Will China invade Taiwan? Could a war could take place - and what caused the tensions?

There are concerns that escalating tensions between China and Taiwan could lead to war

Chinese military jets have entered Taiwan’s air defence zone. Pictured is a J-16 fighter jet which is among the type of aircraft to have been sent out.

Tensions between China and Taiwan have been increasing, with Chinese military jets entering the island’s air defence zone.

Taiwan’s president has vowed to defend the island from China’s increasing pressure for reunification, following a week of unprecedented tensions with Beijing.

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After 16 warplanes flew over waters south of Taiwan earlier this month, the United States expressed concern about what it called China’s “provocative military action” near the self-governing island that China claims.

With fears the dispute could lead to war, here’s what you need to know about the dispute which has spanned decades.

What are the tensions between China and Taiwan?

China and Taiwan were divided during a civil war in the 1940s, but Beijing claims that the island will be reclaimed at some point, by force if necessary

Taiwan, which has a multi-party democracy, is officially known as the Republic of China (ROC). It has been governed independently from mainland China, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

However, China has vowed to unify the territory with the mainland. Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, and China refuses to have diplomatic relations with nations which recognise Taiwan.

Mainland China views the PRC as the only legitimate government of China, and follows the One China policy

Meanwhile, the ROC, which lost control of the mainland but retained control of Taiwan, had in the past pursued the claim as the sole legitimate government over mainland China and Taiwan.

Graphic: JPI / Kim Mogg

Who is Tsai Ing-Wen?

President Tsai Ing-Wen is Taiwan’s first female leader. and was elected in 2016.

She is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP takes the position that Taiwan is already an independent state.

In 2016 President Tsai Ing-Wen called the then US President-elect Donald Trump, and as a result China made a formal complaint to the US government.

In 2019 the Trump administration agreed arms sales to Taiwan.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen

Could China invade Taiwan?

While Chinese jets have flown into the air defence zone - an area which covers the Taiwan Strait and part of the Chinese mainland, they have not flown all the way to the island.

A US Department of State spokesperson, Ned Price, said recently in a statement that there were concerns the rising tensions could lead to war.

He said: “The United States is very concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilising, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability. We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.

“We have an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defence capability, and we will maintain our commitments as outlined in the Three Communiqués, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the Six Assurances.”

In the statement the US commitment to Taiwan was described as “rock solid”, and went on to state: “We will continue to stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values and deepen our ties with democratic Taiwan.”

What does Taiwan say?

Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang warned that the island needed to be “alert” and speaking recently said: “Taiwan definitely needs to be on alert. China is increasingly over the top. The world has also seen China’s repeated violations of regional peace and pressure on Taiwan. So democratic countries have issued warnings that our countrymen have to be self-reliant.

“We must come together as one and strengthen ourselves only then will countries that want to annex Taiwan not dare to easily resort to force.”

Meanwhile, during her address on Taiwan’s National Day on Sunday (10 October) President Tsai Ing-Wen said: “We hope for an easing of cross-strait relations and will not act rashly, but there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure.

“We will continue to bolster our national defence and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us.

“This is because the path that China has laid out offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignty for our 23 million people.”

What does China say?

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Speaking at a commemorative event to mark the 110th anniversary of the 1911 Chinese revolution Chinese President Xi Jinping said: “For all Chinese people, achieving national rejuvenation is not only a shared honour but also a shared mission,”

“The Taiwan question arose out of the weakness and chaos of our nation, and it will be resolved as national rejuvenation becomes a reality,” Xi said in his speech in Beijing, adding that cross-Strait reunification is the common will of all Chinese people.

He also said: “The complete reunification of our country will be and can be realised.”

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