Former prime minister Kevin Rudd believes global forces are moving in China's favour but the country likely won't risk a Putin-style invasion of Taiwan any time soon.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has frequently stated his intention to reclaim the democratic island of 23 million people and bring it under control of Beijing, declaring the Chinese Communist Party will use force if necessary.
Mr Rudd believes China can be patient as things move in its favour.
"The balance of power continues to change in China’s favour, both militarily and economically, so that shifts this dynamic," he told the ABC's 7.30 program on Wednesday night.
Despite persistent concerns in recent years that China would eventually back up its bellicose rhetoric with military action against Taiwan, China will be reflecting on Russia's actions against Ukraine and likely won't be in a hurry.
"There has been a little too much excited commentary in the West about how China will seize on this strategic opportunity to move on Taiwan. I don’t think that’s the case."
Mr Rudd, who has recently completed postdoctoral research on Chinese leader Xi Jinping, believes it will take years for him to force the issue.
"Xi Jinping has his own timetable in his head for returning Taiwan to Chinese national sovereignty, not any time soon, but my guestimate is late 2020s, early 2030s," he said.
If and when that happens, Australia will be caught in an increasingly troubling position as US-China relations deteriorate further.
"We do not have as yet any effective mechanism to manage these impending crises in the US-China relationship," Mr Rudd warned.
Taiwan is arguably the most sensitive and important issue when it comes to China's relationship with the United States. Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taipei, but is Taiwan's most important international backer and arms supplier.
'China at this stage wins most of the time'
The increasingly autocratic Chinese government wants to expel US influence from the Pacific and, if push comes to shove, China could very well win a military conflict in the region, Mr Rudd claimed.
"In most of the war gaming which has been done so far — and these are desktop exercises by and large — if you look at what various US officials have said off the record and partly reported in the American media, the Chinese at this stage win most of the time," he told 7.30.
However Mr Rudd said the Taiwanese government is "for the first time in a very long time" re-addressing its national defence needs, while the US is also heavily re-investing in their military presence in East Asia and the Western Pacific.
Additionally, Japan – no stranger to war with China – could become involved in a conflict over Taiwan.
"Japan is indicating it would now see itself potentially involved and there is a logic to that," Mr Rudd explained.
"[A] Chinese pre-emptive strike to try to take out American forces probably in Guam, but also in Okinawa, and that brings Japan in."
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