efe-epaTaipei

Tensions in the Formosa Strait have increased in recent months as Chinese efforts to integrate the island meet a strong Taiwanese resistance amid United States' determination to curb the growing influence of Beijing, a military and economic powerhouse in the region.

Earlier this year, President Xi Jinping reiterated that China would be reunified and didn't rule out the use of force.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen countered it with a strong defense of sovereignty and democracy of the island nation.

Tsai, who announced to seek a second term in the 2020 presidential elections Wednesday, has ruled out any peace treaty with Beijing as it would require accepting Taiwan as part of China.

In Taiwan, the support for independence from China has been growing with polls last year showing that 49.5 percent of Taiwanese favored the call for a referendum in 2019.

This could trigger Chinese military intervention, according to the anti-secession Law of 2005 which legalizes the use of non-peaceful means by China in the event of unilateral independence.

"We have to declare independence. China will not dare to attack. They are too busy with their wealth and their businesses," said Stephen Li, a university student from the city of Tainan.

The polls also pointed out that 65 percent of the Taiwanese do not believe Chinese attack is possible and that 67.7 percent are willing to go to war in the event of an invasion.

Taiwan is backed by Washington's growing efforts to protect the island, especially in laws formulated in 2018 that have increased the level of bilateral contacts and military ties.

However, the US commitment to the island, contained in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, only provides for war supplies, not effective defense.

"That support is a double-edged sword, because it worries China and triggers more tensions and reprisals against the island," Elisa Wang, a professor of international relations at Tamkang University, told EFE.

US President Donald Trump's policies do not inspire much confidence among many Taiwanese, who see Trump as an uncertain ally, prone to use the island to its advantage in negotiations with Beijing.

The current situation demonstrates the island's dependence on the Chinese market which absorbs 40 percent of its exports and has attracted most of its foreign investments, in addition to the strong military imbalance in favor of China.

Perhaps the greatest prevention of a full scale conflict is awareness on the part of China how difficult it would be to attack Taiwan.

"The invasion is not an easy task, despite the Chinese military superiority, because there is an arm of water in between, and Taiwan has defenses to repel a landing and hinder the arrival of ships and planes," General (retired) Alfonso Yang, who commanded the 8th Army Corps, told EFE.

The Taiwanese president has launched a program to develop local weapons, including missiles, drones, submarines, light boats and tanks, but at the same time has cut military service to four months, which does not seem to reinforce too much the island's defensive ability.

"By 2025, China will have a clear quantitative military superiority and by 2035 qualitative as well," said former Taiwanese deputy minister of defense, Lin Chong-Ping.

Until recently, Taiwan was confident that its superiority in warfare technology could cope with China's quantitative advantage, but now the imbalance is such that experts believe that, in the event of an attack, the island will withstand only two weeks.

"Taiwan's defensive situation is very complicated and difficult," Lin admitted.

However, for the majority of Taiwanese, the possibility of a war is very remote because of the high economic cost and a risk of tarnishing Beijing's image globally.

"China will not attack if it is not openly challenged. It will not attack until it has an easy victory. And it has to be sure that the US will not intervene," added Lin who considered such an invasion to be highly destructive.