A US general fears that the Taiwan conflict could soon escalate into a war between China and the US. Is he right in his prediction?
Munich/Beijing – “My gut feeling tells me that we will fight in 2025”: Mike Minihan, a four-star general in the US Air Force, warns that the Taiwan conflict with China could escalate in as little as two years. In a memo, quoted by the Reuters news agency, among others, on Saturday, Minihan predicts that the conflict will escalate into a war between the United States and China. “I hope I’m wrong,” the general continued.
This assessment is shared by Michael McCaul, the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “There is a very high probability that we see a conflict with China and Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region,” the Republican politician told Fox News on Sunday. The US must be “prepared” for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, according to McCaul, who based his analysis on US General Minihan’s gloomy forecast. The US Department of Defense, however, distanced itself from Minihan’s statements.
Is a new major conflict imminent that could overshadow the upheavals caused by the Ukraine war? The most important questions and answers.
What is the conflict between China and Taiwan about?
Beijing regards the democratically governed Taiwan as a breakaway province – although Taiwan was never part of the People’s Republic of China. The conflict goes back to the Chinese civil war, which began in 1949 with the victory of the communists under Mao Zedong and the proclamation of the People’s Republic ended. The defeated nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, where the 1912 proclaimed republic China lives on. Until the 1970s, most countries around the world regarded the Taipei government as the legitimate representative of all of China. Then the big states switched to Beijing, and Taipei lost China’s seat at the United Nations. Today, only 14 countries officially recognize Taiwan.
What is China threatening the government in Taiwan with?
The government in Beijing has been striving for “reunification” with Taiwan for decades. Some observers speculate that head of state and party leader Xi Jinping wants to solve the “Taiwan question” during his own term of office. For the Communist Party, “reunification” is a “historic mission,” Xi said in October, and he is seeking a peaceful solution. However, Xi qualified: “We will never promise to refrain from the use of force and we reserve the possibility to take any measures necessary.”
Since then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei last August, military provocations from China have increased. Chinese fighter jets approach Taiwan almost every day, and warships keep crossing the unofficial border line between Taiwan and the People’s Republic.
When could China get serious and start a war?
One date that observers keep mentioning is the year 2027, when China’s People’s Liberation Army will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. In addition, the modernization of the army initiated by Xi should then be completed. The year 2049 is also sometimes mentioned: 100 years after its founding, the People’s Republic of China wants to be a world power – Xi speaks of the “revival of the Chinese nation”.
Nobody knows if and when China will actually try to take Taiwan – except maybe President Xi himself, who is also the country’s top military. Concrete predictions are therefore speculation. What is clear, however, is that if China were to prepare for an attack, the secret services would probably discover signs of it months or even years in advance.
How would the US and Japan react in the event of a Taiwan war?
The US has only informal relations with Taiwan, but has supported the government in Taipei with arms deliveries for many years. The US government has so far left open whether Washington would also support Taiwan directly in the event of a Chinese attack – this tactic of “strategic ambiguity” was intended to have a deterrent effect on Beijing. Most recently, however, US President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated that his country would intervene directly in a conflict – statements that the White House has subsequently repeatedly retracted.
Whether Japan, which recently announced a massive increase in its defense budget, would also get directly involved in a military conflict between China, Taiwan and the USA remains to be seen. However, most experts assume that Tokyo would at least allow the US to use the American military bases in the country. Around 54,000 US troops are currently stationed in Japan, more than half of them on the island of Okinawa, not far from Taiwan.
What are the scenarios for an invasion of Taiwan?
Most military experts agree that China would not be able to launch a full-scale attack on Taiwan just yet. According to a simulation by the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) in Washington, China would very likely lose such a “conventional” attack today – provided the USA and Japan intervene on Taiwan’s side in the conflict. However, victory for Taiwan and its allies would come at a cost: “The United States and its allies are losing dozens of ships, hundreds of planes, and tens of thousands of military personnel. Taiwan’s economy would be devastated,” the CSIS analysts said. China would also have to cope with high losses.
However, scenarios other than a “conventional” attack are also possible. China could try to cut off Taiwan from the rest of the world with a naval blockade. A salami tactic would also be possible, i.e. an attack on one or more of the small islands that belong to Taiwan and are not far from mainland China. The possible calculus behind this: Should China first attack the island of Kinmen, for example, the USA or Japan would not yet interfere in the conflict – the island would not be worth risking a world war. China may subsequently feel emboldened to attack more islands and eventually capture Taiwan’s main island.
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