U.S. Department of State
96/08/09 Press Release
Office of the Spokesman
Office of the Historian
Bureau of Public Affairs
United States Department of State
August 9, 1996
The 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis alarmed many Americans and international leaders who feared it would escalate into war between the United States and China. President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles sought to end the crisis peacefully, but U.S. policy engendered opposition at home and abroad and raised questions about U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume XIX, China, documents U.S. policy during the crisis along with other aspects of U.S. policy toward the People's Republic of China (PRC) and U.S. relations with the Nationalist government on Taiwan during the last three years of Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency.
The massive artillery bombardment beginning in August 1958, which threatened to cut off the Nationalist stronghold of Quemoy (Kinmen), posed a dilemma for Eisenhower and Dulles, who did not want war with China but were committed to Taiwan's defense. Eisenhower approved U.S. support of the Nationalists by augmenting the Seventh Fleet, expediting military aid, and providing U.S. naval escort of Nationalist resupply ships up to the 3-mile limit. He refused, however, to agree to President Chiang Kai-shek's requests for a U.S. commitment to the defense of the offshore islands or for concurrence in Nationalist retaliatory attacks on the mainland. The U.S.-China ambassadorial talks, in abeyance since late 1957, were renewed at Warsaw in September. While the two sides were far apart, the talks provided a channel of communication. In early October, mainland military authorities suspended the bombardment of Quemoy, and the United States suspended its naval escort. Secretary Dulles visited Taiwan in late October and persuaded Chiang to agree to a joint communique declaring that the Nationalists would rely on peaceful means to achieve their desired return to the mainland. In response, PRC forces scaled back their bombardment of Quemoy to permit Nationalist resupply on alternate days. Thus the crisis ended with a de facto ceasefire. U.S. policy aimed at a durable Taiwan government and economy. After the United States proposed an accelerated economic development program for Taiwan in late 1959, the Nationalist government developed and put into effect a set of economic reforms designed to encourage private investment and spur economic development. The question of Nationalist operations against the mainland remained a nagging issue, however.
When Eisenhower visited Taiwan in 1960, he rejected Chiang's proposal to establish guerrilla forces on the mainland with the help of U.S. equipment. Reports of strains in the Sino-Soviet alliance surfaced in 1959, but U.S. policymakers were at first not certain how much importance to attach to them and even less certain how to respond. During Eisenhower's meeting with Nikita S. Khrushchev at Camp David in September 1959, the Soviet Premier vigorously defended the PRC position on Taiwan. As the rift intensified in 1960, U.S. analysts predicted continuing discord but did not rule out either an open break or reconciliation.
The volume includes a chapter covering the U.S. response to the Tibetan rebellion of March 1959 and the Dalai Lama's flight from Tibet. The rebellion was shortlived, but CIA support for the Tibetan resistance, which it engendered, continued. The United States responded cautiously, however, to requests for support of Tibetan independence. Secretary of State Christian A. Herter stated in a public letter to the Dalai Lama in 1960 that the United States had traditionally stood for the self- determination of peoples and believed the principle should apply also to the Tibetans, but the United States did not call for Tibetan independence. A microfiche supplement to this volume, also released today, includes fuller documentation on aspects of U.S. policy toward China. The volume and microfiche supplement, prepared by the Department of State's Office of the Historian, are among more than 60 print volumes and 7 microfiche supplements documenting the foreign policy of the Eisenhower administration. The Office of the Historian has prepared a summary of the volume.
For further information, contact David S. Patterson, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, at (202) 663-1127 (fax: (202) 663-1289). Copies of volume XIX may be purchased for $38.00 ($47.50 for foreign orders) from the U.S. Government Printing Office. Copies of the microfiche supplement may be purchased for $20.00 ($25.00 for foreign orders) Please use the order form below.