Third Taiwan Strait Crisis

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Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Taiwan Strait.png
Taiwan Strait
Date21 July 1995 – 23 March 1996
(8 months and 2 days)
Result Ceasefire
Republic of China
 United States (naval support)
People's Republic of China
Commanders and leaders
Taiwan Lee Teng-hui
Taiwan Chiang Chung-ling
Taiwan Tang Fei
Taiwan Wu Shih-wen
Taiwan Tang Yao-ming
Taiwan Nelson Ku
Taiwan Huang Hsien-jung
Taiwan Wang Jo-yu
United States Bill Clinton
United States John Shalikashvili
United States Archie Clemins
China Jiang Zemin
China Liu Huaqing
China Zhang Zhen
China Zhang Lianzhong
China Chi Haotian
China Zhang Wannian
China Fu Quanyou
Units involved
ROC Armed Forces
U.S. Seventh Fleet
 People's Liberation Army
MIM-104 Patriot, MIM-23 Hawk, Northrop F-5, F-CK-1, Lockheed F-104, Knox-class frigate, Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, etc.

USS Independence (CV-62), USS Nimitz (CVN-68), USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3), USS Bunker Hill (CG-52), etc.
China DF-15, J-7, J-8, etc.

The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, also called the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis or the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, was the effect of a series of missile tests conducted by the People's Republic of China in the waters surrounding Taiwan, including the Taiwan Strait from 21 July 1995 to 23 March 1996. The first set of missiles fired in mid-to-late 1995 were allegedly intended to send a strong signal to the ROC government under Lee Teng-hui, who had been seen as moving its foreign policy away from the One-China policy. The second set of missiles were fired in early 1996, allegedly intending to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate in the run-up to the 1996 presidential election.

Lee's 1995 visit to Cornell[edit]

The crisis began when President Lee Teng-hui accepted an invitation from his alma mater, Cornell University to deliver a speech on "Taiwan's Democratization Experience". Seeking to diplomatically isolate the Republic of China, the PRC opposed such visits by ROC (Taiwanese) leaders. A year earlier, in 1994, when President Lee's plane had stopped in Honolulu to refuel after a trip to South America, the U.S. government under President Bill Clinton refused Lee's request for a visa. Lee had been confined to the military airfield where he landed, forcing him to spend a night on his plane. A U.S. State Department official called the situation "embarrassing" and Lee complained that he was being treated as a second-class leader.

After Lee had decided to visit Cornell, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher assured PRC Foreign Minister Qian Qichen that a visa for Lee would be "inconsistent with [the U.S.'s] unofficial relationship [with Taiwan]." However, the humiliation from Lee's last visit caught the attention of many pro-Taiwan figures in the U.S. and this time, the United States Congress acted on Lee's behalf. In May 1995, a concurrent resolution asking the State Department to allow Lee to visit the U.S. passed the House 396 to 0 with 38 not voting, and the Senate 97 to 1 with 2 not voting.[1] The State Department relented on 22 May 1995. Lee spent June 9–10, 1995, in the U.S. at a Cornell alumni reunion as the PRC state press branded him a "traitor" attempting to "split China".[2][3]

PRC military response[edit]

The PRC government was furious over the U.S.'s policy reversal. On 7 July 1995, the Xinhua News Agency announced missile tests would be conducted by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and argued that this would endanger the peace and safety of the region.[citation needed]. At the same time, the PRC mobilized forces in Fujian. In the later part of July and early August numerous commentaries were published by Xinhua and the People's Daily condemning Lee and his cross-strait policies.

Another set of missile firings, accompanied by live ammunition exercises, occurred from August 15 to 25, 1995. Naval exercises in August were followed by highly publicized amphibious assault exercises in November.

