China is reportedly bolstering its military capabilities in order to potentially invade Taiwan and confront the United States in the South China Sea.
While the nation’s intentions and timeline are ambiguous, experts suggest that Beijing is preparing for a possible sea invasion of Taiwan by 2027, if not earlier. The recent increase in warnings about China’s aggressive peacetime activities supports this theory, but Chinese President Xi Jinping has not definitively signaled whether an invasion will occur.
Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute, noted a consensus that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is engaging in increasingly aggressive “peacetime confrontation” operations and accelerating its war readiness. These operations, referred to as gray-zone operations by the U.S., could escalate into war, prompting Beijing to prepare for rapidly escalating situations.
Gray zone operations include coercive actions aimed at eroding adversary morale and defenses. China frequently engages in such operations, which include cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, assaults on Philippine fishing vessels, and incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.
Xi Jinping has ordered the military to modernize by 2027, ahead of his initial target of 2035. Despite this, no date is concrete, and it remains unclear whether force will be used. However, China has been preparing for potential conflict with the U.S. over Taiwan since the late 1990s, after recognizing Washington’s intent to maintain Taiwan’s semi-autonomy.
Brent Sadler, a senior research fellow for naval warfare at the Heritage Foundation, noted that China has started acting on this knowledge in the past five years. The PLA now has a more comprehensive and lethal set of capabilities than ever before.
China is also set to begin testing its first indigenous aircraft carrier and is working to upgrade its maritime fleet. However, it still lacks the number needed for a full-scale invasion. To compensate, China plans to mobilize a large fleet of civilian vessels to transport infantry units across the South China Sea.
This buildup of capabilities is driving alarmist rhetoric, with experts noting that China appears nearly ready for conflict. Such readiness, coupled with U.S. efforts to deter a Chinese invasion, could trigger a preemptive response from Beijing if it sees its window of opportunity closing.
The U.S. has started sending troops to Taiwan to train local forces, and American security assistance to Ukraine has shown China the challenges of fighting an adversary equipped with U.S.-made weaponry.