A challenge that would trigger action by the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization was successfully blunted in 1954 and 1955 when the Chinese Communists threatened the offshore islands of Quemoy, Matsu, and the Tachens, islands which lay between Mainland China and Taiwan. As the communists shelled the islands and then announced the imminent “liberation” of Taiwan, Eisenhower warned that any “liberation forces” would have to run over the American Seventh Fleet stationed in the Formosa Straits.
US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, flew to Taiwan in December and signed a mutual defense pact with Chiang Kai- shek, pledging that the US would defend Chiang in return for his promise not to try to invade the mainland without American approval. The treaty was signed on December 2, 1954, and went into effect on March 3, 1955. Nothing was said in the pact about the offshore islands.
On January 18, 1955, the communists took the small northernmost island of the Tachen group. Eisenhower declared that, because this island had no relationship to the defense of Taiwan, the attack required no counteraction. Within five days, however, he asked Congress for authority “to assure the security of Formosa [Taiwan] and the Pescadores [Matsu and the rest of the Tachen group]” and, if necessary, “closely related localities.” Congress whipped through the resolution by a vote of 409 to 3 in the House and 85 to 3 in the Senate.
On August 23, 1958, just as China was embarking on the Great Leap Forward (goal: to concentrate 20 years of Soviet-style development into a single year), China began shelling the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu which were occupied by the forces of Taiwan. The American Seventh Fleet shipped Taiwanese reinforcements to the islands, and provided extra artillery capable, at least in theory, of firing atomic shells. Mao appealed for Soviet nuclear weapons, but Khruschev responded only with assurances that the Soviet Union would come to China’s support if the Americans actually attacked. For China this was betrayal. Khruschev said:
We didn’t want to give them the idea we were their obedient slaves, who would give them whatever they wanted, no matter how much they insulted us.