U.S. military response[edit]

The U.S. government responded by staging the biggest display of American military might in Asia since the Vietnam War.[4] President Clinton ordered additional ships into the region in March 1996.[5] Two aircraft carrier battle groups, Carrier Group Five centered on USS Nimitz, and Carrier Group Seven centered on USS Independence, were present in the region[6] as well as the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood.[7] The Nimitz and her battle group and the Belleau Wood sailed through the Taiwan Strait, while the Independence did not.[8] The crisis forced the Chinese leadership in 1996 to acknowledge its inability to stop U.S. forces from coming to Taiwan's assistance.[9]

Run-up to the 1996 election[edit]

Beijing intended to send a message to the Taiwanese electorate that voting for Lee Teng-hui in the 1996 presidential election on March 23 meant war. A third set of PLA tests from March 8 to March 15 (just before the election), sent missiles within 46 to 65 km (25 to 35 nmi) (just inside the ROC's territorial waters) off the ports of Keelung and Kaohsiung. Over 70 percent of commercial shipping passed through the targeted ports, which were disrupted by the proximity of the tests.[10] Flights to Japan and trans-Pacific flights were prolonged by ten minutes because airplanes needed to detour away from the flight path. Ships traveling between Kaohsiung and Hong Kong had to take a two-hour detour.

On 8 March 1996, also a presidential election year in the U.S., the U.S. government under President Clinton announced that it was deploying the USS Independence carrier battle group (CVBG), already stationed in the western Pacific, to international waters near Taiwan. On the following day, the PRC announced live-fire exercises to be conducted near Penghu from March 12–20. On March 11, the U.S. dispatched Carrier Group Seven, centered on USS Nimitz, which steamed at high speed from the Persian Gulf.[citation needed] Tensions rose further on March 15 when Beijing announced a simulated amphibious assault planned for March 18–25.

Sending two carrier battle groups showed not only a symbolic gesture towards the ROC, but a readiness to fight on the part of the U.S. The ROC government and Democratic Progressive Party welcomed America's support, but staunch unificationist presidential candidate Lin Yang-kang and the PRC decried "foreign intervention."

Aware of U.S. Navy carrier battle groups' credible threat to the PLA Navy, the PRC decided to accelerate its military buildup. Soon the People's Republic ordered Sovremenny-class destroyers from Russia, a Cold War-era class designed to counter U.S. Navy carrier battle groups, allegedly in mid-December 1996 during the visit to Moscow by Chinese Premier Li Peng. The PRC subsequently ordered modern attack submarines (Kilo class) and warplanes (76 Su-30MKK and 24 Su-30MK2) to counter the U.S. Navy's carrier groups.

The PRC's attempts at intimidation were counterproductive. Arousing more anger than fear, it boosted Lee by 5% in the polls, earning him a majority as opposed to a mere plurality.[11] The military tests and exercises also strengthened the argument for further U.S. arms sales to the ROC and led to the strengthening of military ties between the U.S. and Japan, increasing the role Japan would play in defending Taiwan.

During the military exercises in March, there were preoccupations in Taiwan that the PRC would occupy some small islands controlled by Taiwan, causing panic among many citizens. Therefore, many flights from Taiwan to the United States and Canada were full.[12] The most likely target was Wuqiu (Wuchiu), then garrisoned by 500 soldiers. The outlying islands were placed on high alert.[13] The then secretary general of the National Security Council of Taiwan, Ting Mao-shih, flew to New York to meet Samuel Berger, Deputy National Security Advisor of the United States.[14]

Third Taiwan Strait Crisis is located in Ryukyu Islands
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
The four vertices (red) (23°13′N 122°20′E, 25°13′N 122°40′E, 24°57′N 122°40′E, 24°57′N 122°20′E) of the announced quadrilateral area reserved for the military exercise off Keelung (orange) between Mar. 8 and Mar. 15, 1996.[15]
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis is located in Taiwan
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
The four vertices (red) (22°38′N 119°25′E, 22°38′N 119°45′E, 22°22′N 119°45′E, 22°22′N 119°25′E) of the announced quadrilateral area reserved for the military exercise off Kaohsiung (orange) between Mar. 8 and Mar. 15, 1996.[15]
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis is located in South China Sea
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
The four vertices (red) (23°57′N 118°06′E, 23°25′N 118°50′E, 22°30′N 117°30′E, 23°01′N 116°46′E) of the announced quadrilateral area reserved for the military exercise between Mar. 12 and Mar. 20, 1996.[16]
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis is located in Taiwan
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
The four vertices (red) (25°50′N 119°50′E, 25°50′N 119°50′E, 24°54′N 119°56′E, 25°12′N 119°26′E) of the announced quadrilateral area reserved for the military exercise between Mar. 18 and Mar. 25, 1996.[17]

