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The U.S. and China need to resume talks over Taiwan — away from the public eye, says think tank

CNBC 9/30/2022 Charmaine Jacob
  • The United States and China are currently playing a "blame game" with each other, and dialogue needs to be reestablished, said Paul Haenle, who holds the Maurice R. Greenberg director's chair at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • But U.S. President Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping need to avoid a public negotiation over the Taiwan issue, he added, "because when you put things out in the public, and you point to the other side and you criticize and blame, it only works to dig in that side even further."
  • "This has to happen at the highest level between political leaders and it has to happen in quiet discreet channels," he added. 
A meeting between Biden and Xi at the upcoming G-20 Summit in November is on the cards, and that would be a good opportunity for the U.S. and China to start reengaging with each other, an analyst said. © Provided by CNBC A meeting between Biden and Xi at the upcoming G-20 Summit in November is on the cards, and that would be a good opportunity for the U.S. and China to start reengaging with each other, an analyst said.

The United States and China need to reopen dialogue over the Taiwan issue — but such a conversation should take place discreetly, an analyst said.

The two superpowers are currently playing a "blame game" with each other, and dialogue needs to be reestablished, said Paul Haenle, who holds the Maurice R. Greenberg director's chair at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Cross-strait tensions between China and Taiwan have become "increasingly dangerous" ever since U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Taiwan visit in early August, he added. 

Pelosi visited Taiwan despite China's repeated warnings, prompting Beijing to launch military drills in the seas and airspaces around the island and fire ballistic missiles over Taipei in August.

On top of that, China announced in the same month that it had shelved military and climate talks with the United States. 

Taiwan is a self-ruled democracy, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory and a breakaway province.

"The Chinese have pulled down the dialogue in the aftermath of Pelosi's visit. I would argue, frankly, you got to open it up," Haenle said.

But U.S. President Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping need to avoid a public negotiation over the Taiwan issue, he added, "because when you put things out in the public, and you point to the other side and you criticize and blame, it only works to dig in that side even further."

"This has to happen at the highest level between political leaders and it has to happen in quiet discreet channels."

Widening rift

China's actions over Pelosi's trip were an "overreaction," and its aggressive stance against Taiwan continues to be a "major problem," Nicholas Burns, U.S. ambassador to Beijing said on Thursday at the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore.

"We've had a median line in the Taiwan Strait for 68 years, [and] it's really kept the peace. And they tried to erase that. We're actually concerned that the party trying to change policy here now is Beijing. And we've warned them that we won't agree to that, [and] we don't accept it," he added.

China's Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu told Chinese media in August that the U.S. and its allies are the ones overreacting.

"The US and its allies often come to the adjacent waters of China, flexing muscles and stirring up troubles. They conduct up to a hundred military exercises each year. They, instead of someone else, are the ones that overreact and escalate the situation," Ma said.

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Nevertheless, Burns said the United States hasn't changed its position on Taiwan and continues to be committed to the "One China" policy. 

"I actually don't think the Chinese have any misunderstanding of U.S. policy. They don't agree with our policy, but we've been clear about the "One China" policy," Burns said. 

Though none of the three wants to see a military conflict erupt, the viewpoints of the United States, China, and Taiwan are continually "diverging, not converging," Haenle said. 

Meeting at G-20?

However, a meeting between Biden and Xi at the upcoming G-20 Summit in November is on the cards, and that would be a good opportunity for the U.S. and China to start reengaging with each other, Haenle said.

"I think at a minimum they need to have a conversation and get a sense of what steps each side is taking that's causing the other side the greatest concern," he added.

"They need to ... look each other in the eye and have those conversations. They're difficult conversations." 

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