A group of experts believe that the United States could this year face a flare-up of tensions with China over Taiwan on a par with the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-1996, according to a survey.

As the new year unfolds, experts believe recent U.S.-China engagements have failed to reduce tensions and the result of this month’s Taiwan presidential election means the likelihood of a Taiwan Strait crisis remains.

The U.S. has intervened in three such crises on Taiwan’s behalf since the Cold War, although Washington and Taipei have had no formal diplomatic relations for over four decades. Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979—supported by Joe Biden when he was still the junior senator for Delaware—the U.S. is obliged to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but the law is not a security treaty like those shared with Japan, South Korea or NATO allies.

The latest survey, conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in collaboration with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), sheds light on growing concerns among experts regarding the future of relations between China and Taiwan. The survey, which sought the opinions of 87 leading experts from both the United States and Taiwan, aimed to understand key trends in China’s approach to Taiwan, said the report based on the survey published on Monday.

The findings of a new survey conducted by the Center for International and Strategic Studies and the Institute for National Defense and Security Research were published on January 22, 2024. Analysts believe the Taiwan Strait could witness a crisis in 2024, the survey revealed.
Center for Strategic and International Studies

Between November 28, 2023, and December 15, 2023, the CSIS China Power Project conducted a comprehensive survey that posed 20 questions to 52 U.S. experts and 35 experts from Taiwan.

These were carefully selected, with U.S. participants having substantial experience serving in the U.S. government or being from academia or think tanks and who have testified before Congress, the survey report said. The participants from Taiwan were identified in collaboration with the INDSR, representing a wide spectrum of political affiliations.

One of the critical questions posed in the survey was about the probability of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait in 2024. The survey defined such a crisis as “a situation similar to the 1995/1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis.”

Taiwan Survey Latest Results By CSIS
A pair Taiwanese air force F-5F aircraft take off from an air base in Taitung in Taiwan on November 29, 2023. Analysts believe the Taiwan Strait could face a crisis in 2024, a CSIS-INDSR survey revealed.
Center for International and Strategic Studies

During the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, China conducted a series of missile tests in the waters surrounding Taiwan. Missiles were first launched in 1995 following a visit by then-Taiwan President Lee Teng Hui to the U.S. More missiles were fired in early 1996, allegedly with the intention of intimidating the Taiwanese electorate in the run-up to the that year’s presidential election.

This confrontation, as noted by Robert S. Ross in the International Security Journal, marked a crucial point in U.S.-China relations. China sought tangible policy gains through the use of force, while the United States aimed to counter Chinese aggression by deploying carrier groups in the waters off Taiwan.

One of the survey’s most significant findings was that a majority of experts believed that China possesses the capabilities for a law enforcement-led quarantine of Taiwan or a People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-led blockade of the island. However, fewer experts believed that a full-scale invasion of Taiwan was likely.

The experts surveyed expressed pessimism about recent efforts to manage tensions between the United States and China, believing they had not significantly changed the likelihood of a Taiwan Strait crisis. Approximately 67 percent of U.S. experts and 57 percent of Taiwan experts believed that a crisis in the Taiwan Strait was likely in 2024.

“Despite notable efforts by Washington and Beijing to stabilize relations, the bilateral relationship remains fundamentally focused on competition,” the report said.

The reasons behind this pessimism are multifaceted, as detailed in the report. Experts pointed to concerns about negative responses from the PRC to Taiwan’s presidential elections, as well as the overall state of U.S.-China relations, which continue to be dominated by competition despite efforts to stabilize the situation.