[Analytics] Could China ever invade Taiwan?

Two Taiwan servicemen stand in front of US-made Apache AH-64E attack helicopters during a commissioning ceremony at a military base in Taoyuan on July 17, 2018. Photo: AFP / Sam Yeh. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

With a record number of Chinese fighters flying sorties over Taiwan in October, and rhetoric on all sides becoming more heated, many observers say the past few weeks have been the most tense in the region for decades. How serious is the prospect of an attempt by Beijing to take back the island that it has claimed since 1949 – and would an attack draw the US into a major international conflict? Michael Safi with Helen Davidson specially for The Guardian.

For much of the past two years, as Covid-19 has spread across the world, Taiwan has seemed like an oasis – successfully keeping the virus under control and continuing with life more or less as normal.

But at the same time, just as they have for decades, the island’s residents have lived in the shadow of a threat from China, which claims sovereignty and says it has the right to seize control. In recent months, with China’s president, Xi Jinping, repeatedly proclaiming that his “unification” policy “must be fulfilled”, fighter jets and bombers have stepped up sorties into Taiwanese airspace.

Meanwhile, the US – which has long pursued a policy of “strategic ambiguity” in the hope that uncertainty over its intentions will dissuade either side from challenging the status quo – has been drawn into the rhetorical battle, with Joe Biden appearing to confirm that the US would defend Taiwan. While the White House later sought to downplay his remarks, most agree that the atmosphere over the island’s fate is as heated as it has been for 40 years.

Why have tensions increased? What would a Chinese invasion of Taiwan look like? And what can be done to try to avoid an accidental flare-up that could lead to a full-scale conflict? In this episode, Michael Safi talks to Helen Davidson, a Guardian correspondent based in Taipei. She discusses how likely an attack is, and what other forms of aggression China may attempt short of a full-blown military strike. And she reflects on the consequences of an escalating conflict that could draw in other powers – a conflict with potentially devastating consequences both for wider international relations and for the 23 million people who call Taiwan their home.

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