FEARS of China launching an imminent invasion of Taiwan are running high as it vows to “strike at any time”.
Escalating the war of words, President Xi Jinping has said that "reunification" with Taiwan, which broke away from mainland China in 1949, “must be fulfilled”.
The president's rhetoric has been accompanied by much sabre rattling, as the number of Chinese jets violating Taiwanese airspace has grown considerably over the past year, reaching a record number in recent days.
Taiwan's defence minister has said that tensions with China are at their worst in 40 years.
The developments have been watched closely by officials in the US and UK, who are running a number of joint operations in the South China Sea to deter Chinese aggression.
President Xi paid lip service to reunifying the two countries in a "peaceful manner”, but later warned that "no one should underestimate the Chinese people's staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled," he said.
If Beijing were to strike, it could be the first domino in a cascade of consequences that spark a regional, or even global, conflict.
The US has a security treaty with Taiwan and, to the chagrin of the Chines Communist Party, has supplied it with billions of dollars’ worth of state-of-the-art military equipment.
While on the face of it Taiwan is much smaller than its colossal communist neighbour, it has sufficient firepower to give China enough of a bruising to make it think twice about launching a full on amphibious assault – not to mention the US led cavalry which would be called upon to respond.
However, it is unclear whether Washington would risk a global conflict between nuclear powers to protect the sovereignty of an island in the South China Sea.
“Reunification” with Taiwan has been at the heart of Chines foreign policy for the past 70 years, and with each decade that goes by, so too do the two countries grow apart, culturally, politically and socially.
While China is an authoritarian dictatorship, with a sprawling censorship apparatus, and vast gaps in wealth equality, Taiwan is a prospering liberal democracy.
From its perspective, the longer China waits, the harder it will be to reintegrate Taiwan – as it is attempting to do with Hong Kong – into its illiberal and authoritarian political system.