The United States has held top-level talks with Britain on how to work more closely together to reduce the chances of war with China over Taiwan and to explore conflict contingency plans for the first time.
White House Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell and senior Chinese Security Council official Laura Rosenberger held a meeting on Taiwan with British representatives in early March, according to people familiar with the situation. It happened during a broader two-day meeting with their respective teams on Indo-Pacific strategy.
Three people familiar with the intensified engagement said the United States wanted to increase cooperation with European allies, such as Britain, to raise awareness of what the administration sees as Beijing’s increasingly confident stance on Taiwan, which it considers of China.
The United States is not engaging in Britain because of an imminent threat. The Taiwan dialogue is intended to complement more advanced discussions that the United States has had with Japan and Australia, as Beijing has stepped up military activity around Taiwan. Over the past year, China has flown more and more fighter jets, bombers and other warplanes near the island.
Admiral John Aquilino, head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told the Financial Times last month during a trip to Australia to support the alliance that the Ukraine war underscored the risk China posed to Taiwan.
One person said the Taiwan summit spanned everything from how Britain could make more diplomatic with Taipei to discussions about increasing deterrence in Asia. It also included talks about what role Britain would play if the United States ended up in a war with China over Taiwan.
The person added that the Biden administration provided some allies with intelligence about Taiwan, formerly classified as “NOFORN” – a term that prevents information sharing with foreign officials.
A British official said the limited meeting was the “highest level” and “most significant” discussion between the countries of Taiwan to date. He said it was part of a “deeper political conversation” that started during the Biden administration.
“Crisis planning would obviously be a big part of any such conversation about Taiwan,” the official added.
The White House did not comment on the Taiwan meeting. A spokesman for the British government said “we never comment on private meetings”.
Ryan Hass, a Taiwanese expert at the Brookings Institution, said it was smart to increase consultations on Taiwan, both to reduce the odds of war and to prepare for possible conflict, especially given the “Ukrainian background”.
“It is wise for US officials to quietly consult with partners on what more could be done to deter the conflict in the Taiwan Strait, and if it should ever become necessary, to respond resolutely to the challenges of peace and stability there,” said Hass.
As a sign of enhanced cooperation with the UK, HMS Queen Elizabeth, a British aircraft carrier, spent more than six months stationed in the Indo-Pacific last year.
Heino Klinck, a former top official of the Pentagon Asia, welcomed the US-UK consultations on Taiwan. He said they came on the heels of European naval deployments in the Indo-Pacific, which rose last year after the Trump administration had talks with European allies about stepping up operations in the South China Sea.
“To deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan is in everyone’s interest. It’s not just an Indo-Pacific issue, it’s a global issue,” Klinck said.
“US military planners do not expect Germany or France to send warships, or Britain to send an airline in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. But when these countries send ships to the South China Sea or cross the Taiwan Strait, it sends a strong signal to China. “
A senior Taiwanese official said Taipei was aware of US efforts to involve more allies in its Taiwan planning. “They’ve done it with Japan and Australia, and now they’re trying to do it with Britain,” he said.
Diplomats in three Indo-Pacific countries said the improved US-UK initiative took US engagement in Taiwan to an unprecedented level.
Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, said this week that NATO should play a role in Asia. “We need to anticipate threats in the Indo-Pacific and work with allies like Japan and Australia to ensure that the Pacific is protected,” she said. “We must ensure that democracies like Taiwan are able to defend themselves.”
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