Confidence-Building Measures

Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are broadly defined as measures that address, prevent, or resolve uncertainties among states. Designed to prevent wanted and especially unwanted escalations of hostilities and build mutual trust, CBMs can be formal or informal, unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral, military or political, and can be state-to-state or non-governmental. They are particularly pertinent in addressing and working towards the resolution of long-term political stalemates. First conceived of in the context of European conflict management in the 1970s, the concept of CBMs includes military, cultural, and social exchange, and has been applied to conflicts throughout the world, particularly in Asia.

Confidence-building measures across the Taiwan Strait are a possible means for reducing tensions and avoiding accidental escalations of the use of force between Taiwan and China. In lowering mutual suspicion and hostility across the Strait, CBMs may, over time, offer a first step leading to a reversal of the arms buildup across the Strait and an eventual peaceful resolution of differences.

Although there is some ongoing thinking and writing on potential cross-Strait CBMs, little progress has been made in the implementation of measures to reduce the risk of conflict and ease hostility between the PRC and Taiwan. However, it is important to note that both Taiwan and Chinese governments have endorsed the establishment for a cross-Strait confidence building mechanism. The Mainland's position is that Taiwan and China must first agree on the existence of "one China" before CBMs can be implemented.

An important step toward building confidence between China and Taiwan was made during talks between the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (Taiwan) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (China) in 1998, also known as the Koo-Wang Talks. Then in March 2000, Chen Shui-bian called for negotiation of a military mutual-confidence-building mechanism in his victory speech and later repeated this proposal on various occasions. Detailed initiatives for cross-Strait CBMs were also included in the ROC Defense White Papers in 2002 and 2004. The PRC government first officially referred to CBMs with Taiwan in a May 17, 2004 statement by the Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council and the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. The Taiwan Presidential Office later issued a statement on November 10, 2004 that called for agreement on a military buffer zone and the creation of military security consultation mechanism modeled on the 1972 US-USSR Incidents at Seas Agreement and the 1998 US-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement. Through the continuation of such discussions, CBMs may have the ability to substantially influence stability across the Taiwan Strait.

For an analysis of military CBMs between the PRC and Taiwan, please refer to PRC Perspectives on Cross-Strait Confidence Building Measures by Bonnie Glaser. For broad perspective on the issue, including the role of the United States, see Cross Strait Confidence Building Measures by Brad Glosserman.

International Security Program