Quemoy crisis

By Joe Hung, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Mao Zedong never lost his avidity to get Taiwan back to his communist fold. But he knew full well Taiwan, with a mutual defense treaty signed with the United States in 1954, could not be taken by force. Incidentally, that treaty, which was abrogated by President Jimmy Carter on switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, made sure Taiwan would not be intimidated by the People’s Republic of China for a quarter of a century. It was a diplomatic victory of President Chiang Kai-shek’s to maintain the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. As soon as an armistice had been signed to separate Vietnam along the seventeenth parallel, the People’s Republic of China began fiercely attacking the United States for “military occupation” of Taiwan in 1854 and declared it would “liberate Taiwan” by armed forces. Mao Zedong’s rationale was that the United States, by dispatching its Seventh Fleet to defend Taiwan, had in effect “occupied” the island. After the Korean War was over, he had all divisions sent to fight the United Nations force brought back to China and deployed them along the Fujian coast. MiG fighters began patrolling the Taiwan Strait. To bolster the defense of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek made strategic withdrawals from several outposts. In April and May 1950, troops were evacuated from Hainan Island and the Chusan Islands, and in 1953-54 army units stranded in North Vietnam and the Yunnan-Burmese border region were repatriated. Added strength came when 14,209 Chinese communist prisoners of war, captured during the Korean conflict, arrived in Taiwan on January 23, 1954. One year later, in January 1955, a considerable number of civilians and troops on the Tachen Islands off the Chejiang coast were evacuated. The Seventh Fleet provided escort for the evacuation from Tachen. Aided by these withdrawals, Chiang was able to deploy close to 150,000 troops on the offshore islands of Quemoy or Kinmen and Matsu.

Convinced that he could not unleash his People’s Liberation Army for an invasion of Taiwan, Mao Zedong opted for taking over Quemoy. On September 4, 1954, China started bombarding Quemoy. The purpose was to show to the world that if the question of Taiwan was not resolved at the same time as the wars in Korea and Vietnam, there would never be peace in East Asia. To cope with the threat, President Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced a resolution in Congress regarding his authority to defend Taiwan and the Pescadores on January 25, 1955. He requested Congress to supplement the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1954 by authorizing him to employ armed forces to “assure the security of Formosa and the Pescadores” and, if need be, other “closely related localities” which he did not identify but meant Quemoy and Matsu. Congress adopted a joint resolution giving that authority to the president. The minor Quemoy crisis was over.

But a bigger Quemoy crisis was to ensue shortly. A series of naval and air skirmishes occurred prior to that crisis, which began with the artillery shelling by the People’s Liberation Army of Quemoy on August 24, 1958.