First Taiwan Strait Crisis
Part of the Cold War and the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War

Chinese soldiers load artillery aboard an LCM as ships at anchor await their arrival, 6 February 1955.
Date3 September 1954 – 1 May 1955
(7 months and 4 weeks)

Ceasefire; major escalation avoided

 Republic of China
 United States
 People's Republic of China
Commanders and leaders
Chiang Kai-shek
Liu Yuzhang
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Mao Zedong
Zhou Enlai
Peng Dehuai
Xu Xiangqian
Casualties and losses
519 killed[1]
2 killed[2]
393 killed[1]

The First Taiwan Strait Crisis (also known as the Formosa Crisis, the 1954–1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the Offshore Islands Crisis, the Quemoy-Matsu Crisis, and the 1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis) was a brief armed conflict between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. The conflict focused on several groups of islands in the Taiwan Strait that were held by the ROC but were located only a few miles from mainland China.

The crisis began when the PRC initiated heavy bombardment on the ROC-held island of Kinmen (Quemoy) in September 1954. Shelling was subsequently extended to the Matsu and Tachen (Dachen) islands. In response, the United States and the ROC agreed to the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty in December 1954. In January 1955, the PRC seized the Yijiangshan Islands. Later that month, the Formosa Resolution was approved by both houses of the U.S. Congress, authorizing President Dwight D. Eisenhower to defend the ROC and its possessions. The U.S. Navy then assisted the Nationalists in evacuating from the Tachen Islands.

The crisis de-escalated in April 1955 after Premier Zhou Enlai articulated the PRC's intention to negotiate with the United States at the Bandung Conference, and in May 1955 the People's Liberation Army ceased shelling Kinmen and Matsu. Ambassadorial-level discussions between China and the U.S. began in Geneva in August 1955. The fundamental issues of the conflict remained unresolved, which led to a new crisis three years later.


The United States recognized Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist (Kuomintang) government as the sole legitimate government for all of China. On January 5, 1950, United States President Harry S. Truman issued a statement that the United States would not become involved in "the civil conflict in China" and would not provide military aid or advice to the Nationalist forces on Taiwan.[3]: 125 

As the Korean War broke out, the United States resumed military aid to the ROC and sent the US Navy's Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait.[4]: 50 

On 27 June 1950, Truman issued the following statement:[5]

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,[a] 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. Each self-claimed legitimate government of China was excluded from the treaty because the question of China's legitimate government remained unresolved after World War II and the Chinese Civil War, and this was considered an intractable sticking point in otherwise comprehensive and multilaterally beneficial peace negotiations.

Japan ceded control of Taiwan in the treaty but did not specify a recipient for Taiwan's sovereignty. This situation has been used by supporters of Taiwan independence to argue for their position that the sovereignty status of Taiwan was undetermined, despite the Japanese having already agreed[dubiousdiscuss][citation needed] to return Taiwan to Republic of China through their Instrument of Surrender signed at end of the War.[6] 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 ROC Nationalist 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 regret 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 D. Eisenhower, a General from World War II.

On 2 February 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, hence the Kuomintang regime strengthened its Closed Port Policy of the aerial and naval blockade on foreign vessels on Chinese coast and the high seas,[7][8] whereas the privacy activities intensified in the summer 1953 after Joseph Stalin's death and the Korean Armistice Agreement till summed up to 141 interference incidents as per the Royal Navy escort reports.[9][10]

The CIA briefing on 13 July 1954 for the White House and NSC indicated the shipping insurance increasement across the South China Sea after the Tuapse Incident on 23 June, and certain international liners being deterred midway at Singapore, or had to change plans.[11][12] The PLA Air Force moved in the Hainan Island to clear another transport route through Yulin and Huangpu ports, but accidentally shot down a Douglas DC-4 (VR-HEU) airliner of the Cathay Pacific Airways with 10 deaths on 23 July, then 2 US aircraft carriers, Hornet and Philippine Sea arrived for a rescue mission on 26 July and shot down 2 PLAAF Lavochkin La-11 fighters .[13] On 2 August, Commander of PLA in the Central Military Commission (CMC), Peng Dehuai convened an executive meeting to establish the tactical command on the East China Military Region as per CMC chairman Mao Zedong's directive to open another front from the north.[14]

The conflict

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, PRC premier 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, during which two American military advisers were killed.[2] Mao Zedong sought to avoid United States involvement in the conflict and gave repeated orders that the PLA should avoid engaging with the American forces off the coast.[4]: 162  In November, the PLA bombed 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 United States' policy of containment of communism which stretched from a devastated South Korea to an increasingly divided Southeast Asia.

