The Taiwan Strait is a 180-kilometer (110 mi)-wide strait separating the island of Taiwan from mainland China. The strait is currently classified as part of the South China Sea and borders the East China Sea to the north. It is 130 km (81 mi) wide at its narrowest.
A map showing the Taiwan Strait Area
|Basin countries||China, Taiwan|
|Max. width||130 km (81 mi)|
|Hokkien POJ||Tâi-ôan Hái-kiap|
|Literal meaning||Taiwan Strait|
|Literal meaning||Taiwan Sea|
|Hokkien POJ||O͘ Chúi-kau|
|Literal meaning||Black Ditch|
Former names of the Taiwan Strait include the Formosa Strait or Strait of Formosa, from an older name for Taiwan Island; the Strait of Fokien or Fujian, from the Chinese province forming the strait's western shore; and the Black Ditch, a calque of the strait's name in Hokkien and Hakka.
The entire strait is on Asia's continental shelf. It is almost entirely less than 150 m (490 ft) deep, with a short ravine of that depth off the south-west coast of Taiwan. As such, there are many islands in the strait. The largest and most important islands off the Fujianese coast are Xiamen & Gulangyu, Pingtan (the "Haitan" of the IHO delineation), Kinmen, and Matsu. The first three are controlled by the PRC; the last two by the ROC. Within the strait lie the Penghu or Pescadores, also controlled by the ROC. There is a major underwater bank 40–60 km (25–37 mi) north of the Penghu Islands.
The third and current edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas by the International Hydrographic Organization does not define the boundaries of the Taiwan Strait, rather placing it within the South China Sea.  A draft for a new edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas precisely defines the Taiwan Strait, classifying it as part of the North Pacific Ocean and defining it as a body of water between the East China Sea and South China Sea as follows:  
On the North:
A line joining the coast of China (25° 42′ N - 119° 36′ E) eastward to Xiang Cape (25° 40′ N - 119° 47′ 10″ E), the northern extremity of Haitan Island, and thence to Fugui Cape (25° 17′ 45″ N - 121° 32′ 30″ E), the northern extremity of Taiwan Island (the common limit with the East China Sea, see 7.3).
On the East:
On the South:
A line joining Eluan Cape northwestward, along the southern banks of Nanao Island, to the southeastern extremity of this island (23° 23′ 35″ N - 117° 07′ 15″ E); thence westward, along the southern coast of Nanao Island, to Changshan Head (23° 25′ 50″ N - 116° 56′ 25″ E), the western extremity of this island; and thence a line joining Changshan Head westward to the mouth of the Hanjiang River (23° 27′ 30″ N - 116° 52′ E), on the coast of China.
On the West:
From the mouth of Hanjiang River northeastward, along the coast of China, to position 25° 42′ N - 119° 36′ E.
The Strait mostly separated the Han culture of the Chinese mainland from Taiwan Island's aborigines for millennia, although the Hakka and Hoklo traded and migrated across it. A Fujianese shamaness named Lin Mo is said to have drowned in the strait while rescuing members of her family in the 10th century; by the 12th century, her story had given rise to the cult of "Mazu" still celebrated on both sides of the strait.
Early modern Taiwan was a haven by Chinese pirates. European explorers, principally the Spanish and Dutch, also took advantage of the strait to establish forward bases for trade with the mainland during the Ming; the bases were also used for raiding both the Chinese coast and the trading ships of rival countries.
Widespread Chinese migration across the strait began in the late Ming. During the Qing conquest, Ming refugees fled to Taiwan. Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) expelled the Dutch and established the Kingdom of Tungning in 1661, planning to launch a reconquest of the mainland in the name of the Southern Ming branches of the old imperial dynasty. Dorgon and the Kangxi Emperor were able to consolidate their control over southern mainland China; Koxinga found himself limited to raiding across the strait. His grandson Zheng Keshuang surrendered to the Qing after his admiral lost the 1683 Battle of the Penghu Islands in the middle of the strait.
The Manchu-led Qing Empire faced constant revolts among the Han, Hoklo, and Hakka on Taiwan over the next 200 years. They never exerted much control over the aboriginal tribes on the eastern half of the island, prompting international incidents and American and Japanese invasions when the natives massacred the survivors of shipwrecks.
Japan seized the Penghu Islands during the First Sino-Japanese War and gained control of Taiwan at its conclusion in 1895. Control of the eastern half of the strait was used to establish control of the southern Chinese coast during the Second World War. The strait protected Japanese bases and industry on Taiwan from Chinese attack and sabotage, but aerial warfare reached the island by 1943. The 1944 Taiwan Air Battle gave the United States Pacific Fleet air supremacy from its carrier groups and Philippine bases; subsequently, bombing was continuous until Japan's surrender in 1945.
The Republic of China government retreated across the Taiwan Strait in 1949. In 1950, United States President Harry S. Truman moved the Seventh Fleet into the strait to prevent conflict between the Communists and Nationalists. The Communists launched offensives during the First Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1954–1955 and the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958; meanwhile, the Nationalists' Project National Glory was abandoned after a naval defeat in 1965. A Third Taiwan Strait Crisis occurred in 1995–1996.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to |
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th ed., Vol. IX, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1879, pp. 415–17. ,
- S-23: Limits of Oceans and Seas (PDF) (3rd ed.), Monaco: International Hydrographic Organization, 1953.
- S-23: Limits of Oceans and Seas (4th (draft) ed.), Monaco: International Hydrographic Organization, 1986.