In January 2023, a leaked memo from the US air force general Mike Minihan revealed that he expected to be at war with China over Taiwan by 2025. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had raised the stakes, as had Beijing’s consistent refusal to rule out military action. But is a full-scale invasion the real threat, or is the territory’s struggle for independence already well under way?
On a recent trip to Taiwan, the New Statesman’s China and global affairs editor Katie Stallard visits Kinmen, site of the last major confrontation between Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army and the Kuomintang forces of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. There are relics of past conflicts everywhere, from the wall of loudspeakers that broadcasts propaganda at the Chinese coast, to the tunnels and air raid shelters that protected the Taiwanese from bombing in the 1950s.
Now they face more subtle threats – “grey-zone tactics” such as the severing of internet cables from Taiwan to the Matsu islands, and “cognitive warfare”, or a sophisticated disinformation campaign, alongside the alienation of Taiwan’s traditional diplomatic allies (down from 22 to 13 formal partners, as countries such as Honduras switch allegiance to Beijing). In Taipei, Stallard hears how a more conventional military offensive might unfold, and the ways in which anti-US propaganda has gained traction – particularly in the wake of its exit from Afghanistan. Can Taiwan hold its ground?
Written and read by Katie Stallard.
This article originally appeared in the 31 March – 13 April spring issue of the New Statesman. You can read the text version here.
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