Speculation rife over possible invasion of Taiwan during Xi’s 3rd term

Courtesy of the Taiwan presidential office
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, speaks in Taipei on Aug. 3 as Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen looks on.

Speculation has smoldered that Chinese leader Xi Jinping might take steps to unify Taiwan with China during his third five-year term in power.

The Xi administration is seen as lacking historical accomplishments, and in 2027 it will mark the centennial of the founding of the Chinese military. That year will also bring the end of Xi’s third term, which is expected to be endorsed at the ongoing National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.

In March last year, the then commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said at a U.S. congressional hearing that China might invade Taiwan by 2027. A U.S. military official later revised the projected timing of an invasion, but a diplomatic source in Beijing called for not undermining China’s future actions, saying there was no doubt the Chinese military had steadily improved its ability to invade Taiwan.

A diplomatic source in Southeast Asia pointed to the possibility that Taiwan could have a more independence-oriented administration after a presidential election in 2024. Also, the U.S. presidential election in the same year could bring back a Republican administration that will take a more hard-line stance on China, the source said, with greater focus on relations with Taiwan than under the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

Based on these factors, the source expressed concern over a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan between late 2024 and early 2025.

A former senior U.S. government official also warned against a Taiwan contingency in the latter half of the Biden administration’s term. According to the official, China has been preparing to wage war by taking such steps as building up its military and transferring bank assets in anticipation of being hit with sanctions, but the Biden administration has yet to take countermeasures.

However, Chinese military weapons are generally considered to be inferior in performance to U.S. weapons at present. With its lack of actual combat experience, the Chinese military is also said to have problems transporting land forces, which would be indispensable to take control of the main island.

In contrast, the Taiwan military has prepared for war in anticipation of a Chinese invasion for more than 70 years since 1949. If an invasion were to occur, Taiwan would be certain to resist strongly.

Some observers say that the situation in Ukraine, in which Russia is struggling against the counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces with support from the United States and some European countries, will influence the Xi administration’s decision on whether to invade Taiwan.

“If Xi fails to take Taiwan, he will suffer immeasurable political damage,” said the diplomatic source in Beijing. “He won’t be able to proceed with an invasion without absolute confidence and determination.”