Why the China-and-Taiwan Conflict Matters
China has been pressuring Taiwan to reunify with the mainland, while Taiwan sees itself as independent from China. Why does this regional conflict matter?
In recent years, China has become increasingly aggressive against its neighbors and areas it claims sovereignty over. This is currently playing out between China and the small island of Taiwan.
In a 2019 speech, China’s President Xi Jinping called for a peaceful reunification of Taiwan to mainland China under a “one country, two systems” policy.
However, China’s actions toward Hong Kong in recent years do not lead many in Taiwan to believe their system of governance and way of life would be respected by China. When the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997, China promised it would maintain the “one country, two systems” for 50 years. Instead, China has chosen to dominate Hong Kong and bring it in line with the rest of China.
Some historical background
The Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) left China when Mao Zedong’s communist forces took control of China in 1949. They fled to an island off mainland China and formed what they called the Republic of China—now commonly called Taiwan.
To this day, Taiwan has maintained that it is an independent nation. However, China views the island as a breakaway province, and there are fears China is planning to use force to fully reunify it with mainland China.
A recent poll shows that 66 percent of those on the island identify themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese. But the number is much higher among young people, with 83 percent of those under 30 identifiying as Taiwanese. With 60 percent of people in Taiwan having an unfavorable view of communist China, a peaceful reunification between the mainland and the island seems very unlikely.
A show of force
In recent years, China has continually shown it is willing to use force to exert its power and will. In 2005 China passed the anti-secession law that declares Taiwan a part of China and prohibits Taiwan from seeking independence. It also declares that, if need be, China will use “non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The threat was reiterated in 2019 when Xi Jinping said Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with China and said that China reserves the right to use force. Many believe it’s just a matter of time before China decides to act on this law.
Tensions between China and Taiwan have never been so high, with even minor disputes easily escalating into major issues. For instance, a celebration in Fiji with a cake decorated with a Taiwan flag erupted into a diplomatic fight between Chinese and Taiwanese officials. To avoid upsetting China, Australia’s Qantas Airways dropped all references to Taiwan as an independent nation. A British charity broke ties with a Taiwanese bird conservation group because it recently changed its name from Taiwan’s Chinese Wild Bird Federation to Taiwan Wild Bird Federation. China insists international organizations refer to the island as “Chinese Taiwan.”
China periodically sends military aircraft and marine vessels into Taiwan territorial boundaries to intimidate, send a warning and test the island’s military response. In 2020 alone, China encroached into Taiwan’s airspace 380 times. Taiwan needs to tread a fine line between showing it takes these military incursions seriously and not provoking China into a military battle that it cannot likely win.
China is also engaging in psychological and information warfare against Taiwan, including performing military exercises against a full-scale replica of Taiwan’s presidential palace at a Chinese military base, spreading disinformation among Taiwan’s citizens, stirring social unrest and hacking into Taiwan’s critical infrastructure.
On the world stage, Taiwan has few friends. This is because China will sever ties with any nation or organization that recognizes Taiwan’s sovereignty. Only 15 small countries have recognized Taiwan as a sovereign nation (all of which have no relationship with China). Even the European Union, the United Nations and the World Health Organization have felt compelled to not recognize Taiwan as a nation independent of China.
Despite the fact that the U.S. is Taiwan’s most significant partner, the official policy of the U.S. Department of State is that “there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China” and that “the United States does not support Taiwan independence.”
The widespread refusal to recognize Taiwan is a demonstration of the economic might of China.
Yet, despite the United States’ official policy on Taiwan, in October 2020 the U.S. government again approved selling $1.8 billion worth of military weaponry to the government of Taiwan to strengthen it against a potential attack from China.
Value of Taiwan
But why is Taiwan so important to China?
In addition to demonstrating its might on the world stage, China has other reasons for desiring to dominate Taiwan. Though Taiwan is a relatively small island, it is home to the world’s leading semiconductor technology and a major part of the global supply chain.
Taiwan occupies a strategic position that China wants complete control over.Today high-end semiconductor chips squeeze billions of transistors into a small silicon wafer. The manufacturing of these chips requires specialized work at the atomic level. Only two companies, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and South Korea’s Samsung, can build these chips. TSMC’s market share is 55 percent, and it is expanding to increase that percentage.
