Deterrence and Defense Across the Taiwan Strait

he Chinese city of Xamen is seen in the distance behind aged anti-landing barricades on a beach facing China on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen which, at points lies only a few miles from China, on April 19, 2018 in Kinmen, Taiwan.

Deterrence and Defense Across the Taiwan Strait

How to address the escalating tensions in the region

A new age of deterrence

Cross-strait deterrence is arguably weaker today than at any point since the Korean War. This research project analyzes the political and strategic dynamics underpinning deterrence in the region.

Research Focus

For more than 70 years, China and Taiwan have avoided coming to blows, but recently there have been disturbing signals that Beijing is reconsidering its peaceful approach and contemplating armed unification.

Although a Chinese invasion of Taiwan may not be imminent, for the first time in three decades, it is time to take seriously the possibility that China could soon use force to end its almost century-long civil war.

Under what circumstances would Chinese leaders initiate a conflict over Taiwan? What actions or developments could deter a decision by Chinese leaders to initiate conflict? How is deterrence across the Taiwan Strait different from that in Western Europe during the Cold War?

These are some of the questions the Deterrence and Defense Across the Taiwan Strait project seeks to answer. Unlike current debates on whether the competition between the United States and China resembles that between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War, this line of research explains why the comparison is problematic and counterproductive and why it is more difficult to deter and defeat Chinese regional aggression than it was to counter Soviet aggression.

By analyzing the political and military dynamics underpinning cross-strait deterrence, this project offers recommendations for U.S. policy and strategy.

Lead Researcher


Oriana Skylar Mastro

FSI Center Fellow

Oriana Skylar Mastro

FSI Center Fellow

Selected Media

Oriana Skylar Mastro discusses China's military drills around Taiwan on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria – August 7, 2022

Oriana Skylar Mastro examines China's military might on WBUR's On Point – August 10, 2022



Can the US Deter China? Lessons from Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine
CSIS Interpret China, August 23, 2022

China’s Huge Exercises Around Taiwan Were a Rehearsal, Not a Signal, Says Oriana Skylar Mastro
The Economist, August 10, 2022

What Are the Issues Between the U.S., China, and Taiwan? Stanford Scholar Explains
Stanford News, August 10, 2022

Expert Voices: Oriana Skylar Mastro
Center For Advanced China Research, July 18, 2022

Biden Says We’ve Got Taiwan’s Back. But Do We?
New York Times, May 27, 2022

Invasions Are Not Contagious
Foreign Affairs, March 3, 2022

Ukraine Is a Distraction from Taiwan
Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2022

America's Future in Taiwan
WBUR: On Point, November 2021

What the U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Means for Taiwan
New York Times, September 2021

Strait of Emergency? Debating Beijing’s Threat to Taiwan
Foreign Affairs, August 2021

The Taiwan Temptation
Foreign Affairs, June 2021

The Precarious State of Cross-Strait Deterrence
Statement before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, February 2021

Biden Will Speak Softer but Act Stronger on Taiwan
Foreign Policy, November 2020

In the News


China Is 'Absolutely' Going to Make a Move – Foreign Policy Expert
Fox News, September 1, 2022

What China Is – and Isn’t – Learning from Military Drills Near Taiwan
The Christian Science Monitor, August 26, 2022

Heightened Tensions in the Taiwan Strait
21st Century China Center, August 22, 2022

In Its Rage, China Just Offered A Sneak Peek Of Its Plans For Striking Taiwan
The Federalist, August 15, 2022

War Games Show the Us May Not Beat China in a War Over Taiwan, August 13, 2022

What Are the Issues Between the U.S., China, and Taiwan? Stanford Scholar Explains
Stanford News, August 10, 2022

China’s Military Operations Around Taiwan After Pelosi Visit Show Intent to Change Status Quo
South China Morning Post, August 5, 2022

Stanford Experts Cast Grim Predictions for U.S.-China Relations Following Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit
The Stanford Daily, August 5, 2022

China ‘Convinced It Needs to Hit Us With Pearl Harbor-style Surprise Attack’ to Win War Over Taiwan, Expert Warns
The U.S. Sun, August 5, 2022

China’s War Games May Not Lead to All-out Conflict Against Taiwan... Yet
The Telegraph, August 4, 2022

Chinese Missiles Strike Seas Off Taiwan, and Some Land Near Japan
New York Times, August 3, 2022

China’s Military Drills Could Be a Prelude to Something Much Worse in Taiwan
The Telegraph, August 3, 2022

Taiwan Lives Under the Threat of a Modernized and Reinforced Chinese Army
Los Echos, August 3, 2022

Examining Impact on United States-China Relationship After Pelosi's Taiwan Visit
NBC Bay Area, August 2, 2022

Could China Invade Taiwan?
New York Times, August 2, 2022

Why Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit Is Raising U.S.-China Tensions
New York Times, August 2, 2022

Pelosi's Taiwan Visit Triggering Potential Military Showdown
VOA Chinese, August 2, 2022

For Taiwan, Pelosi Visit Is About US, China Controlling Risk
CBS Bay Area, July 29, 2022

