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Risks in a Chinese invasion of Taiwan

In talks with China's president next week, Clinton will try to defuse

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The upsurge in tensions between China and Taiwan appears to have put China's political and military hierarchy in a strategic bind.

Having threatened for months to attack Taiwan for what they decry as a move toward independence, China's communist rulers may find it hard to back down without humiliating losses of political face and national prestige.

But their options for action, ranging from blockading the island democracy to launching missiles to an invasion, carry grave dangers, including hostilities with the United States, analysts and officials warn.

Persuading China not to act is expected to top President Clinton's agenda for talks next week with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in New Zealand. Despite signs that Beijing wants to mend ties hurt by NATO's bombing of its Belgrade embassy, his work will be cut out for him.

"It's a Chinese tradition that the leader who allows the division of China will fall or does not last long," says Bates Gill of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. "There is this weight of history that impels the leadership to respond to the problems they see on Taiwan."

Yet even a limited Chinese use of force could trigger clashes with Taiwan that would roil regional stability and global markets and risk a Sino-US conflict.

Possibility of war

The latter danger loomed in August 1996, when Chinese missile firings in the Taiwan Strait and war games prompted the dispatch of two US aircraft-carrier battle groups. It was the biggest such deployment in the Pacific since the Vietnam War.

Because of the huge risks and Taiwan's own formidable defenses, most analysts discount a Chinese invasion.

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