The PLA initially planned to attack the Yijiangshan Islands in late 1954, but delayed the attack while American forces were conducting military exercises in that area.[3]: 162  On 18 January 1955, the PLA seized the islands. Fighting continued on nearby islands off the coast of Zhejiang, as well as around Kinmen and the Matsu Islands in Fujian. On 29 January 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. The U.S. Navy then assisted the Nationalists in evacuating their forces from the Tachen Islands.[15]

During the crisis, Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons against PRC military targets in Fujian.[16]: 89  On 12 September 1954, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended the use of nuclear weapons against mainland China. On 2 December 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 9 February 1955. In February 1955, 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.[17] 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."[18]

At the April 1955 Bandung Conference, China articulated its Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and Premier Zhou Enlai publicly stated, "[T]he Chinese people do not want to have a war with the United States. The Chinese government is willing to sit down to discuss the question of relaxing tension in the Far East, and especially the question of relaxing tension in the Taiwan area."[19] A month later, Mao likewise told Indonesian Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo that all problems, including the status of Taiwan, could be resolved through negotiation.[4]: 163  The crisis de-escalated, and the United States and China began ambassadorial-level discussions in Geneva on August 1, 1955.[19] Two years of negotiations with the United States followed, and covered many issues, although no agreement was reached on the primary issue, Taiwan.[19]


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. On 1 May 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.

Eisenhower's threats to use nuclear weapons during the crisis prompted Mao to begin China's nuclear program.[16]: 89–90  The first of China's nuclear weapons tests took place in 1964 and its first successful hydrogen bomb test occurred in 1967.

See also


  1. ^ Dulles would later serve as Secretary of State himself under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.


  1. ^ a b Han Cheung (12 January 2020). "Taiwan in Time: Yijiangshan: Moving the Americans to action?". Taipei Times. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Kinmen unveils monument in honor of US officer". Taipei Times. 8 December 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2019. The Kinmen Defense Command (KDC) unveiled a cenotaph on Tuesday to commemorate the late Lieutenant Colonel Frank Lynn of the US, who died in a Chinese artillery bombardment on Sept. 3, 1954, on Kinmen.{...}It was placed next to the cenotaph of Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Medendorp, which was installed at the wharf in August 1992. Medendorp was killed in the same bombing.
  3. ^ a b Li, Hongshan (2024). Fighting on the Cultural Front: U.S.-China Relations in the Cold War. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231207058.
  4. ^ a b c Li, Hongshan (2024). Fighting on the Cultural Front: U.S.-China Relations in the Cold War. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231207058.
  5. ^ Truman, Harry (27 June 1950). "Statement issued by President Truman". Archived from the original on 14 December 2014. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  6. ^ Taiwan Independence Movement Archived December 22, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ National Archives Administration, National Development Council (8 January 2009). "Blockage on the Communist regions" (in Chinese (Taiwan)). Archival Resources for Teaching.
  8. ^ Executive Yuan Decree (16 August 1950). "Emergency measures on shipping companies and vessels helping the Chinese Communists" (in Chinese (Taiwan)). ROC Ministry of Transportation and Communications.
  9. ^ *John W. Garver (30 April 1997). The Sino-American Alliance, Nationalist China and American Cold war Strategy in Asia. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, Inc. ISBN 9780765600530.
  10. ^ Li Zhen-hsiang (8 January 2009). "Praca" (in Chinese (Taiwan)). Taiwan News Weekly, ver. 376, Taiwan Association for Truth and Reconciliation.
  11. ^ Lin Hong-yi (2009). "Chapter 4,1953–1960" (PDF). Blockade the Mainland coast – the Closed Port Policy of ROC Government,1949–1960 (M.D. thesis) (in Chinese (Taiwan)). National Chengchi University.
  12. ^ Li Zhen-hsiang (8 January 2009). "The Anti-Communist Rampage: the Tuapse hijack incident in 1954" (in Chinese (Taiwan)). Taiwan People News.
  13. ^ Roy A. Grossnick (1997). United States Naval Aviation, 1910–1995. Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. ISBN 978-0-16-049124-5. Archived from the original on 14 September 2020. Retrieved 14 September 2020.
  14. ^ Lang Yang (9 March 2000). "On the edge of war: A strategy review on the Kinmen Bombardment (Part 1)" (in Chinese (China)). Warship Information.
  15. ^ Rushkoff, Bennett C. "Eisenhower, Dulles and the Quemoy-Matsu Crisis, 1954–1955." Political Science Quarterly 96, no. 3 (1981): 469–72. [1]
  16. ^ a b Crean, Jeffrey (2024). The Fear of Chinese Power: an International History. New Approaches to International History series. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-1-350-23394-2.
  17. ^ James McManus (27 October 2009). Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 226. ISBN 978-1-4299-9068-4.
  18. ^ Bruce A. Elleman (16 December 2014). Taiwan Straits: Crisis in Asia and the Role of the U.S. Navy. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-8108-8890-6.
  19. ^ a b c Zhao, Suisheng (2023). The dragon roars back : transformational leaders and dynamics of Chinese foreign policy. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-5036-3415-2. OCLC 1332788951.

Further reading