Ever since Communist China and Taiwan broke away from each other at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the waterway separating them has been a tense geopolitical flashpoint.
Just 130 kilometers (81 mi) wide at its narrowest point, the Strait of Taiwan is a major international shipping channel and all lies between what is now democratic, self-governing Taiwan and its vast authoritarian neighbour.
Beijing has reacted furiously to a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan this week, rapidly issuing threats of war and announcing a series of military exercises in the waters around the island.
Historians point to three previous moments when tensions within the Taiwan Straits turned into a serious crisis.
First Taiwan Straits Crisis
At the end of the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong’s communist forces had successfully ousted Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists, who had relocated to Taiwan.
Two rivals stood on either side of the strait – the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland and the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan.
The first Taiwan Straits crisis began in August 1954 when Nationalists placed thousands of troops on Taiwan-ruled Kinmen and Matsu, two small islands just a few miles from the mainland.
Communist China responded with artillery bombardment of the islands and the successful capture of the Yijiangshan Islands, about 400 kilometers north of Taipei.
The crisis was eventually quelled, but nearly brought China and the United States to the brink of direct conflict.
Second Taiwan Straits Crisis
Fighting broke out again in 1958 as Mao’s forces once again carried out intense bombardments of Kinmen and Matsu to drive out Nationalist troops there.
Concerned that the loss of those islands could lead to the collapse of the Nationalists and Beijing’s eventual takeover of Taiwan, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered his army to rescue and resupply his Taiwanese allies.
At one point, the US even considered deploying nuclear weapons against China.
Unable to take the offshore islands or bombard the Nationalists, Beijing declared a ceasefire.
Mao’s forces would still intermittently shell Kinmen until 1979, but an otherwise tense standoff was established.
Third Taiwan Straits Crisis
It will be another 37 years before the next crisis.
In those intervening decades, both China and Taiwan changed significantly.
After Mao’s death, China remained under the control of the Communist Party, but a period of reform and opening up to the world began.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has begun to shake off Chiang Kai-shek’s authoritarian years and has grown into a progressive democracy, with many embracing a distinctly Taiwanese – and not Chinese – identity.
Tensions flared up again in 1995 when China began testing missiles in the waters around Taiwan, to protest a visit by Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to the University of his alma mater in the United States.
Beijing particularly hated Li because he supported Taiwan declaring itself an independent state.
More missile tests were conducted a year later as Taiwan held its first direct presidential election.
The display backfired.
The US sent two aircraft carriers to push China back, and Li won the election by a large margin.
A year later, Newt Gingrich became the first US House speaker to visit Taiwan, a precedent Pelosi is now following 25 years later.
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