Beijing sent a record number military aircraft to harass Taiwan during China’s National Day holiday. Beijing has now reacted with some restraint, but tensions remain high and the reasoning behind the exercises is unchanged.

Experts agree that a direct conflict is unlikely right now, but as Taiwan’s future becomes more uncertain, miscalculations or mistakes could lead to confrontation, while American and Chinese ambitions are at odds.

China wants to retake the symbolically and strategically important island. The U.S. views Taiwan as part of wider Chinese challenges.

Henry Boyd, a British-based defense analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, stated that “from the U.S. standpoint, the idea of a great strength rivalry with China had driven this back up to the agenda.”

“China’s need to be defended is strong enough to be a motivating factor. Not taking up the fight would be seen as a betrayal to American national interests.”

China claims Taiwan and controls the island as its own. This is an important component of Beijing’s military and political thinking. The weekend’s Leader Xi Jinping stressed that “reunification must be realized, will definitely be realized” — a goal which has been made more achievable by massive improvements in China’s armed forces over two decades.

The U.S. responded by increasing its support for Taiwan and focusing more on the Indo-Pacific. Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, stated Tuesday that American support for Taiwan was “rock solid” and that “we have been very clear that our commitment to deepening ties with Taiwan.”

Washington has always supported Taiwan’s political and military independence, but not promised to protect it from Chinese aggression.

They came to blows in 1996 when China, annoyed by the growing American support for Taiwan decided to show its strength with exercises that included firing missiles into waters 30 km (20 miles) away from Taiwan’s coast, ahead of Taiwan’s first popular presidential elections.

Two aircraft carrier groups from the United States were sent to the region by the U.S. as a show of force. China was without aircraft carriers at the time and had little to threat American ships. The U.S. responded by sending two aircraft carrier groups to the region.

China was so upset by the incident, it embarked on a major overhaul of its military. Twenty-five years later, its missile defenses have significantly improved and could strike back. It has also built or equipped its own aircraft carriers.

In its recent report to Congress, the U.S. Defense Department noted that China’s armed forces were deemed “a large but mostly archaic army” in 2000. However, today, China is a rival and has already outperformed the American military in certain areas, including shipbuilding, to the point that it now boasts the largest navy in the world.

Although counting ships isn’t the best way of comparing capabilities, the U.S. Navy boasts 11 aircraft carriers, while China has two. However, in the event there was a conflict with Taiwan, China would be capable of mobilizing almost all of its naval forces and has land-based antiship missiles to help the fight. Boyd, who co-authored the annual Military Balance assessment of global military forces by IISS, stated that China could deploy nearly all of its naval forces.

He stated that China’s strategy regarding Taiwan was to delay or limit the U.S. presence. They can also restrict the number of fighters they can put in the fight because they are able hold their forward assets at some risk. This would allow them to beat Taiwanese before Americans arrive in sufficient force to take action.

Taiwan’s strategy is the same as the U.S., delaying China long enough to allow the U.S. (and its allies) to arrive in force. It is home to significant military forces and has the advantage of fighting on its own turf. Recent policy papers also note the necessity of asymmetric measures. These could include missile attacks on China or fuel dumps.

The August assessment by Taiwan’s defense ministry of China’s capabilities was presented to parliament by The Associated Press. It states that China has the capability to seal Taiwan’s ports, airports and ports, but lacks the logistical and transport support needed for large-scale joint landing operations. However, the situation is improving every day.

U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro identified China as the “most important” long-term threat in a new strategy guidance policy.

The paper stated that “For the first-time in at least one generation, we have an adversary strategic who has naval capabilities that rival ours and who seeks aggressively to employ its forces to challenge U.S. Principles, Partnerships, and Prosperity”

China sent a record number of military aircraft southwest of Taiwan during its National Day weekend at beginning of the month in strike group formations — not only in international airspace, but also into Taiwan’s buffer zone. This prompted Taiwan to scramble its defenses.

China announced Monday that it had conducted assault drills and beach landings in the province of mainland China, directly opposite Taiwan.

Ma Xiaoguang (spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office on the mainland) justified the actions, stating Wednesday that they were provoked “Taiwan independence force” and “external forces.”

Hoo Tiang Boon is the coordinator of the China program at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore. “With each step the Chinese are trying changing the status quo. They know Taiwan can’t do anything about it. The danger is that miscalculations and mishaps could occur.

In 1949, Taiwan and China were divided by civil war. Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to Taiwan as Mao Zedong’s Communists took power.

Beijing stated in a defense white paper that it supports “peaceful reunification” of the country. This was a phrase repeated over the weekend by Xi, but also unambiguous in its goals.

The paper states that China must and will be reunited. “We don’t promise to give up the use force and we reserve the right to take all necessary steps.”

TsaiIng-wen, Taiwan’s President, has been advocating for greater global support. He wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, “If Taiwan falls, the consequences for regional peace as well as the democratic alliance system would be devastating.”

She wrote that “a failure to defend Taiwan would be not only catastrophic for Taiwanese.” It would destroy a security structure that allowed for peace and exceptional economic development for the region over seven decades.

U.S. law demands that it assist Taiwan in maintaining its defensive capabilities and treat threats to Taiwan as a matter “grave concern.”

Washington recently admitted that U.S. Special Forces are currently on Okinawa in training capacities. It has also been increasing multinational maneuvers in the area as part of its stated commitment to an “open Indo-Pacific.” This exercise involved 17 ships from six nations — the U.S. and Canada, Britain, Japan and the Netherlands.

On Thursday, the so-called Quad group of countries — the U.S.A, Australia, India, and Japan — concluded joint exercises at the Bay of Bengal. Japan’s Defense Ministry stated that they were demonstrating their determination to uphold “fundamental principles such as democracy” and the rule of the law.

Last month, Washington signed a contract with Britain to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. China claimed that this would “seriously harm regional peace and stability.”

Hoo stated that the Americans were trying to unite allies. Hoo said that there is a growing internationalization in the Taiwan issue.

Boyd stated that although neither side feels ready for conflict over Taiwan at the moment, it could be their final decision.

He said, “It’s going to not be up to the army.” “It’s going be up to politicians.”