The First Taiwan Strait Crisis, also called the Formosa Crisis, occurred between 3 September 1954 and 1 May 1955. It saw 519 Chinese soldiers and 393 Taiwanese soldiers killed.

by Lt Col J.S. Sodhi (Retd)

Lisa Nichols’ quote “When your clarity meets your conviction, and you apply action to the equation, your world will begin to transform before your eyes” holds true for the world to adopt and accept a Two-China Policy that would bring peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region in specific and the world at large, as a formal recognition of Taiwan will crash and crush China’s long dream of taking Taiwan back into its folds.

Taiwan, which is officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is a country located in East Asia with 168 islands and a combined area of 36,193 square kilometres. The main island of Taiwan, which was formerly known as Formosa, has an area of 35,808 square kilometres, a population of 2.36 crores and has Taipei as its capital.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC), commonly known as China, with its capital in Beijing, with an area of 9.6 million square kilometres and a population of 140.21 crores, has a long history of differences and disputes with Taiwan.

In 1863, Taiwan was annexed by China’s Qing Dynasty, who ceded it to the Empire of Japan in 1895. ROC took control of Taiwan after the surrender of Japan in World War II in 1945.

In 1945, ROC comprised both mainland China and Taiwan and its adjoining islands. However, the second phase of the Chinese Civil War, which lasted from 10 August 1945 to 07 December 1949, saw ROC led by the nationalist party Kuomintang losing mainland China to the armed forces of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949.

After its defeat, Kuomintang fled to the neighbouring Taiwan. Since then, ROC comprises 168 islands including Taiwan.

In 1971, the United Nations voted to recognise PRC, thus brushing aside ROC’s claim of being the sole legitimate representative of China. Out of 193 member nations of the UN, ROC has diplomatic relations with only 13 countries. Effectively, PRC has eliminated ROC from having normal international relations with most countries in the world as PRC harbours an ambition of a unified China comprising PRC and ROC and it does all it can to globally isolate ROC.

It is indeed ironical that though ROC was one of the founding members of the United Nations, now it has neither the official membership nor an observer status in the UN.

Also intriguing is that the US in pursuance of its “One-China Policy” recognises PRC and has no official diplomatic relations with ROC, but with the enacting of the Taiwan Travel Act on 16 March 2018 by the US Congress, the relations between ROC and the US have reached a new zenith, even as the US and Taiwan have a long-standing business and military relationship.

Chinese President Xi Jinping remarked on 2 January 2019 that by 2050 China will take over Taiwan. And use of the armed forces in achieving this stated aim is not ruled out.

The past six decades have seen three major conflagrations between China and Taiwan which are called the First, Second and the Third Taiwan Strait Crises.

The First Taiwan Strait Crisis, also called the Formosa Crisis, occurred between 3 September 1954 and 1 May 1955. It was a brief conflict between China and Taiwan over a group of islands in the Taiwan Strait that were under Taiwan but China staked claim by shelling the Kinmen Island. Subsequently, China seized the Yijiangshan Islands from Taiwan. This led to Taiwan abandoning the Tachen Islands. This conflict saw 519 Chinese soldiers and 393 Taiwanese soldiers killed. This crisis ended after the US threatened the use of nuclear weapons on China and the erstwhile USSR refused any help to China. This crisis also resulted in the Formosa Resolution of 1955 and the Sino-American Mutual Defence Treaty between the US and Taiwan.

The Second Taiwan Crisis, also called the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis, took place from 23 August to 2 December 1958 and saw China shelling the Kinmen and Matsu Islands. It included a naval battle between China and Taiwan, which saw the Taiwanese Navy getting the better of the PLA Navy. This conflict saw 514 Chinese soldiers dead and 460 Taiwanese soldiers killed. China saw its one ship and two fighter jets destroyed, whilst Taiwan lost 31 fighter jets. The US Navy sent additional warships to the Taiwan Strait as a show of support to Taiwan. This further escalated the Chinese aggression. This crisis ended as China was faced with a stalemate as its artillery ran out of shells and it had to declare a unilateral ceasefire as the US Navy moved warships into the Taiwan Strait.

The Third Taiwan Crisis of 21 July 1994 to 23 March 1996, was the result of a series of missile tests conducted by China in the waters surrounding Taiwan as a strong signal to the Taiwanese government under Lee Teng-hui who was seen as having a strong foreign policy and to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate in the run-up to the 1996 presidential election. The US sent its naval Seventh Fleet which included the aircraft carriers USS Independence and USS Nimitz. Seeing the heavy American military build-up in the Taiwan Strait, China ended this crisis quietly.

2021 saw a record number of incursions in the Taiwanese airspace by the fighter jets of the Chinese Air Force. 2022 was no better as China carried out numerous military exercises in the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan after it got rattled by the success of the Quad Summit on 24 May 2022 in Tokyo.

It is in this context that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi’s 2-3 August visit to China has to be seen. The talk of her visit led to the Chinese President making a two-hour long telephonic call to the US President Joe Biden with a terse message not to play with fire.

China was quick in condemning the visit and immediately imposed some sanctions on Taiwan and launched a high-level military exercise of four days from 4-7 August 2022 encircling Taiwan. As a result, commercial shipping and airpaths got severely affected as they had to take detours, resulting in loss of time and millions of dollars.

The joint communique of the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting issued on 3 August 2022 in Cambodia, did not name either China or Taiwan as root cause for tensions between the two nations on the either side of the Taiwan Strait escalated, though most of the ASEAN countries have a heavy tilt towards China. The G7 statement issued the same day squarely blamed China for unnecessary escalation in the region. 2010 onwards India has avoided using the word One-China Policy in its official documents and joint statements.

All these are strong indicators of a tectonic shift towards a Two-China Policy as the world asserts itself against China’s expansionism, its debt trap diplomacy that has landed 40 nations in dire straits and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic leading to catastrophic death and destruction the world over.

Both China and Taiwan have different Constitutions, currencies, cultures and customs.

It is time the world accepted and adopted a Two-China Policy and took a crystal-clear stand on this critical and complex issue, as it will put to rest the simmering tensions that often simmer between China and Taiwan.

Lt Col J.S. Sodhi (Retd) retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army. The views expressed are personal

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