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Will China take the potentially devastating step of invading Taiwan — and if so, when can we expect an invasion to happen? 


Image of Chinese Army


Amid a tumultuous era of global disorder, where conflicts are on the rise more than at any point in the last 30 years, one burning question looms large over the complex geopolitical landscape: Will China invade Taiwan? Regarded by many as today's most pressing geopolitical quandary, the stakes in East Asia are so high that an invasion or other violent conflict could be a potential catalyst for World War III.

Here is the crux of the dilemma: China considers Taiwan a part of its territory and Chinese President Xi Jinping has long emphasized reunification as a core objective, while Taiwan operates as a self-governing democracy with its own government and military.

While a November 2023 meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping did result in the resumption of military-to-military communications — a positive step — it did not give us any clues as to the timeline for a potential invasion. The U.S. will maintain its strategic ambiguity regarding Taiwan, while China remains steadfast in its goal of reunification — by any means.  In the eyes of many, 2024 will be a pivotal year for this issue.

As tensions escalate and strategic posturing continues, the international community must grapple with the uncertainty surrounding the delicate relationship between China and Taiwan. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would likely lead not only to thousands of deaths but could open the floodgates for a wider, violent conflict between the U.S., China and others, as well as cataclysmic global economic shock.

Will China take the potentially devastating step of invading Taiwan — and if so, when can we expect an invasion to happen?

When Will China Invade Taiwan?

It’s not clear to anyone if, much less when, there will be an all-out military conflict between China and Taiwan.

The uncertainty around when China will invade Taiwan boils down to a myriad of internal and external factors. China is considering its own military readiness and that of the U.S., Japan, and Taiwan; perceived global reactions; the overall regional military balance of power, and the United States' political appetite for intervention. There's no clear timeline because international events don't follow a predictable script. Security experts and analysts are reviewing the moving parts without a definite answer on when, and what type of action China will take on Taiwan. It's like playing chess: We know China’s end goal, but its next big move hasn't been made yet.

"It's like playing chess: We know China’s end goal, but its next big move hasn't been made yet."

While a full-scale, imminent Chinese invasion on Taiwan may not be certain, various trigger points highlight potential windows of vulnerability or tension in the coming years. Currently, Global Guardian thinks that the window for conflict is now open, with that window most likely remaining open between 2024-2028. If China will invade Taiwan, it will likely be during this timeframe.


Chart depicting the timing of a conflict between China and Taiwan.

In a recent webinar on the Taiwan question from Global Guardian, Senior Intelligence Analyst Zev Faintuch noted the following trigger points for a China-Taiwan conflict:

  • Taiwanese presidential elections in January 2024 that could bring another anti-China leader to power: The outcome of the Taiwanese presidential elections has long been considered perhaps the most significant trigger point for a conflict in 2024. With William Lai securing an election victory, the 20 May inauguration will introduce a new more dangerous cross-strait dynamic, further cementing China’s position that it needs to take even more aggressive action to repatriate Taiwan.
  • U.S. presidential elections in November 2024 that could distract the U.S. and perhaps even cause chaos if there is a transition of administrations: The U.S. presidential elections in November 2024 represents a pivotal moment as well. Though the U.S. officially supports the “One China” policy, the rigors of the election for the current administration, and/or the transition of administrations, can introduce uncertainties and potential distractions. A change in leadership or policy direction may impact the U.S.'s ability to respond effectively to geopolitical events, potentially creating a window of opportunity or vulnerability.
  • In 2025, when Taiwan’s military predicts China will be ready to invade: The year 2025 is marked by strategic significance, as Taiwan's military predicts that China could be prepared to execute an invasion by then. This projection underscores the importance of assessing the geopolitical landscape during this period, as the perceived readiness of China could influence regional dynamics and prompt preemptive measures from Taiwan and its allies.
  • When China’s People’s Liberation Army marks its centennial in 2027: The centennial of China's People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2027 is a symbolic milestone. The PLA's commemoration of a hundred years could potentially coincide with strategic moves or displays of military strength, shaping perceptions both domestically and internationally and influencing China's approach to regional affairs.
  • When the U.S. likely nears semiconductor sovereignty, likely around 2030 — reducing its dependence on Taiwan: Anticipating the year 2030 is crucial, particularly concerning semiconductor production. As the U.S. progresses toward semiconductor sovereignty, reducing reliance on Taiwan for critical technology components, the dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region may shift. This shift could impact the strategic importance of Taiwan in the eyes of both the U.S. and China.

Of course, it's important to acknowledge the inherent uncertainty here. An invasion, if one is to happen, remains a looming question mark. The element of surprise would likely be in China’s best interest if they do move forward with invading Taiwan.

