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- The Taiwan Straits Crises: 1954–55 and
“Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations” has been
retired and is no longer maintained. For more information, please see the full notice .
The Taiwan Straits Crises: 1954–55 and
Tensions between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and
the Republic of China (ROC) in the 1950s resulted in
armed conflict over strategic islands in the Taiwan
Strait. On two separate occasions during the 1950s, the PRC
bombed islands controlled by the ROC. The United States responded by actively
intervening on behalf of the ROC.
The importance of the islands in the Taiwan Strait was rooted in their geographic
proximity to China and Taiwan and their role in the Chinese Civil War. Jinmen
(Quemoy), two miles from the mainland Chinese city of Xiamen, and Mazu, ten
miles from the city of Fuzhou, are located approximately one hundred miles west
of Taiwan. When the Nationalist Government of the ROC under Chiang
Kai-shek recognized that it had lost control of mainland China
during the Chinese Civil War, the officials and part of the Nationalist Army
fled to the island of Taiwan, establishing troops on these two islands and the
Dachen Islands further north. In the early 1950s, Chiang’s forces launched minor
attacks from Jinmen and Mazu against the coast of mainland China. Leadership on
both sides of the strait continued to view the islands as a potential launching
pad for an ROC invasion to retake the Chinese mainland and had an interest in
controlling the islands.
U.S. policy toward East Asia in the early Cold War contributed to the tensions in
the Taiwan Strait. In late 1949 and early 1950, American officials were prepared
to let PRC forces cross the Strait and defeat Chiang, but after the outbreak of
the Korean War in June 1950, the United States sent its Seventh Fleet into the
Taiwan Strait to prevent the Korean conflict from spreading south. The
appearance of the Seventh Fleet angered the Chinese Communists, who transferred
their troops poised for an invasion of Taiwan to the Korean front. This served
to delay military conflict in the Strait until the United States withdrew its
fleet after the Korean War.
Over the next few years, the U.S. Government took steps that allied it more
firmly to the ROC Government on Taiwan. In 1954, the United States led the
creation of the
Southeast Asia Treaty
Organization , which was designed to unify the region against the
perceived Communist threat. Moreover, U.S. officials openly debated the
possibility of signing a Mutual Defense Treaty with Chiang Kai-shek. The PRC
viewed these developments as threats to its national security and regional
leadership. In the interest of bolstering its strategic position in the Taiwan
Strait, the PRC began to bombard Jinmen in September 1954, and soon expanded its
targets to include Mazu and the Dachen Islands.
U.S. policymakers considered sending part of the U.S. fleet into the Strait.
Discussions centered on whether this maneuver would reopen the Chinese Civil War
and, if so, what effect that would have on U.S. security concerns in the region.
U.S. policymakers did not want to be drawn into the conflict, but wanted the ROC
to maintain control of the islands. The loss of Jinmen and Mazu to the People’s
Republic might mean an irreparable blow to Nationalist Army morale and the
legitimacy of the ROC regime on Taiwan. To assert its continued support of that
regime, the United States signed the Mutual Defense Treaty with the ROC.
Although the treaty did not commit the United States to defending the off-shore
islands, it promised support if the ROC engaged in a broader conflict with the
The situation in the Strait deteriorated in late 1954 and early 1955, prompting
the U.S. Government to act. In January 1955, the U.S. Congress passed the
“Formosa Resolution,” which gave President Eisenhower total authority to defend
Taiwan and the off-shore islands. The U.S. Government then announced its
determination to defend Taiwan against communist attack, although it did not
specify the territory included within its defensive perimeter. In exchange for a
private promise to defend Jinmen and Mazu, however, Chiang
Kai-shek agreed to withdraw his troops from Dachen, which was
strategically ambiguous and difficult to defend.
The Eisenhower Administration considered many options, ranging from convincing
Chiang Kai-shek to give up the islands to employing nuclear weapons against the
PRC. Before any of these options became necessary, at the Afro-Asian Conference
in April 1955 in Bandung PRC Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai
announced a desire to negotiate with the United States. The PRC’s sudden shift
could have stemmed from pressure from the Soviet Union to ease tensions, concern
about the very real possibility of war with the United States, or changes in
internal politics. In September, 1955, the PRC and the United States began talks
at Geneva to address the issue of repatriation of nationals, but also to discuss
preventing the escalation of future conflicts.
Although there were good reasons for the PRC to stand down in 1955, it resumed
its bombardment of Jinmen and Mazu in 1958. This time, the PRC took advantage of
the fact that international attention was focused on U.S. intervention in
Lebanon and barred ROC efforts to re-supply garrisons on the off-shore islands.
The PRC also wanted to protest continued U.S. support of the ROC regime. Once
again, President Eisenhower was concerned that the loss of the islands would
hurt Nationalist morale and might be a precursor to the Communist conquest of
Taiwan. The United States thus arranged to re-supply ROC garrisons on Jinmen and
Mazu. This brought an abrupt end to the bombardment and eased the crisis.
Eventually, the PRC and ROC came to an arrangement in which they shelled each
other’s garrisons on alternate days. This continued for twenty years until the
PRC and the United States normalized relations.
Table of Contents
- 1953–1960: Entrenchment of a Bi-Polar Foreign
- Dien Bien Phu & the Fall of French Indochina, 1954
- The East German Uprising, 1953
- Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), 1954
- The Taiwan Straits Crises: 1954–55 and
- U.S.-China Ambassadorial Talks, 1955–1970
- The Warsaw Treaty Organization, 1955
- Bandung Conference (Asian-African Conference), 1955
- Khrushchev and the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party, 1956
- The Suez Crisis, 1956
- Sputnik, 1957
- The Eisenhower Doctrine, 1957
- The Berlin Crisis, 1958–1961
- U-2 Overflights and the Capture of Francis Gary Powers, 1960