Sun, Sep 09, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The ‘closure’ of the Taiwan Strait

Taiwan and the US prevented Chinese ships from traversing the Taiwan Strait for 30 years, but this practice came to an end as the country’s international clout plummeted

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The Chinese cargo ship Meishan crossed the Taiwan Strait in broad daylight in May 1979.

Photo courtesy of google

Sept. 10 to Sept. 16

It was no ordinary voyage when the Meishan cargo ship set out from Guangzhou for Nagoya on May 27, 1979.

Although it appeared to be just another Chinese ship carrying goods of no significance, it was equipped with anti-aircraft artillery, heavy machine guns, military radars and rifles. The crew members all underwent military training and were armed with pistols, homemade molotov cocktails and “other emergency weapons,” according to the Chinese publication China Archives News (中國檔案報). Government and military personnel were also on board, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy were ready to assist from the coast of Fujian Province, directly opposite from Taiwan.

“We received orders to control our speed and cross the Taiwan Strait in plain daylight so they could see our five-star flag clearly,” a crew member said. “We were told to report our exact location loudly and clearly every hour, so they could hear it too.”

The “they” referred to the Taiwanese authorities, who had blocked off Chinese access to the Taiwan Strait since 1949. This essentially cut off direct access between Chinese ports in the north and south until 1968, when ships began taking the long route through the Philippines and around Taiwan through the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, Taiwan couldn’t have done this without US support. But with the US diplomatically abandoning Taiwan for China on Jan. 1, 1979, things were no longer the same by the time the Meishan set out.

Taiwan did send a fighter plane and two warships when the Chinese ship neared Kinmen, but they did not take action. By nightfall, the Meishan had successfully traversed the Taiwan Strait. On Sept. 12, Taiwan officially repealed the blockade law.

CONFLICT ON THE HIGH SEAS

What the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) insisted on calling a “closure” began in June 1949, near the tail end of the Chinese Civil War, by restricting any ships from leaving Communist-controlled ports. The KMT was against the term “blockade” because it implied that it was imposed against another country, and then they still claimed that they ruled the entire China.

When Shanghai fell to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in May 1949, the KMT took action and blocked the coastline stretching from Fujian to Hebei provinces using military force, sincethey were afraid that the CCP would use the strong foreign presence in the various ports to assert their victory to the world.

Most of the KMT’s allies were against the move, particularly the UK, since the blockade would disrupt ships leaving from Hong Kong. It did not seem particularly effective anyhow, as in August, the British Edith Moller freighter successfully broke through to Shanghai. When the crew tried to duplicate the feat again two weeks later, the KMT’s Republic of China (ROC) Navy seized the ship, documented the passengers and ship log and checked for CCP property before letting it go. Two US ships also made it in September, and although they were accosted by the KMT when they left port, they were eventually released without a hitch.

The CCP continued to gain ground in the ensuing months. By February 1950, the KMT had “closed” the entire coastline of China. Although KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) claimed that the closure “has greatly impacted the Communist bandits,” records show that his troops were mostly operational along the coastal areas of Fujian and Guangdong. A total of 22 conflicts between the ROC navy and foreign freighters took place in the first half of 1950, more than half of them British.

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