Factors Contributing to the Possibility of a Taiwan Invasion

As we approach the possibility of invasion, it’s important to acknowledge that many factors can impact China’s decision-making. These factors are varied, and include everything from perceived U.S. and Taiwanese provocations to sea levels of the Taiwan Strait.

Here are the key considerations that Global Guardian is looking out for during the foreseeable future:

  • A perception of U.S. weakness and/or domestic distraction because of a presidential transition, as well as the status of the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and what impact that has on U.S. and global attention. China is closely monitoring the strain the Ukraine war has put on the United States’ arsenal and whether this pressure would force the United States to “blink” in a standoff with China.
  • The health of the Chinese president. Xi, who is 70 years old, triggered speculation about his health when he skipped a major speech at the BRICS summit in South Africa in August with no explanation. He may want to cement his legacy as the one to reunify China before it’s too late.
  • A change in the United States’ China/Taiwan policy marked by a shift from strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity.
  • Provocative trips by high-ranking U.S. officials to Taiwan. When then U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022, Beijing responded with forceful and coercive military, economic, and diplomatic measures, including large-scale military exercises around Taiwan.
  • Game-changing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and/or Taiwanese short-range ballistic missile tests.


Taiwan Shock Index

Examining potential Chinese military actions against Taiwan in the coming years reveals several conceivable scenarios.

One possibility is the implementation of a blockade, a measure that would effectively isolate Taiwan from the international community. Alternatively, China might opt for more aggressive approaches such as taking over Taiwan’s most outlying islands right off the mainland’s coast. The most extreme possibility involves a full-scale amphibious invasion, characterized by bombardment and ground troops landing and systematically seizing strategic locations, including ports, government buildings and airfields. An attack would likely extend to preemptive strikes on American bases in Guam, the Philippines and Japan, thereby posing risks to U.S. military personnel.

In the event of an invasion, the implications would be profound, both at a local and global level. Humanitarian concerns would escalate, endangering the safety and well-being of the Taiwanese population and potentially leading to a humanitarian crisis.

The economic ramifications of a Taiwan invasion would resonate globally, disrupting trade, supply chains, and financial markets. The interconnected nature of the global economy would see the shockwaves from such an event transcending the immediate theater of conflict, influencing international trade dynamics and global economic stability on a broader scale.

In the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the international community, with the U.S. at the forefront, would likely deploy a combination of diplomatic and potentially military measures. Diplomatically, concerted efforts would focus on condemning the invasion and advocating for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Simultaneously, the U.S. and its regional allies would likely come to the defense of Taipei, implement sanctions on China, and the U.S. could use its naval superiority to constrict China's access to energy and other resources by interdicting China-bound ships. This dual approach of diplomacy and potential military action would shape the trajectory of global responses to this critical geopolitical event.

For a comprehensive assessment of the potential shockwaves and consequences in the aftermath of a China-Taiwan conflict, explore Global Guardian’s Taiwan Shock Index. This analytical tool evaluates various indicators to show how a conflict could destabilize a given country.

How Likely Is a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan?

Pie chart depicting the likelihood that China invades Taiwan. Global Guardian experts put the likelihood of an all-out invasion at around 35%, and consider the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the conflict at about 5%. That means the most likely scenario (with about 60% certainty) is some kind of limited conflict — likely meaning: a blockade that disrupts Taiwan and prevents normal economic, supply chain, and communications operations, with the intent of isolating the island.

A de facto blockade is considered a logical continuation of the current situation, and it could potentially escalate into a full-blown conflict between China and the U.S. The advantage for Beijing is that the costs of a blockade are considerably lower compared to an outright war, providing decision-makers with the flexibility to ramp up or de-escalate tensions based on Taipei and Washington's actions. This strategy puts China in the driver's seat, allowing them to control the unfolding situation.

The primary objective of a blockade wouldn't necessarily be to besiege Taiwan and cut off essential supplies; instead, it would aim to send a message to both Taiwan and the global community that China holds sovereignty over the region. In practical terms, a de facto blockade could involve the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) restricting specific maritime vessels or aircraft from entering or leaving Taiwanese ports. Beijing might frame this as a quarantine, emphasizing its intent to block the movement of "contraband" (weapons destined for Taipei) rather than an outright act of war.

What about that 5% chance of diplomatic resolution? As unlikely as this path appears, it might entail both parties engaging in sincere and transparent dialogue, seeking common ground and compromise on issues that have long fueled discord. This could involve international mediation, fostering an environment conducive to peaceful negotiations. While the odds may appear slim, the prospect of diplomatic solutions should not be dismissed outright. In a world with many existing violence conflicts and challenges, we should always hold out hope for dialogue and compromise.

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