President Lee Teng-hui celebrates his re-election by absolute majority after Chinese missile tests intended to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate.

What are the three Taiwan crises that China and the United States have already faced?


Nancy Pelosi’s trip has not triggered an unprecedented crisis, since Beijing and Washington have already collided up to three times over Taiwan. On two occasions, this could lead to a nuclear conflict

President Lee Teng-hui celebrates his re-election by absolute majority after Chinese missile tests intended to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate.VINCENT YOUAP
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Last Tuesday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosiarrived in Taipei in what has been a historic visit due to the huge stir it has caused. Beijing had repeatedly warned Washington not to “play with fire” with Taiwan, and that if Pelosi arrived on the island, his army “would not stand idly by.” In these days of enormous tension, which could go down in history as ‘the fourth Taiwan Strait crisis’, it is worth reviewing the three previous moments that confronted China, taiwan Y USA. Incidents, at least two of them, that could have led to humanity on the brink of nuclear confrontation.

The origin of today’s Taiwan dates back to 1949, after the end of the Chinese civil war waged by Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists and Mao Zedong’s communists. The fratricidal conflict, which began in 1927, ended with the victory of the Communist Party. Therefore, the nationalists of the Kuomintang were forced to withdraw to the island of Formosa. In December 1949, Chiang declared Taipei the temporary capital of the Republic of China, as opposed to the People’s Republic of China, based in Beijing. No armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed.

At first, in January 1950, USA he announced that he would not intervene on Taiwan’s behalf if it were attacked by China. However, the outbreak of the Korean War in June of that same year led President Truman to reconsider this position with the aim of “containing” communism in the region.

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FIRST CRISIS (1954-1955)

In August 1954, Taipei reinforced the islands of Kinmen and Matsu with thousands of soldiers, just 10 kilometers from the Asian mainland. Despite the fact that Washington warned Beijing of the consequences of initiating an attack, the Chinese ‘premier’, Zhou Enlai, proclaimed that Taiwan was to be “liberated”. So, already in September, China started bombing Kinmen. In response, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended the use of nuclear weaponsbut Dwight Eishenhower, president at the time, rejected that possibility.

In November, China managed to seize the small Tachen Islands, a group of islands located about 300 kilometers north of Formosa and very close to the mainland. In January, too, he conquered the Yijiangshan Islands adjacent to the Tachen Islands. Consequently, Washington and Taipei signed a Mutual Defense Treaty (expired in 1979) that covered the island of Formosa and the Pescadores archipelago, but left the islands of Kinmen and Matsu outside the protection umbrella.

It all ended in May 1955 with a ceasefire by which Beijing would keep the captured territory. Nearly 1,000 people were killed, including two US military advisers.


The second crisis can be considered the continuation of the first. In August 1958, Taiwanese and Chinese troops clashed on Dongding Islet during a Chinese amphibious operation to take it. The operation unleashed a constant dynamic of bombing raids on Kinmen and Matsu.

The United States considered using nuclear weapons, but, again, it was discarded. However, Taipei did resort to the Mutual Defense Treaty signed with the US, which decisively supported the Taiwanese army supplying him with cutting-edge weaponry or protecting Kinmen’s resupply and supply convoys with his own ships. Mao was unwilling to drag Washington directly onto the battlefield, so the Chinese did not attack these convoys because of the presence of the American ships. The confrontation ended up leading to various naval and air battles, apart from artillery.

Faced with the stagnation of the conflict, Beijing announced an unstable unilateral ceasefire in October. The crisis ended in December 1958 with a return to the positions that China and Taiwan occupied before the war. Some 900 soldiers and 80 civilians were killed. Nonetheless, Kinmen and Matsu continued to be bombed sporadically on even-numbered days of each month until the normalization of US-China relations in 1979.

THIRD CRISIS (1995-1996)

Back in the 1990s, when taiwan was on the road to democracy, President Lee Teng-hui, accepted the invitation of the American Cornell University, his alma mater, to give a speech on the democratizing experience of his country. Beijing fervently opposed such a trip and the pro-regime press called Lee a “traitor” for trying to “break China”.

Therefore, the People’s Liberation Army announced in July 1995 a series of missile tests while mobilizing his troops in Fujian. Furthermore, over the following months, there were more ballistic tests and amphibious live fire military exercises.

Washington responded by sending its fleet to the region, including the aircraft carriers ‘Independence’ and ‘Nimitz’. The latter, accompanied by his escort ships, sailed through the Taiwan Strait. But not everything was there.

In March 1996, Taiwan was scheduled to hold presidential elections. Before the elections, China resumed missile launches to send a message to citizens that voting for Lee meant going to war. In contrast, the Taiwanese, rather than feeling fear, felt anger. The polls, until then, predicted a victory for Lee and the Kuomintang by a simple majority, but, finally, won by absolute majority with 54% of the votes. China’s strategy had not worked.


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