In May 2021, The Economist presented Taiwan as "the most dangerous place in the world".

According to the British weekly, it is only a matter of time before China invades this small island located about 160 km from its coast, and which it considers to be one of its historical provinces.

A year later, the threat continues to increase as Chinese military exercises follow one another off the island.

During the latest, in early May, a Chinese aircraft carrier and five destroyers were deployed some 500 km from the coast.

At the same time, several aircraft were flying over the Taiwanese air defense identification zone.

In total, in 2021, Taiwan recorded 969 such incursions, according to a database compiled by AFP - almost three times more than the previous year. 

Monday, May 23, this fear was made even more vivid during a verbal escalation between Beijing and Washington, a historic ally of the island.

Traveling to Japan, US President Joe Biden blasted Chinese military maneuvers, saying Beijing "flirts with danger".

Most importantly, he again warned that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily in the event of an invasion.

Beijing retorted immediately, warning not to "underestimate" its "firm determination to protect its sovereignty."

Chinese military means still insufficient

Faced with this intensification of military activity and these new threats, a question arises: is China really ready to attack Taiwan?

"In the short term, this seems unlikely", slice Mathieu Duchâtel, director of the Asia program at the Institut Montaigne, author of "China in 2022: the army at the heart of the challenges". 

First reason: if China has considerable military power, it is not yet sufficient to ensure victory in the event of an offensive.

"China's military expenditure has increased approximately sevenfold in twenty years, which has enabled it to modernize and strengthen itself", explains Antoine Bondaz, researcher specializing in China at the Foundation for Strategic Research. (FRS).

According to the Chinese Ministry of Defense, the military budget reached an amount equivalent to 174 billion dollars in 2019. It is announced at 270 billion in 2023. "However, in the short term, this force remains too limited to seriously consider an invasion total and then control of Taiwan".

Because if Taiwan is far from having the same strike force as Beijing, it can boast of some assets.

“Without even taking into account an American intervention, the Taiwanese armed forces have the capacity to generate very high losses for Beijing, in particular in the event of an attempted landing by sea or by air”, assures Mathieu Duchâtel. 

"The Taiwanese have built a good asymmetrical defense. They have very precise and high-performance missiles that will allow them to counter-attack", specifies Antoine Bondaz.

Another asset for Taiwan: its geography.

In addition to its insular character, which necessarily makes its approach more difficult, the island also benefits from mountainous terrain which would complicate offensives on the territory. 

A strategy to redefine after the war in Ukraine

Moreover, until then, detail the two specialists, the idea of ​​​​conquering Taiwan by force went through a lightning armed intervention, with a capitulation of Taipei after a few days.

"The whole strategy was to act quickly, to obtain a capitulation before a possible intervention by the United States", explains Antoine Bondaz. 

Since February 24, the war in Ukraine has upset this scenario.

“The Chinese have seen the failure of the Russian blitzkrieg and are learning from it. It forces them to rethink their military options vis-à-vis Taiwan. In my view, this further removes the risk of a short-term operation. "

The two specialists are therefore clear: an invasion of Taiwan "in the short term" seems "unlikely".

"But we must never forget that this status quo can jump at any time," said Mathieu Duchâtel. 

The latter thus particularly fears the year 2023 which could see the emergence of a new escalation of tensions, with the horizon of legislative elections in January 2024. “Currently, Taiwan, under the presidency of Tsaï ing-wen, has a very cautious policy towards -à-vis Beijing", explains the sinologist.

"But with Joe Biden reaffirming American protection, this could lead to greater risk-taking on the Taiwanese side. Today, we don't seem to be moving towards that. But it's a hypothesis."

And the researcher wonders: "What would happen if a much more independentist candidate emerged? Beijing has always been very clear that a formal declaration of independence would directly trigger armed intervention."

For his part, Antoine Bondaz does not rule out that Beijing is considering other types of offensives, without going as far as a complete invasion.

"It can opt for other types of operations such as a blockade of the island or a takeover of other islands in the area," he fears.

"Of course, nothing says that she will do it, but she would have the means."

“The international community must play a deterrent role”

"Anyway, China's objective has always been clear: it wants to conquer Taiwan", insists Antoine Bondaz again.

"And the more its military forces increase, the more the threat of an invasion of Taiwan grows," he continues.

"And if she can't afford it today, she will afford it in a few years."

The researcher therefore insists on the importance of a position taken by the international community.

"She plays a very important role in successfully deterring China from using force," he continues.

"She must make him understand that the cost - in human, military but also geopolitical terms - is prohibitive."

This dissuasive aspect was exactly the issue of Joe Biden's speech on Monday, according to Mathieu Duchâtel.

"By making this statement, he wanted to highlight the differences between Ukraine and Taiwan. The goal was to show Beijing that if the United States is not fighting alongside kyiv, directly against Russian forces, an attempt to invasion of China would provoke direct American intervention."

"For about a year, we have had a change in the posture of the international community. On the side of the United States, Joe Biden is expressing himself much more clearly about his desire to intervene in the event of an invasion. But we are also seeing more positions taken by Japan, Australia, but also Europe", greets Antoine Bondaz.

"It is not for nothing that Joe Biden chose to make this announcement during a trip to Japan. It shows that there is a united front against China."

The summary of the

France 24 week invites you to come back to the news that marked the week

I subscribe

Take international news everywhere with you!

Download the France 24 app