Unofficial Forewarning[edit]

According to Sankei Shimbun series "Secret Records on Lee Teng-hui" dated April 1, 2019, Zeng Yong-xian, Lee's National Policy Adviser, received a message from China in early July 1995; "Our ballistic missiles will be launched toward Taiwan a couple of weeks later, but you don't have to worry." This was communicated to Lee soon after. Zeng, as an envoy of Lee, had met President Yang Shangkun in 1992 and had secret connection with Ye Xuanning, Head of the Liaison Department of the PLA.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ H.Con.Res. 53. Senator Bennett Johnston, Jr. (D-LA) was the lone "nay" voter
  2. ^ "Taiwan's President Speaks at Cornell Reunion Weekend". Cornell University. Archived from the original on 10 July 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  3. ^ "Taiwan Strait: 21 July 1995 to 23 March 1996". Archived from the original on 31 July 2016. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  4. ^ "US Role". BBC News. Archived from the original on 28 February 2015. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  5. ^ Risen, James (11 March 1996). "U.S. Warns China on Taiwan, Sends Warships to Area". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  6. ^ Lin, Jennifer (21 March 1996). "U.S. Considers Risking China's Wrath On Taiwan The Nimitz Could Sail Through The Taiwan Strait. China Is Calling That "brazen."". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
    Su, Chi (2008). Taiwan's Relations with Mainland China: A Tail Wagging Two Dogs. Routledge. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-134-04043-8.
  7. ^ Sullivan, Dan (11 May 2015). "'Rebalance' to Asia calls for 3-pronged strategy". The Hill. Archived from the original on 22 January 2020. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  8. ^ Elleman, Bruce (2014). Taiwan Straits: Crisis in Asia and the Role of the U.S. Navy. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-8108-8890-6.
    Copper, John (1998). Taiwan's Mid-1990s Elections: Taking the Final Steps to Democracy. Greenwood. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-275-96207-4.
  9. ^ "Could China seize and occupy Taiwan militarily?". ChinaPower. Center for Strategic and International Studies. 17 May 2016. Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  10. ^ Li, Xiaobing (2012). China at War: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 445. ISBN 978-1-59884-415-3. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
    "U.S. Navy ships to sail near Taiwan". CNN. 10 March 1996. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  11. ^ Baron, James (18 August 2020). "The Glorious Contradictions of Lee Teng-hui". The Diplomat. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
  12. ^ "台"国防部"公布1996年台海危机解密文件_资讯_凤凰网". Global Times (in Chinese). 14 March 2008. Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2018 – via
  13. ^ "Report: China expected to attack island". Times-News. 25 February 1996. p. C6. The most likely target would be Wuchiu, above five miles off the eastern coast of China, the report said. The island has a garrison of 500 soldiers. To prepare for an attack, outlying islands have been placed on high alert, it said.
  14. ^ Xin, Qiang (2009). "迈向"准军事同盟":美台安全合作的深化与升级(1995~2008)" [Moving toward a “Quasi-Military Alliance”: The Deepening and Upgrading of US–Taiwan Security Cooperation (1995–2008)]. American Studies Quarterly (in Chinese) (4). Archived from the original on 4 June 2013. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  15. ^ a b "硝烟滚滚震慑"台独"——东南沿海演习始末(下)" (in Chinese). China Central Television. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  16. ^ "1996年3月20日 中国人民解放军在东海和南海进行海空实弹演习". (in Chinese). 19 March 2009. Archived from the original on 30 June 2010. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  17. ^ "1996年3月18日 中国人民解放军在台湾海峡进行陆海空联合演习". (in Chinese). 16 March 2009. Archived from the original on 22 May 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  18. ^ The series was later published as a book: 李登輝秘録 (Ri Touki Hiroku) ISBN 978-4819113885.

Further reading[edit]

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