May 5th 2018

  Buy Issue 3019

Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY HECS: hastening our demographic winter

EDITORIAL Liddell is the 'fly in the ointment' of the NEG

AFRICAN AFFAIRS African Continental Free Trade Area ... in the spirit of GATT

CANBERRA OBSERVED Bernardi foray looks to be fading out of view

ENVIRONMENT Is a prolonged freeze on the way for the earth?

MEDICINE NaProTechnology: an ethical alternative in reproductive health

MEDICAL ETHICS Grounds for objection: a declaration on freedom of conscience

OPINION What a republic would really mean for Australia

LAW AND FREEDOM 'Rule of law' does not support exemptions: a reply to Robin Speed

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Saudi Crown Prince challenges Wahhabists

HIGHER EDUCATION Undoing the dis-education of Millennials

GENDER POLITICS Why are patients being denied freedom of choice?

ASIAN HISTORY Jinmen: the forgotten crisis that brought the world to the brink


MUSIC Grammy salute to Elton John: Revealing revisit to the 1970s

CINEMA The Isle of Dogs: Man's best friend in exile

BOOK REVIEW Australia, we need to talk about China

BOOK REVIEW Novelised life a vivid drama of survival



NATIONAL AFFAIRS Committal hearing dismisses main charges against Cardinal Pell

Books promotion page

Jinmen: the forgotten crisis that brought the world to the brink

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, May 5, 2018

That the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster is well known. But who remembers that 60 years ago this year, the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis resulted in a similar nuclear imbroglio? In 1958, China did not have nuclear arms at the time, but the Russians did. The question was, would the USSR risk nuclear war for China?

The Taiwan Strait separates the island of Taiwan from the mainland of China. At its narrowest, it is only 130 kilometres wide. The Strait contains a number of island groups, including the Pescadores, Matsu, and Jinmen (also known as Quemoy). All these islands are under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China (ROC), with its capital in Taipei.

The Pescadores (“Fishermen’s Islands”) were so named by the Portuguese. They are called Penghu in Chinese. They are sandy and low lying. The Pescadores are famous for their tasty peanuts and their beautiful women, who wear face scarves to preserve their velvety complexions again the constant wind. The archipelago is only 17 kilometres from Fuzhou, an important port in the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Jinmen is called “Golden Gate” in Chinese. Jinmen is famous for its Kaoliang wine, a fiery clear spirit distilled from sorghum, and its knives, which are made from spent communist artillery shells. Jinmen is only two kilometres east of the PRC port city of Xiamen, formerly known as Amoy. Matsu and Jinmen are not part of Taiwan Province; both are part of Fujian Province, although both are administered by the ROC.

Not long ago, the closest anyone was likely to get to the PRC was by looking through the telescope from Jinmen across the two-kilometre channel. One could observe people, oblivious to the inquisitive onlookers, going about their daily business. “Freedom seekers” would occasionally brave the ocean to make the crossing to Jinmen. The PRC would launch artillery barrages every second day against Jinmen, usually without any explosive content towards the end.

But the shelling was not always so innocuous. During the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, 60 years ago, the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended using nuclear weapons against the PRC. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had been Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, in World War II, rejected the Joint Chiefs’ advice to go nuclear. Eisenhower was known to be a diplomat rather than a gung-ho warrior.

The Taiwan Strait was a flashpoint for tensions between the forces of democracy and the communist bloc. Mao Zedong manipulated the situation to his advantage. In 1949, ROC troops on Jinmen pushed an under strength PRC invasion force back into the sea. The battle was ferocious and the ROC troops fought bravely, proving that without a communist fifth column and with good leadership, the ROC troops were a match for the Red forces. The PRC troops landed in wooden fishing boats, which were set alight, giving the PRC troops no means of escape from the ROC tanks and infantry. The PRC leadership was aghast at the scale of the disaster.

The ROC, under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, was determined to hold the frontline islands of Jinmen and Matsu at all costs, with two intentions in mind: first, they could act as bases to prevent any PRC attack on the island of Taiwan; and second, they would be the jumping off point for an attack to retake mainland China, an ambition that Chiang never renounced. His legitimacy as ruler of the ROC depended on it.

Chiang’s determination to recover mainland China would not have been credible if the ROC did not hold the frontline islands. It is widely believed in Taiwan that Chiang did plan on several occasions to launch an attack to recover the China mainland, but was deterred by the United States.

The First Taiwan Strait Crisis (1954) could be seen as an elaborate feint by Mao to determine the resolve of the U.S. in the Taiwan Strait. Harry Truman, as U.S. President, was equivocal about Taiwan but unleashed the Seventh Fleet to blockade the Taiwan Strait. As it turned out, neither the USSR nor the U.S. was prepared to “go nuclear” over the Taiwan Strait.

The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis (August 1958) was more intense. The PRC opened a massive artillery bombardment against Jinmen, to which the ROC responded in kind. Some 450 men were killed on either side. The battle became intense and the U.S. resupplied the ROC forces with Sabre jets, armed with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, which gave the ROC pilots the upper hand against the PRC’s Soviet-made MiGs.

The Soviets urged restraint and the PRC began running out of shells. In the end, the PRC began shelling Jinmen on alternative days. This strange arrangement continued until the U.S. and the PRC normalised relations in 1979. Towards the end, the shells contained propaganda, not explosives.

The Second Taiwan Crisis could be interpreted as an attempt to “liberate” Taiwan from ROC control, but this seems to be unlikely. The PRC, no doubt at Mao’s instigation, was demonstrating to the world that it could stand up to a U.S. ally, unlike the “revisionist” USSR. Taiwan was a U.S. ally, but a marginal one, and the U.S. would not launch a nuclear war over a few small islands that were excluded from the U.S.-ROC defence treaty.

The PRC wished to assume leadership of the world’s socialist camp, at the expense of the USSR. The PRC also wished to see how far it could push the U.S. Both the ROC and PRC troops were no more than politicians’ playthings, casualties in a deadly global game of bluff.

Listen to
News Weekly Podcasts

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

Join email list

Join e-newsletter list

Your cart has 0 items

Subscribe to NewsWeekly

Research Papers

Trending articles

CARDINAL GEORGE PELL FREE: The commentary file

RURAL AFFAIRS A national disgrace: Our great land sale

ROYAL COMMISSION Hatchet job on Cardinal Pell breached basic principle of fairness

COVER STORY Justice at last: Cardinal Pell set free

EDITORIAL Australia needs an economic reset after covid19 crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED The very young can still be 'taken care of' during the covid19 outbreak

COVER STORY Gearing up to ditch free-trade policy

© Copyright 2017
Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm