Taiwan: China have ability for ‘full scale invasion’ by 2025 says expert
And Barbara Keleman has warned if China does opt to make a move, it will do so when at a time when nobody is expecting it, in order to seize the initiative. Ms Keleman, Associate and the lead intelligence analyst for Asia at security intelligence firm Dragonfly, was speaking at a time of heightened tension between China and the West over the disputed island. Earlier this month China sent at least 38 planes across the median line running down the Taiwan Strait which serves as a de facto border between Taiwan and the mainland.
Ms Keleman suggested while China would be reluctant to attempt a full-scale invasion of Taiwan itself, outlying islands could represent much easier targets.
She told Express.co.uk: “When it comes to islands, it’s around a few dozen of them that Taiwan controls.
“You can practically divide between those that are near the South China Sea and then the offshore islands, which are very close to the Chinese mainland.”
She explained: “In my view, I think the Kinmen islands are probably the most vulnerable because they are only a few miles from the Chinese mainland.
Some of them used to be part of Fujian province, and also if you look at the population, their view towards mainland China seems to be much more positive than if you look at Taiwan itself.
“So, in that regard China would probably also have that advantage when attacking those.”
Xi Jinping may test the resolve of Joe Biden, said Barbara Keleman
Taiwanese military drills
In terms of the defendability of the Kinmen islands Ms Keleman said while the Taiwanese army still carried out military exercises, realistically speaking, without the help of foreign powers, it would be almost impossible to prevent a Chinese takeover.”
As for how China would go about it, Ms Keleman suggested President Xi would just need to deploy a few ships, and even if force was required, she questioned whether the West would “go to war over a small island”.
She added: “It’s really just the question of how much would China be willing to risk that this could escalate into kinetic conflict, or some other type of conflict.”
Referring to the potential for China to act in response to so-called Freedom of Navigation operations through the Taiwan Strait by US Naval ships in recent months, Ms Keleman said: “I suppose that could be provoked by for example the US or other Western countries taking what China perceives as an aggressive approach.
“If you look at the agreement between US and China with respect towards Taiwan, I suppose China right now sees some of those steps as crossing the line from their perspective, so taking such an aggressive stance would be a signal to Washington that they shouldn’t really try to change their stance towards Taiwan.
“If you look at the 95/96 Taiwanese Strait crisis, China did something similar.
An undated handout photo made available by the Taiwan Ministry of National Defence
“They were firing ballistic missiles ahead of the elections when the independence support was really rising, and this was a way of saying that, you know, you have to calm down because otherwise this is not going to end well.”
Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-Cheng last week suggested China could launch an invasion of Taiwan by 2025 – but Ms Keleman was less convinced, despite Xi’s recent fiery rhetoric on the subject, which she argued was partly aimed at a domestic audience.
She said: “I think in terms of Taiwan and military strategy, I don’t think that he would be able to militarily invade Taiwan anytime soon – even if we talk about 2025, I think that there are still high costs for this scenario.
“And at the moment there are so many pressures on China, whether you could look at energy outages, whether it’s the real estate market, you know, so there’s definitely domestic elements in it.”
She explained: “I think that all this pressure is a part of a long-term hybrid strategy of just building this psychological effect on Taiwan.
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Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s President
Incursions into Taiwan’s airspace this year
“They are trying to establish this narrative in the international arena that this is on the horizon where at one point they will try to unify with Taiwan.”
Nor should the West overlook the cult of personality building up around Xi, widely seen as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Ms Keleman said: “This strategy is personally tied to Xi Jinping himself, who is much more assertive than any other leaders prior to him.
“And then there is the risk that he would try to do something more aggressive.
“Not going to war, but as I said, trying to seize some of the islands, you know, just to provoke a crisis.”
South China Sea and Taiwan mapped
The chief risk lay in the consequent potential for provoking a crisis unintentionally, which would then be difficult to contain, she stressed.
She explained: “I think accidental flare up is probably the best way to describe it.
“I think that the whole US strategy is based on the fact that it is unclear whether they will actually come to help Taiwan.
“It is unpredictable. On the other hand, you still have direct communication between the US.
“But I would say based on what China’s military strategy is, in my view, if something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen when no one expects it.
China’s military strength in numbers
“And they will act first, because they want to have the advantage of acting rather than reacting.”
Regular submarine operations, which China conducts in the South China Sea, would be one way in which China could up the ante, she pointed out.
She said: “Once you have submarines in there, it’s going to be a huge issue.
“So that’s one of those indicators where you can really see dangers building up.”