responded with a declaration on 11 August 1954, that Taiwan must be "liberated." He dispatched the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to the area, and it began shelling both Kinmen and the Matsu Islands.
Despite warnings from the U.S. against any attacks on the Republic of China; five days before the signing of the Manila pact, the PLA unleashed a heavy artillery bombardment of Kinmen on September 3, and intensified its actions in November by bombing the Tachen Islands. This renewed Cold War fears of Communist expansion in Asia at a time when the PRC was not recognized by the United States Department of State. Chiang Kai-shek's government was supported by the United States because the ROC was part of the containment of communism which stretched from a devastated South Korea to an increasingly divided Southeast Asia.
On September 12, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended the use of nuclear weapons against mainland China. 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 ROC agreed to the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, which did not apply to islands along the Chinese mainland. This treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 9, 1955.
After two failed attempts, the PLA seized the Yijiangshan Islands on January 18, 1955. Fighting continued in nearby islands off the coast of Zhejiang, as well as around Kinmen and the Matsu Islands in Fujian. On January 29, 1955, the Formosa Resolution was approved by both houses of the U.S. Congress authorizing Eisenhower to use U.S. forces to defend the ROC 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, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated publicly that the U.S. was seriously considering a nuclear strike. In response, the 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."
Some scholars hypothesized the PRC 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 PRC. Others see the case as an example of effective application of extended deterrence by the United States. In any case, the Red Chinese government stated on April 23, 1955, that it was willing to negotiate. On May 1 the PLA temporarily ceased shelling Kinmen 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. There are strong indications that Mao used the crisis in order to provoke the United States into making nuclear threats. Other scholars have argued that Mao and the Soviet leadership carefully pursued a limited aims strategy to boost morale and for domestic political gain by seizing the Dachens and had no intention to escalate the conflict with the United States.