Cover: Is China Planning to Attack Taiwan?

Is China Planning to Attack Taiwan?

A Careful Consideration of Available Evidence Says No

Published in: War on the Rocks website (2022)

Posted on rand.org May 5, 2023

by Timothy R. Heath

Is China preparing to invade Taiwan within the next two decades? In the past year, fears that war could break out in the Taiwan Strait have grown palpable, owing in large part to the shock of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Conflict scenarios that once seemed inconceivable have become a frightening reality. Commentators warn that Beijing could be tempted to follow Moscow's example and attack a neighbor which it has long regarded as illegitimate.

U.S. military commanders have issued grim warnings about the possibility of such an attack in the near future. In March 2021, Adm. Philip Davidson, Pacific Fleet commander, warned that China could take military action against Taiwan by 2027. Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, added that he could "not rule out" a Chinese attempt to invade as early as 2023. Top specialists on China have lent support to the alarming assessment. In a recent poll, 63 percent of respondents believed an invasion to be "possible within the next 10 years."

These fears have spurred striking political responses in Western capitals. To dissuade Beijing, President Joseph Biden has issued multiple statements clarifying U.S. willingness to help Taiwan defeat Chinese aggression. U.S. military leaders, dismayed by the results of war games that suggested U.S. forces could suffer devastating losses in a cross-strait conflict, have vowed major overhauls of the armed forces. Allied governments have stepped up preparations as well. Japan has increased defense spending amid fears of a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan and Australia has inked a deal with the United States and the United Kingdom for nuclear submarines to patrol farther from its shores.

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