Will China invade Taiwan?

Sunday, July 11th, 2021

Will China invade Taiwan?

Taiwan itself is very badly defended and the defence it does have is ill-suited to the task (its military has “pursued a suicidal procurement strategy of expensive boutique US kit that will be no use in the crisis, like fighter jets that will be killed on the ground by the opening Chinese missile barrage”). The US military is aimed at fighting the War on Terror, not defending overseas territories against invasion. US public opinion might not support shedding blood over defending Taiwan.

On the other hand: a war would be a huge risk for China; “every Chinese leader has an incentive to leave such a risky endeavour to his successor,” another forecaster writes. In the short term, the balance of power is still with the Americans, and China can afford to be patient and wait until the middle of the century. The forecasters use facts like these to adjust their initial base-rate estimate.

The six forecasters estimate the likelihood of a significant China-Taiwan conflict at between 8% and 23% in the next five years, with a median estimate of 14%. That doesn’t sound all that bad, but it’s worth adding something.

If we’ve learnt anything from Covid, it should be that preparing for the most likely outcome is not enough. The odds of a global pandemic in any given year is probably only about 1%. But if one happens, it turns out, it’s really bad, and it would have been worth investing a significant amount of resources to avoid or mitigate it. One of the superforecasters told me that “a 14% chance of a proper conflict by 2026 is quite a big deal. If someone says there’s a 10% chance of a really bad outcome, the expected value [the impact multiplied by the probability] is still really bad.” So you might not think a particular bad outcome is very likely, but if it’s bad enough, then you ought to prepare for it anyway.


The median estimate for how likely the US is to come to Taiwan’s aid if there were an invasion is 83%. So we are talking about a very high probability that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would lead to armed conflict between the world’s two superpowers. They also think it’s about 75% likely that the US would try to sink Chinese invasion ships, and say it’s reasonably likely that China would preemptively attack the US forces in the region if they did attack.

What might the knock-on effects be, if the world’s largest economies end up in a shooting war? Well: the US imports about $470 billion’s worth of goods from China a year. The superforecasters’ median estimate is that that would drop by 20%, or, roughly speaking, $100 billion.


And what’s more, it’s very far from obvious that the US would win. If a war were to break out over Taiwan before 2026, the median estimate is that there’s a 57% chance of Chinese victory; if the war were to break out between 2031 and 2035, when China has had another decade to build up its military relative to the US, the estimate is 66%.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    First, get one thing straight. In a war against China over Taiwan, the US is crushed, and driven out of much of East Asia. Furthermore, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand will stand by and do nothing, other than intern our troops.

    The main goal of China’s leadership is to lift the remaining 600 million Chinese out of poverty. For that they need the current international situation to remain in place. There will be no move on Taiwan until that task is completed, which may take another 20 years.

    The only way a war over Taiwan happens is if either the US or Taiwan starts it by declaring Taiwanese independence.

    So, what is the chance that our corrupt, incompetent, and delusional Ruling Class will start a war? They just did a ham-handed election steal, so the probability is pretty good, especially considering all the rabid anti-Chinese propaganda they spew daily.

  2. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “the US imports about $470 billion’s worth of goods from China a year. The superforecasters’ median estimate is that that would drop by 20%, or, roughly speaking, $100 billion.”

    Eh? More realistically, those imports would drop by $470 billion to Zero, because the Chinese Communist Party would immediately prohibit exports to the US in the event of war.

    Walmart shelves would be empty. The US military would grind to a halt due to the lack of everything from computer equipment to nuts & bolts. US population would turn against a US government which will be unable to keep the medicine cabinet full and the lights on.

    Without an adequate industrial base, the US cannot attack China. The war would be lost before it had even begun.

  3. Scott Marquardt says:

    The biggest maker of semiconductors can’t figure out how to make a nuke (or a few dozen)? Your guess is as good as mine if they would use said hardware. No doubt they could demonstrate ownership PDQ. Also believe trade would drop to zero. We know how to make everything the CCP makes for us now. Let’s see them feed their people — while plugging the gaping hole in the 3 Gorges Dam.

  4. Sam J. says:

    Interesting. I just happened to be reading at this exact minute an article on how the elites sold out the US to line their pockets.


  5. Sam J. says:

    I forgot to add I read that now the Democrats are trying to lower even further the amount of nuclear weapons we have.

    We could survive and win a war with China but not with the people we have running our country. They’re doing everything they can to make sure we lose and I’m not being fallacious. I really mean it. They are trying to undermine our capabilities across the board.

  6. Altitude Zero says:

    Why the Hell would China want to start a war with a country that is so obviously in the process of destroying itself? A full-scale military confrontation right now would be the only chance that the US, as currently constituted, would have. The CCP leadership is evil and unutterably arrogant, but they are not stupid. The waiting game is the way to go.

    The only problem with this strategy from the standpoint of the CCP is that China’s increasingly bellicose attitude is frightening countries like Japan, Vietnam, both Koreas, and India, and a combination of these countries would be more than a match for China, and they are increasingly coming together to present a united front. There will probably be a “window” where the lives of American decline and anti-China coalition rise cross. This is when they will strike. Interesting times.

  7. VXXC says:

    Did China overthrow the American Republic? No.

    Is China a Threat to mainland America, or even our outposts at Guam or Hawaii? No, and probably not.

    Is blood for Taiwan an American interest? No. See below. The Taiwan government doesn’t think so either.

    Will the new American Military now disavowed of Oath from above [it was to the defunct Constitution] fight reliably for the new “Regime”, which is on the take from China? Such a huge known unknown as to not make it worth the risk. To sane people.

