When analyzing the factors that contributed to the First and Second Taiwan Strait Crisis that occurred in 1945 and 1958, respectively, most historians would agree that an underlying factor was due to the tensions between the some of the superpowers during this time: the United States and the People’s Republic of China. After the Chinese Civil War ended with the nationalists fleeing to Taiwan along with their leader Chiang Kai-Shek, United States policy towards Taiwan, and East Asia in general, contributed to increased tensions with China as the Cold War continued on (US Department). Later on, these tensions provided Mao with a justification to make the move towards the shelling of the offshore islands of Jinmen and Mazu (Yang & Mao 2) which resulted in the First Taiwan Crisis in 1954 until 1955 (Chen 167). Before the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the United States did not intervene largely in East Asian affairs, especially in regards to Mao’s plan to cross the Taiwan Strait and defeat Chiang (US Department). However, the start of the Korean War in 1950 prompted the United States to send their Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait with the intention to prevent the spread of the Korean conflict to the south and essentially stop the spread of communism as well (US Department). Despite the United States making it clear that they are not committed to defending the offshore islands of Taiwan along the strait, Mao’s fear of a potential invasion by the United States led to his decision to shell Jinmen as mentioned earlier, thus causing the First Taiwan Strait Crisis (Sheng 480). On the other hand, the Geneva Conference that was held to resolve the issue of the Korean peninsula had failed to bring up the Taiwan question and this worried Mao. This eventually become another factor that contributed to Mao’s decision to shell Jinmen.
Throughout all this, unspoken tensions were present between the United States and the PRC with Mao’s fear and suspicion of imperialism from the United States which was mirrored in the United States as well but with the fear of the spread of communism instead. However, Mao’s worry of the United States’ potential colonization of Taiwan paired with the tense international relations were not the only reasons for the First Taiwan Strait Crisis. Yet another reason that prompted Mao to cause the First Taiwan Crisis was the idea that the international community might believe that he was fine with allowing Taiwan to be a separate entity from Mainland China since the question of Taiwan was still unresolved (Yang & Mao 10).
As a result, Mao thought that by creating attention around the Taiwan strait, he would then be able to negotiate terms with the United States to finalize the Taiwan question (Yang & Mao 10). It is also argued that Mao’s ideology of a continuous revolution was also another factor that caused the First Taiwan Strait Crisis. In order to raise the revolutionary enthusiasm of the country’s people by “liberating” Taiwan, Mao intended on promoting the PRC’s “socialist reconstruction” (Chen 169). It was also a way to get the people mobilized to create momentum for the Great Leap Forward that Mao was planning to implement in the future. It is likely that Mao wanted to maintain his rule over the people of China by ensuring that the country was keeping itself pure of outside influences and strictly following his ideology of a continuous revolution so that it will not die out. In order to promote his own political and economic agenda while dealing with the threat of imperialism by the United States, Mao caused the First Taiwan Strait Crisis by shelling Jinmen. After a mutual defense treaty was signed between Taiwan and the United States, the First Taiwan Strait Crisis was able to end peacefully, only to resume again in 1958.
As can be seen, numerous factors contributed to the First Taiwan Strait Crisis. However, while tensions remained, it was not necessarily the main motivating factor behind the shelling of Jinmen in 1954. Uneasy relations between the United States and the PRC did not make the Taiwan question easier to resolve, but they also only played a small role in comparison to the other reasons for Mao’s decisions, such as his ideological goals and wariness of imperialism. The factors that caused the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis are more complex than those that led to the first crisis.
While Mao proposed multiple peace initiatives to resolve the Taiwan question, the lack of positive response on the GMD’s end only increased the frustration of CCP leaders (Chen 172). Other scholars would argue that Mao’s determination to show his independence from the Soviet Union and to display China’s dominance in the international communist movement was yet another reason that stirred up Mao’s decision to resume shelling Jinmen (Yang & Mao 5). To go along with this previous statement, Mao also developed a victim mentality where he viewed the United States as discriminatory towards his country because of how China had been economically backwards and politically unstable before becoming a superpower (Yang & Mao 6). Yet, another viewpoint argues that a contributing factor to the start of the Second Taiwan Crisis emerged from the conflict that broke out in the Middle East when a new nationalist government established itself in Iraq. As a result, the United States’ attention was focused primarily on the Middle East as they dealt with struggles in Lebanon and Jordan. This provided an opportunity for Mao to justify his shelling of Jinmen in 1958 by stating it was to support the populist groups in the Middle East against imperialism (Chen 176).
While by doing this it might have increased tensions, it was also a way for Mao to gauge the response of the United States by purposefully creating international tension (Chen 182). Delving further into Mao’s decision to shell Jinmen and start the Second Taiwan Crisis, Mao wanted international tension in order to campaign against imperialism by blaming the United States for creating international tension, something the PRC did not want, after the Eisenhower Administration’s reaction to the shelling of Jinmen in 1958 (Chen 183). The end goal of Mao’s decisions to initiate another crisis in the Taiwan strait can be seen stemming directly from his ideological aims by mobilizing the people of China against imperialism, thus promoting his communist principles.
For the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, the reasons that caused it can be summarized into Mao’s insecurity and desire to reassure the dominance of China as well as using tension created by the crisis to highlight the harmful motives of imperialism to go along with his ideology of continuous revolution.