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

“While the US government tried to dissuade its ships from entering the area, the British not only sent warships as escorts, they also directly confronted the ROC Navy. The British were unwilling to give up their long-time interests off the coast of China, while the KMT especially detested the British since they were among the first to recognize the CCP,” stated a China Warships History Monthly article.

The Korean War broke out in in June 1950, and Chiang promised the US that he would end the “closure.” The US then formed the Taiwan Patrol Force to prevent both sides from attacking each other — although records show that the ROC Navy continued to harass or seize foreign cargo ships for the next two years. The US blockade was lifted in 1953, upon which Chiang resumed his efforts to retake China.

THE TUAPSE INCIDENT

Although the UN sanctioned a collective trade embargo against China, British, Soviet and other Eastern Bloc ships still sailed in and out of China. In 1953, the ROC Navy seized two Polish ships transporting oil and other goods to China. They were escorted to Taiwan and confiscated.

Lin Hung-yi (林宏一) writes in his study on the topic that the next seizure, that of the Soviet tanker Tuapse, was definitely a “joint effort” between the KMT and the US. Records show that then-US secretary of state John Foster Dulles suggested “letting the ROC take care” of the Tuapse, which was transporting jet fuel from the Middle East to Shanghai. The US would provide the ROC Navy all the information it needed, but would keep its hands clean.

After much deliberation, Chiang agreed to take the job. On June 23, 1954, several ROC warships captured the Tuapse. The Soviets blamed the US immediately. Due to Soviet pressure, Taiwan not having the legal right to seize foreign ships (despite the US staying mum on the two Polish vessels) and fear of retaliation, the US asked the KMT to release the ship. But Chiang refused, detaining the Tuapse and its entire crew in Taiwan.

The sailors were persuaded to “seek asylum,” and those who refused were eventually sent back to the USSR. Seven ended up staying in Taiwan to help with Cold War efforts, but Lin writes that they did not adjust well, sneaking into the US Embassy in 1966 and 1970 to request repatriation. But they remained stuck in Taiwan, with one committing suicide in 1975 and two dying of illness. Of the remaining sailors, three finally went home in 1988 while one chose to stay in Taiwan.

Although the ROC Air Force sank a British vessel in the beginning of 1955, these incidents gradually decreased, finally ceasing in 1960. Lin writes that this was due to the effective area of the “closure” being reduced to Fuzhou and Xiamen — which were opposite the KMT-controlled islands of Kinmen and Matsu. This did not have much effect on foreign ships, but it did mostly block off direct traffic between north and south China for many years.

When the Meishan crossed the Taiwan Strait in 1979, however, the ROC Navy was unable to do a thing.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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