Taiwan’s presidential election in January presents a chance to resume dialogue between Taipei and Beijing, reduce tensions, and lower the risk of conflict, according to an NGO report by the International Crisis Group. The Democratic Progress party (DPP) led by Tsai Ing-wen claims Taiwan is already a sovereign nation and its people reject Chinese rule in favor of the complicated but peaceful status quo. Beijing cut off all dialogue with Taipei after Tsai’s election in 2016 in response to the DPP’s position.
Taiwan is now considered the greatest potential flashpoint for conflict between China and the US, which is Taiwan’s strongest supporter. The report calls for all parties to take a step back, clarify their positions, and “re-establish a baseline level of trust.” China, led by Xi Jinping, considers Taiwan a Chinese province and insists it will be “reunified” through peaceful means but has not ruled out using force. If this bridge too far under current hostilities, a new DPP government could identify other areas to restart dialogue as incentives for Beijing in return for a reduction in economic, military, and political pressure.
A Chinese invasion of Taiwan is unlikely any time soon, but the risk of conflict is rising. To manage it, the parties must re-establish a baseline level of trust by shoring up longstanding political understandings. Washington should credibly assure Beijing that it does not seek to keep Taiwan permanently separated from the mainland, Taipei should credibly assure Beijing that it does not seek formal independence, and Beijing should credibly assure Washington and Taipei that it has not decided to unify with Taiwan through military force.
Beijing has increased its military and coercive actions towards Taiwan, including rehearsals of an attack on Taiwan, cyber-attacks, and drastically scaling up its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, which provides weapons to Taiwan for self-defense and has become more vocally supportive, also has a part to play in reducing tensions.