China has always stuck to its ‘One China’ principle, in which Beijing considers itself to be the only government of China and its territories. It includes Taiwan in this principle, and has always made its intention to bring the breakaway island back under central control.
Taiwan, where Nationalist forces from the Chinese civil war established a separate government in 1949 after being defeated by the Communists, cannot maintain formal diplomatic ties with other countries that recognise Beijing.
Nations such as the US have a “robust unofficial” relationship with Taipei, which includes weapons sales between the countries.
Tensions escalated in 2021 after Chinese president, Xi Jinping, said “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled”.
Professor Steve Tsang, who heads up the China Institute at SOAS, University of London, told Express.co.uk that “Taiwan is the big issue”, but China “will lose” if Beijing launches an offensive on Taipei now.
Although Taiwan remains on the Chinese “agenda”, is not the “immediate” focus of a Beijing preoccupied with the fallout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It is not China’s “immediate” priority simply because “they don’t have the capabilities to take Taiwan”, Professor Tsang explained.
He added: “If and when they have the capability, then it will move up the agenda, but they don’t have the capacity to take Taiwan, probably not for another decade.”
Much of this rests on Xi Jinping’s leadership, Professor Tsang commented, because Xi “has not shown himself to be reckless”.
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“Even Japan will have to either go nuclear or do a deal with China, because even Japan could no longer rely on the Americans for security if the Americans turn out to be unreliable over Taiwan.”
He said ominously: “They take Taiwan, everything changes in the region, and in fact, in the global balance of power.”
Back in October, Xi Jinping said “peaceful” unification of mainland China and Taiwan was “most in line with the overall interest of the Chinese nation, including Taiwan compatriots”.
But Xi made the caveat that “no one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He then added: “The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled.”
Just a few months earlier, Xi had vowed to “smash” any attempt by Taipei to establish formal, permanent independence.
But as Beijing sent a record number of military jets soaring into Taiwan’s air defence zone last year, Taipei denounced the “provocative steps of intrusion, harassment and destruction”.