Will China Seize Taiwan?

Wishful Thinking in Beijing, Taipei, and Washington Could Spell War in 2019

A Taiwanese naval ceremony at Kaohsiung's Zuoying base, Taiwan, November 2018 Tyrone Siu / REUTERS

“China must be, and will be reunified,” Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in a speech in January. Xi spoke of “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan, but he warned, “We do not forsake the use of force.” Ever since Hong Kong and Macau rejoined Mainland China in 1997 and 1999, respectively, Chinese expectations that Taiwan would follow suit have grown. When, a decade ago, the Beijing Olympics and the global financial crisis boosted China’s confidence on the world stage, those expectations redoubled.

But “peaceful reunification” has proved elusive. After Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-wen, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), to the presidency in 2016, many Mainland Chinese lost patience with the idea. Some Chinese nationalists now argue that China has only a brief window of opportunity to seize Taiwan. Talk of “forceful reunification” is ascendant.

China has already begun to tighten the noose. It has forced Taiwan out of international bodies, such as the World Health Organization; required airlines to replace “Taiwan” with descriptions such as “Taiwan, Province of China”; and induced five more countries to sever relations with Taipei.

Beijing seems to believe that the United States will sit by as it squeezes Taiwan. Taipei, meanwhile, has convinced itself that China has no plans to invade. And U.S. President Donald Trump seems to think he can rock the boat without consequences. All are wrong—and their wishful thinking is raising the odds of conflict.


Now that Xi has consolidated power, he seeks a legacy befitting the great emperors of old: the reunification of the Middle Kingdom. “The only thing that will make him the greatest leader in the Chinese Communist Party’s history is to take Taiwan back,” Shen Dingli, a foreign relations scholar at Fudan University, told Quartz in 2018. “If he were to achieve China’s reunification, who will say he is second to Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping?"

There are signs that Xi believes the world will sit by if China invades Taiwan.

Xi, whose “China Dream” promises to make

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