Action Needs to Be Taken to Avoid Accidental U.S.-China Conflict in Taiwan Strait: Report

Urgent action needs to be taken to restore clear communication between the United States, China and Taiwan in order to avoid an accidental military conflict in the Taiwan Strait, a U.S. NGO report said on Tuesday.

As Beijing's relations with Washington and Taipei deteriorated in the second half of 2020, it led to "substantial miscommunication, mistrust and miscalculation," according to the report issued by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

The New York-based NGO assembled experts representing the three countries in order to discuss rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait, amid fears that an accident could spark an open conflict.

Experts assembled in two sessions, held before and after the U.S. presidential election, agreed that China-Taiwan relations were locked in a "downward spiral," the NCAFP report said.

As Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen bolstered relations with Washington under the administration of President Donald Trump, it led to a "total cut-off" of communication between the Chinese leadership and the other two parties, creating a "dynamic and unstable" situation in the strategically important Taiwan Strait, participants said.

Having now entered a period of relative stability during the presidential transition period in the U.S., it was vital that the three countries established a clear "signaling mechanism" in order to clarify each government's intentions, said the NCAFP report.

As the resumption of peaceful talks between Taipei and Beijing was "impossible," given each government's current position toward the other, it was crucial that such a mechanism replace official dialogue and—importantly—military activity, the NGO said.

"Beijing insists that the Tsai administration accept the 92 Consensus or another One China formulation as a precondition for dialog, while Taipei insists on holding such dialog without preconditions," the report said.

Tensions between Taiwan and China are at their highest in three decades. People's Liberation Army warplanes enter the Taiwan Strait and fly near the self-governing island nation at an almost daily rate.

Beijing relations with Washington are just as bad, starting with an ongoing trade war and hastened by disagreements over China's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese diplomats have described bilateral ties as being at their lowest point since 1979, when the two countries established formal relations.

The risk of open conflicts persists in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, where Chinese, Taiwanese and American warships have been reported navigating. Beijing's response to unwanted transits by U.S. Navy vessels has been to conduct similar maritime operations of its own, including live-fire exercises that it claims are aimed at deterring the "Taiwan independence movement."

NCAFP's participants expressed optimism in the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who the experts felt would help stabilize cross-strait relations through "consistent and clearly communicated U.S. policies."

However, all agreed that a return to previous dialog and people-to-people exchanges between China and Taiwan was unlikely after the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. experts also predicted that the Biden administration would continue to fulfill bipartisan support for Taiwan through arms sales, congressional bills and potential visits by senior U.S. officials.

The NGO did not disclose the names of the experts who participated in the closed-door discussions, which are set to resume early next year.

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