These advanced semiconductor chips meet the growing needs of computing power in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, quantum computers, electric cars, mobile chipsets and the military.
Another reason for China’s interest in Taiwan is the geographic reality that China is surrounded by a chain of islands in the East China Sea and South China Sea. China’s desire is to control these seas. Taiwan occupies a strategic position that China wants complete control over. China also wants to build military bases on the island so it can further dominate Asia by controlling the waterways of maritime trade.
With Taiwan securely in its grasp, China could exert greater influence on Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
United States’ weakness
Another side of the growing tensions between China and Taiwan is the increasing rivalry between China and the United States. Since the United States has friendly relations with Taiwan (without recognizing its independence), China sees dominating Taiwan as a show of its supremacy over the United States.
At this time, the United States is the only power that could hold China back from taking Taiwan. China’s recent actions are seen as a way for China to test U.S. resolve. At the same time, China is rapidly working to build up its military to surpass the United States.
Recent war game simulations conducted by the U.S. Air Force showed a U.S.–China conflict in Taiwan would likely result in “a crushing defeat” for the United States.
With global power shifting to China in the Pacific, many observers see the United States as a nation in decline. China’s military assertiveness in the South China Sea has gone largely unchallenged by the United States. The United States has been increasingly withdrawing from the world stage as it has been consumed with deep domestic divisions. China is sensing the United States’ growing weaknesses and accelerating its plan to dominate—starting with its closest neighbors.
Who will be the next superpower?
Many believe China is poised to replace the United States as the next global superpower.
And China is doing everything in its power to make this a reality and to surpass the U.S. Between 2014 and 2018, China put more vessels to sea than the total number of ships in the German, Indian, Spanish and British navies combined. By 2025, China’s military is projected to surpass that of the U.S. in the Pacific region. A survey in 11 European countries shows that a majority believe China will replace the U.S. as the world’s most powerful nation.
But in our multipolar world, China will not be the only superpower. The Bible shows there will be another superpower to rise in Europe.
The book of Daniel focuses on four empires arising over time. These empires are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and the Roman Empire. The kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece have come and gone already, but the Roman Empire was prophesied to be resurrected 10 times (Daniel 7:7).
The Bible shows that the Roman Empire will arise as a powerful military and economic force at the end time. The Bible refers to this power as “the beast” (Revelation 13). This power will dominate the world economy (Revelation 13:16-17; 18:12-16). To learn more about this coming power, read “Who Is the Beast?”
The book of Daniel refers to the Roman Empire as the “king of the North.” This title shows us that “the beast” will be located north of Jerusalem. China cannot be the beast since it is far to the east of Jerusalem. The “king of the North” will arise from Europe and likely be politically dominated by Germany and religiously dominated by Rome.
This force will retaliate powerfully against an attack from the “king of the South,” likely a confederation of Islamic nations that will include Egypt (Daniel 11:40-43). To learn more, read “The King of the North” and “The King of the South.”
The king of the North will conquer the Holy Land and decisively defeat the king of the South. This northern power will establish a headquarters in Jerusalem, end daily sacrifices and set up what the Bible calls the “abomination of desolation” (Daniel 11:41; 12:11).
However, this European superpower will not go unchallenged. This is where China’s future biblical role comes in.
The Bible tells us that powers from the “east and the north shall trouble” the king of the North, and a massive battle will ensue between these regional powers (Daniel 11:44). These nations will be to the north and east of Jerusalem and will likely be an alliance that includes China, Russia, India and possibly other Asian nations. The book of Revelation calls this alliance “the kings from the east” (Revelation 16:12).
This massive Asian alliance will form a military force of 200 million persons and will ultimately kill one-third of mankind (Revelation 9:15-18).
Despite the expectation that China will become the next global superpower, the Bible reveals that Europe will once again rise to prominence as the cradle of a revived version of the old Roman Empire. But that doesn’t mean students of prophecy should take their eyes off of China. In order to be a part of a force that challenges the coming beast power and destroys one-third of humanity, it seems China will continue to rise as a military power—along with Russia.
Continue to watch as the regional powers described in Bible prophecy emerge before our eyes.