    Does Taiwan care about their own defense? NO. They ended conscription and they don’t train the soldiers they have, or equip them. A serious nation would arm at the depth of Finland or Switzerland, every man a soldier. Taiwan refuses to do do. They fear their own more than China. In line with this Taiwan’s ruling class is apparently very loving $$ of Chinese money. But so is everyone, including Americans of all kinds, including not only of course POTUS but such worthies as General Mattis. Taiwan’s largely Chinese Ruling class may be more afraid of the native Taiwanese than the mainland they take money from, so we can’t count on them.

    It’s rather difficult to have your heart in a fight where you know those you defend and those who command you are on the take from the people you’re supposed to be fighting.

    Does the above mean there won’t be war? No. It’s just that there are limits to insanity that may yet have to be plumbed.

  8. Longarch says:

    VXXC wrote: “Does Taiwan care about their own defense? No. They ended conscription and they don’t train the soldiers they have, or equip them. A serious nation would arm at the depth of Finland or Switzerland, every man a soldier. Taiwan refuses to do do. They fear their own more than China.”

    Well, if you are going to use weasel-worded value judgements like “serious” then no one will ever be able to prove you wrong because no one will ever be able to force you to define your terms.

    In the mean time, Taiwan has produced some physical evidence of its seriousness.


    Taiwan can only deliver 225kg of seriousness at a time, but it can deliver that seriousness at 1030 m/s, so the PRC might have some nasty surprises in store.

    I won’t bother arguing for the seriousness of mine-laying boats in this space.


  9. Bruce Purcell says:

    I’d be surprised if Taiwan had no mines or passive torpedoes in the natural invasion routes. Eric Raymond had a notion in the SF collection ‘Riding the Red Horse’.

  10. VXXC says:

    Value-laden words are weasel words. I see.

    A serious Taiwan would not have ended conscription and replaced it with a much less trained army of volunteers, Taiwan’s military appears in shambles.They dismantled their conscript army and did not replace it except in name. T. Greer at the Scholar’s Stage has written about this matter.

    A serious Taiwan would adopt the Finns or Swiss system of a rifle in every house and every centimeter of Taiwan plotted in interlocking fires, but no…and again it’s probably because the Chinese Ruling Class does not trust the native islanders, but this is none of our business.

    Buying American Weapon systems that will not stop or deter invasion are good for kickbacks all round, and the missile salesman business, but while yes they can lob some missiles into China, 225 kg of explosives into China shall not do anything but annoy China, China is very large. Also our very own American aerospace and so missile business has no problem transferring technology to China for money either, because we ourselves are as corrupted as the Taiwan elites.

    A serious Taiwan would not be talking smack while taking China’s money, but they are….

    And finally a serious American would look at the map and realize it’s not worth the cost, in particular as US elites and Taiwan’s elites are taking Chinese coin. A serious American would realize that it’s psychotic to even speak of war with the above facts of runaway corruption all around are known publicly and personally noticed by the troops. One cannot even issue troops more than token ammunition under those circumstances. Indeed the serious Taiwan elites in effect DON’T issue their troops ammunition for training, or much for training at all, because they fear them. So did the worthies who summoned the US ARNG to DC. At no point did anyone have more than 30 rounds, usually 15, and that was only at the Capitol. Indeed the active forces turned down DC on Jan 6, forcing the desperate Congress to reach out to Dem State’s guardsmen. Said states did not send their troops with ammunition, or at least NJ did not, and what does all this have in common with Taiwan? Well it’s the same sort of situation. In America the troops aren’t trusted either. In Taiwan they’re not trusted, so they aren’t put in a situation where actual patriots or simply armed men who’ve had enough nonsense could make a difference.

    No blood for Taiwan. You war profiteers can go and defend your investments yourselves, and you can defend them in America too.

    Come back when you’re serious. In the meantime, seriously, Taiwan has no army, it doesn’t dare. And we’ll discover when the DC regime attempts to use it that DC doesn’t have a military either..

  11. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Why would Taiwan want to turn their entire country into the Alamo, and fight to the last man in a hopeless effort to defeat invading Mainland China forces? Because there is absolutely no doubt about how an invasion would end.

    The smartest defense for Taiwan would be to mine its own chip-making plants and other valuable assets. Then quietly let the Chinese Communist Party know that there will be nothing left standing on the island after the CCP achieves “victory”.

    The smartest form of attack for the CCP is simply to do what they have already done with Biden*, US politicians, business, and media — simply buy Taiwanese politicians. China can afford to be patient — maybe they have to wait another generation to install a Taiwanese version of Biden* who will “voluntarily” rejoin Taiwan to the Mainland. They could even organize a vote, and get 80 Million votes in Taiwan for reunification.

  12. VXXC says:

    “The smartest form of attack for the CCP is simply to do what they have already done with Biden*, US politicians, business, and media — simply buy Taiwanese politicians.”

    There is a school of thought they already have bought Taiwan’s elites, who are Chinese of course — as opposed to the natives they Lord over.

    I think Xi will do as you say, I think he already has, you are absolutely right about the chips, which is at the root of most of this, the rest window dressing. If Xi can get the chips by money he certainly will. For China cannot make their own small chips, and the actual chip wafer cutters that are very small are in the USA, South Korea, Holland.
    That the chip cutters are not in Taiwan

    Trump was really squeezing them hard on chips, they were down to a few months left. With Trump gone it’s happy days are here again all around.

    As for the Taiwan elites blowing up the chip factories… I think you overestimate their commitment.

  13. Felix says:

    The CCP doesn’t need Taiwan chip factories. They need Taiwan’s chip factory people.

    Countries are all now in a bidding war for the right people. Or, just people, people, people who can do well in the particular country.

    The media and WWII reenactors don’t see it, yet. But in a decade or so, it’ll be an obvious, flat-out competition.

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