Senior US diplomat warns of risks of accidental conflict sparked by China's moves

American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Sandra Oudkirk speaks during a press conference in Taipei

By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) - China's "provocative" actions around Taiwan, Japan and in the South China Sea run the risk of an accident that could unintentionally spark a broader conflict, Washington's top diplomat in Taipei said on Friday.

Sandra Oudkirk, the outgoing director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and de facto U.S. ambassador, told reporters that the United States was "profoundly devoted" to the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and broader region.

"And that is why we have consistently urged the PRC to avoid coercive or provocative actions both in the Taiwan Straits and in other areas like the South China Sea and off Japan," she said, referring to the People's Republic of China.

"Because provocative actions are almost by definition dangerous. They run the risk of a miscalculation or an accident that could spark a broader conflict."

The United States is Taiwan's most important international supporter and arms supplier, despite the lack of formal ties with the Chinese-claimed island.

China has stepped up military and political pressure against democratically-governed Taiwan in the past four years, and last month held war games around the island following the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te, who won office in January, a man Beijing calls a "separatist".

China views Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. It is also involved in an increasingly bitter stand off with the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea.

Beijing has repeatedly warned that Taiwan is the most important and dangerous issue in Sino-U.S. ties. The government in Taipei rejects Beijing's sovereignty claims, saying only the island's people can decide their future.

Oudkirk, who ends her three-year posting next month, said bolstering Taiwan's ability to defend itself was AIT's top priority, though she declined to answer a question on how the U.S. and Taiwan militaries work with each other.

Taiwan has complained that arms orders it has with the United States have faced delayed deliveries.

"Just like all manufacturing, production of US arms and other military equipment were severely affected during the pandemic by supply chain problems. Those are now unwinding," Oudkirk said.

"We look forward to the delivery of military capabilities that Taiwan has purchased over the past several years and I would just say - continue to watch this space."

Oudkirk's successor is Raymond Greene, currently deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo and before that deputy head of AIT.

Oudkirk described Greene as being "very familiar" with Taiwan.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)