Admiral Dennis Blair, the former commander-in-chief of US forces in the Pacific, on Tuesday called for an expansion in the level and intensity of US-Chinese military dialogue, with a greater focus on Taiwan, as a way to ease tensions in the Taiwan Strait and reduce the chance of a military confrontation between the US and China.
Blair said the level of military-to-military contact between Washington and Beijing was well below the bilateral contacts in other areas -- including trade and political issues -- impeding greater understanding between the two.
Blair made his comments at a press conference to introduce a new report by a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations, of which he is co-chairman, on US-China relations.
In addition to being the former US Pacific commander, Blair is the head of the US official delegation that observes Taiwan's annual Han Kuang military exercises -- a position he has held for the past five years.
In that, he has become one of the most respected, if not always the least controversial, advisers to the Taiwanese military and his advice is valued by the Ministry of National Defense.
Blair told reporters he would be leaving for Taiwan on Saturday to observe the latest exercises next week.
The report, representing the views of the centralist elite of the US foreign policy establishment, essentially recommended that the US retain its core policy on cross-strait issues as it strives to improve US ties with Beijing by further integrating China into the international community.
"The report is solidly behind the three communiques and the Taiwan [Relations] Act. There's no change whatsoever in that," said Carla Hills, the task force's other co-chairman and a former US trade representative.
Calling for higher-level US-China talks, Blair said that dialogue at the right levels "can dispel the misconceptions on both sides," adding that he thought "Taiwan should be part of that dialogue."
"A war between China and Taiwan that involves the United States is a lose-lose-lose," he said.
Asked about the US commitment in case of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, Blair said: "The US should have a `dual assurance, dual deterrence' policy, in which we let the Chinese know clearly that a peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue is what the United States will support [and] that it will use force if necessary to carry out its obligations."
At the same time, he would "tell the Taiwanese that moves towards independence are not supported by the United States and will not be supported necessarily by force."
The report itself frames the US obligations in somewhat different terms as those enunciated by Blair.
The US should "make it clear to Beijing that the United States is prepared to live up to its security-related obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act," a law which commits Washington to supply Taiwan with sufficient defensive weapons, while maintaining a readiness to counter any Chinese military attack on Taiwan.
But the task force also recommends that the US tell China "it does not rule out using force to thwart any Chinese attempt to compel unification through force."
This would seem to urge a return to a policy of "strategic ambiguity" toward the US commitment to defend Taiwan in existence before US President George W. Bush's April 2001 statement in a TV interview to do "whatever it took" to help Taiwan defend itself against a Chinese military action.
Among other things, the report rejected the idea, mooted several times in recent years, of a new, fourth "communique" to update the three that form part of the US' basic cross-strait polity. Such a communique is "likely to cause more problems than [it would] solve," the task force said.
It also rejected ideas that the US could play an active role as a mediator of Taiwan-China issues, but added that Washington could act as a "facilitator" if both sides so desired.
The report bemoaned the willingness of both Washington and Beijing to resort to military action in the Strait.
"Claims by both Washington and Beijing of a right to resort to force to prevent an unwanted outcome in the Taiwan Strait naturally puts limits on US-China bilateral military relations, even on issues and missions of common concern, and encourage each side to prepare for a worst-case scenario," it said.
"Conflicting military objectives of this magnitude create their own powerful dynamic of mistrust and could even lead to a conflict neither intended nor desired by either side," it said.
"Until some level of political accommodation is reached in cross-strait relations, even on an interim basis, Washington and Beijing have to continue to manage their differences on Taiwan rather than resolve them," the report concluded.
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