Eisenhower’s short visit to Taiwan in 1960

Eisenhower, Soong Mei-ling, Ambassador Everett Drumright and Chiang Kai-shek in Taipei in June 1960

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961, was born on October 14th, 1890 in the city of Denison, Texas and died on March 28th, 1969 in Washington, D.C.

Although as army chief-of-staff in July 1946 he stayed in Nanking, then capital of China, he was the only American head of state to ever visit the Republic of China (ROC), to this day Taiwan’s official name.

Considering this background, on July 28th, 2015 Taiwan became the first foreign country to donate one million US dollars for a new Eisenhower Memorial, located to the west of Capitol Hill and finally inaugurated on September 17th, 2020.

Following Eisenhower inauguration on January 20th, 1953, the Korean War would drag on for another seven months, but he lifted the Seventh Fleet’s naval blockade of the Taiwan Straits on February 2nd.

This decision obviously encouraged the Chinese Communists to plan a military strike against the island, as Premier Chou En-lai (1898-1976) on August 11th, 1954 declared that Taiwan must be «liberated.»

Heavy artillery bombardment of Kinmen, formerly known as Quemoy, an island located very close to the mainland but held by ROC troops, began on September 3rd, killing two American military advisers. In the next couple of months, two strategic positions off the Chinese coast would be lost.

This First Taiwan Strait Crisis led to the signing of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty was on December 2nd 1954. A month later, in January 29th, 1955, the US passed the Formosa Resolution, which granted Eisenhower the authority to use military force to defend Taiwan “as he deemed necessary.”

The treaty would remain in force until under President Jimmy Carter Washington established diplomatic relations with Peking on January 1st, 1979. The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), enacted on April 10th, 1979 defined substantial but non-diplomatic relations between both sides.

Approaching the end of his second term, to show his solidarity with Free China, Eisenhower arrived on June 18th, 1960 in the northern port of Tamsui with his son, Lieutenant Colonel John Eisenhower (1922-2013), on board the USS St. Paul from Manila and reached Songshan Airport in Taipei by helicopter.

With a formation of 24 Sabre jets flew zooming overhead, Eisenhower received a 21-gun salute and was warmly greeted by ROC President, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975).

Escorted by 24 mounted police, the two then rode in an open limousine to the biggest hotel at the time. Cheering crowds estimated at 500,000 lined the streets, waving flags, raising banners and shouting words of support.

Chinese opera singers, folklore characters as well as dragon and lion dance performers entertained the high-ranked guest’s motorcade. Near the Grand Hotel, a chorus of 1,000 students sang «I like Ike» in Chinese.

After lunch Eisenhower, accompanied by Ambassador to the US George Yeh (1904-1981), was driven to the old Martyrs’ Shrine to lay a wreath to honor the ROC’s war dead, especially those who gave their lives against a former common enemy, Imperial Japan.

At the Presidential Palace, interestingly enough the Office of the Japanese Governor–General of Taiwan during Nippon’s colonial rule, he held his first formal talk with Chiang about world politics and particularly the communist threat around the globe.

An estimated 650,000 people at the Presidential Plaza were listening when Eisenhower reaffirmed that his government didn’t recognize any claim by the «warlike and tyrannical communist regime» in Peking.

Instead, America would always support the ROC as “the only rightful representative of China” in the United Nations (UN), as Chiang never gave up the idea of reconquering all territories lost to Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976).

In October 1971, under President Richard Nixon (1913-1994), the US would unsuccessfully oppose that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) joined the international organization. He took the chance to highly praise Taiwan’s impressive economic progress.

At the state dinner hosted by Chiang and First Lady Soong Mei-ling (1898-2003), Chiang recalled his initial meeting with Eisenhower during World War II at the Cairo Conference in November 1943.

He pointed out correctly that the ROC continued to be a stronghold in the anti-Communist struggle, largely through American help at every level. The prominent visitor predicted that Communism, if faced with courage and firmness, would eventually fall. It turned out that in the case of the PRC he was very wrong.

The next morning, President and Madame Chiang, both also Christians, accompanied Eisenhower to the Victoria Chapel on the grounds of their official residence for Sunday worship.

After another short, but essential talk with top officials from both sides, the two presidents released a joint communique reassuring that they would continue to meet the challenge posed by the Chinese Communists.

Eisenhower was given military honors again and boarded a Boeing 707 for a two-hour-plus stopover in Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture in the East China Sea under US civil administration from 1945 to 1972.

Angry “Communist bandits” attacked Kinmen twice during Eisenhower’s short stay in Formosa, causing six deaths and 33 injuries among soldiers and civilians. Altogether a staggering 174,854 rounds of artillery blasted the ROC outpost.

Eisenhower’s determination to defend the free world in Asia probably stemmed an invasion by the People’s Liberation Army. At the same time, it‘s estimated that during his presidency the US provided around one billion US dollars in financial aid.

That’s a lot of money spent on a tiny ally, though it was definitely worth every cent, as Taiwan’s amazing development in the last 60 years has proven without a doubt.


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