This is a tense time in the Taiwan Strait. So tense that Taipei yesterday was forced to deny rumours of air strikes on the island, which had unnerved the financial markets. A Taiwanese paper claims that one clash has already been only narrowly averted, after both sides stepped up perilously close air sorties across the middle of the Strait. The US is so concerned about the risk of an accident, or worse, it has sent six urgent messages to Beijing and Taipei in the past few days. At this stage, it is difficult to predict how much further the situation will escalate. Taiwan seems to be doing its best to try to calm the situation. It has promised not to take any provocative steps and insisted there is no sign of unusual military activity on the mainland. Beijing's intentions are more difficult to divine. But it is possible these jet fighter sorties are simply part of a dangerous game of psychological warfare. There are signs the leadership may not yet have made up its mind what, if any, military action to take in response to President Lee Teng-hui's remarks on state-to-state relations. If so, no conclusion is likely until the end of the Beidaihe leadership summit later this month. This makes it all vital to avoid anything which might tip the decision the wrong way. Its fury at Mr Lee's remarks makes Beijing receptive to conspiracy theories, as shown by the wild idea that these were somehow backed by the US. The truth is quite the reverse. The Clinton administration has barely concealed its anger with Mr Lee for precipitating what is seen as an unnecessary crisis. But nothing is more likely to fuel such misconceptions than the bill introduced by Senator Jesse Helms. In advocating the sale of an arsenal of sophisticated weapons to Taiwan, together with the establishment of formal military ties, it proposes a major change in relations with the island. The bill may stand little chance of becoming law. But that is not the point. Already it has provoked a furious response from Beijing, where understanding of the US legislative process is often in short supply. If it progresses further, there may be a risk that such denunciations would be followed by rash actions. By far the best course of action for anyone who cares about stability in Asia would be to see this bill die a quick death in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.