Xi Jinping's Phone Call with Biden
BBC Chinese, July 28, 2022

Pelosi’s Rumored Taiwan Trip Sparks Uproar
The Dispatch, July 27, 2022

Taiwan Holds Drills Amid Pelosi Visit Concern, China Tension
AP, July 26, 2022

End of Strategic Ambiguity? Ukraine War Shifts Thinking on Taiwan
Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 2022

President Biden's Vow To Defend Taiwan Is Bold but Incredibly Risky
Time, May 23, 2022

Putin's War on Ukraine Shows Xi the Dangers of Attacking Taiwan
Bloomberg Politics, March 7, 2022

Ukraine Conflict Makes Taiwan Nervous – But the Risk to China Could Be Too Great
The Telegraph, March 7, 2022

US Focus on Ukraine Stokes Worries About Joe Biden’s Commitment to Taiwan
Financial Times, February 28, 2022

China, Eying Taiwan, Gets Lesson From Ukraine’s Stiff Resistance
Wall Stree Journal, March 2, 2022

US Should Prioritize Taiwan Over Ukraine
Taiwan News, February 15, 2022

Taiwan Can't Wait
Foreign Affairs, February 1, 2022 

A Stronger China Tests America's 'Strategic Ambiguity' on Taiwan
NPR All Things Considered, November 30, 2021

America's Future in Taiwan
WBUR On Point, November 10, 2021

‘Starting a Fire’: US and China Enter Dangerous Territory Over Taiwan
The New York Times, October 9, 2021

Tensions Flare as Chinese flights Near Taiwan Intensify 
The Seattle Times, October 7, 2021

How Powerful Is China's Navy?
BBC, The Real Story, September 2021 

The Retreat from Afghanistan Has Made America's Allies Nervous. None More So Than Taiwan
Time, September 2021

Why Is China Turning Up the Heat on Taiwan? A Debate
The National Interest, July 2021

G7 Summit Reveals a Consensus Emerging on Challenging President Xi of China
The Times, June 2021

If the US Went to War with China, Who Would Win? It Depends How It Starts
Sydney Morning Herald, June 2021

Why China May Attack Taiwan
RTI Taiwan Insider, June 2021

China’s Growing Military Confidence Puts Taiwan at Risk
The Economist, May 2021

Taiwan Mobilizes Forces to Thwart Chinese Invasion
The Telegraph, April 2021

U.S. Concerns About China Put Focus on Taiwan’s Defensive Weakness
Wall Street Journal, April 2021

The Gloves Are Off When It Comes to Taiwan
Australia Financial Review, April 2021

Chinese Aircraft Carry Out Exercises, Pressure Taiwan in South China Sea Region
Radio Free Asia, February 2021

Taiwan No. 1 Flashpoint in US-China Relations
Taipei Times, February 2021

US-China-Taiwan: How Will Joe Biden Change the Balance?
South China Morning Post, November 2020

US Election: The Taiwan-Sized Challenge Facing the Next US President
BBC News, October 2020

Could China Invade Taiwan under President Xi Jinping, and Would They Win?
ABC News, October 2020

After Hong Kong: China Sets Sights on Solving 'the Taiwan Problem'
The Guardian, October 2020

​An Update on Taiwan and China's Troubled Relationship
NPR’s Weekend Edition, October 2020



What Does China Want from Taiwan?
Sky News, August 12, 2022

Will the US and China Go to War Over Taiwan
BBC, August 11, 2022

Understanding China's Military Might, and Whether Beijing Will Use It
WBUR, On Point, August 10, 2022

China's Military Drills Test Ability to Take Taiwan
CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, August 2022

Washington Should Adhere to the Policy of "Strategic Ambiguity" Toward Taiwan
VOA Chinese, June 2022

It's a 'Huge Mistake' for the U.S. to Declare Strategic Clarity on Taiwan
CNBC International TV, May 2022

China and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
GB News, March 2022

Could China Invade Taiwan Like Russia Did Ukraine?
KCRW's PressPlay Podcast, March 2022

Ukraine Is a Distraction from Taiwan
Conversation Six, February 2022

US-China: Could There Be War Over Taiwan?
CNA Insider, December 2021 

Would the US come to Taiwan's Defense?
CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, October 2021

Will Xi invade Taiwan?
Chinese Whispers Podcast, October 2021

Navigating the Strait
Things That Go Boom podcast, September 2021

China’s Threat to Taiwan
Council on Foreign Relations President's Inbox Podcast, August 2021

Is Asia Going to War?
Asia Rising podcast, August 2021

The Shifting Military Balance Across the Taiwan Strait
National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, July 2021

The Taiwan Temptation and U.S.-Taiwan Relations
Conversation Six, July 2021

Taiwan and China
Beyond the Headlines, June 2021

No Credible Military Defense of Taiwan
Munk Debates Podcast, March 2021

China’s Taiwan Strategy
Policy, Guns, and Money podcast, March 2021

The Possibility of Conflict Across the Taiwan Strait in the Role of the United States
Conversation Six, March 2021