In recent years, there's been a lot of talk about North Korea's nuclear weapons, Beijing's rising power and growing tensions in the South China Sea.

As we speak, China is set to overtake the United States as the world's most powerful country by the end of the next decade and is on a mission for global domination.

But the most dangerous trigger point for global conflict has nothing to do with reclusive dictators, big nuclear buttons or trade wars with the West, reports news.com.au.

It's over a tiny island sitting less than 200km to China's east.

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WHY TAIWAN IS A TRIGGER POINT FOR BATTLE

Taiwan is just 36,000sq km — around half the size of Tasmania. But for a country with such a small land mass, it sits at the centre of a big and dangerous feud.

Taiwan has its own self-ruling democratic government and sees itself as a sovereign nation. But Beijing regards the island as a renegade province of China that will one day return to the fold — or be taken by force if necessary.

While the US has continued to supply Taiwan with military arms for decades, experts have warned the island is now a ticking time bomb.

Peter Mattis, a former CIA analyst and Fellow in the China Program at The Jamestown Foundation, met with news.com.au during his recent speaking tour in Australia.

Mr Mattis said Taiwan was the greatest immediate challenge the world currently faces with regards to the threat of rising China — even more so than growing tensions in the East and South China Seas.

"There are some very good reasons to be concerned about another Taiwan Strait crisis over the next couple of years," he said. "You look at the confluence of events all around the same period of time — you have the Taiwanese presidential election in 2020, the US election in 2020, and Xi Jinping making his next run for Party congress in 2022.

"If (Mr Xi) really does want to stay on as a Deng Xiaoping-like figure — a paramount leader — he has to accomplish something."

He noted the Chinese leader was in a difficult position right now.

Mr Xi has been responsible for Taiwanese affairs in relation to China since at least 2012, and is now in danger of being the person who loses the island.

The Taiwanese public, meanwhile, continues to move away from supporting political unification with the mainland, according to polling trends.

This is particularly strongest with the country's youth, where 70 per cent of Taiwanese people under 40 said they'd be willing to defend their democratic way of life if the Chinese military was to attack.

"To me, these are kind of recipes for disaster or some form of crisis," said Dr Mattis. "It's not that we can't prevent it, or at least shape it in some way, but if we're not thinking about it and all of a sudden this starts happening, this is a foreseeable crisis and not one that should surprise us."

'A WAR THAT WILL CHANGE THE COURSE OF HISTORY'

Taiwan is in a vulnerable position.

Being the world's 22nd-largest economy grants it some leverage, but this pales in comparison to the mainland, which is set to become the world's dominant power by 2030.

According to leaked Chinese military documents gathered by scholar Ian Easton, the island stands to lose more from rising China than any other country.

"Only Taiwan is held at risk of seeing its trade lines severed, its cities bombed and its shores invaded," Mr Easton, the author of The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia, writes in National Interest. "Only Taiwan faces the possibility of having its president assassinated and its democracy destroyed.

"China's authoritarian government challenges many countries in many ways, but it only has war plans for the invasion and occupation of Taiwan."

Any conflict between them will almost undoubtedly include the US, he warns.

There are two reasons for this. For one thing, the US doesn't officially recognise China's claims to the island, instead deeming its sovereign status unresolved.

But more specifically, the White House is legally obligated under the Taiwan Relations Act to maintain the US military's capabilities to defend the island against outside forces.

"If a war breaks out between the United States and China over Taiwan, it will change the course of history and produce after effects that reverberate for generations to come," warns Easton.

And it's not contained to the two great powers. Mr Mattis warned that such a conflict would have an impact on a significant chunk of the world.

"This is not just a US issue," he told news.com.au. "This is going to affect everyone in the region, including anyone who depends on trade in the South China Sea, which is a pretty healthy portion of the world."

Mr Brendan Taylor, Associate Professor at ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, warned that Taiwan was capable of sparking a war unlike anything the world has ever seen.

In his book, The Four Flashpoints: How Asia Goes to War, he warns: "America's military ability to defend Taiwan is already at its limit. The US advantage will likely be gone in a decade … allowing Beijing to deny America access to this theatre.

"America's ability to intervene in the Taiwan Strait is receding, while an attempt to re-engage carries the risk of sparking 'a war like no other'."

Donald Trump has taken a harder line on Taiwan recently, which Mr Taylor believes is "a reflection of his frustration at Beijing's unwillingness to deal more decisively with Pyongyang or to de-­escalate in the South China Sea".

He notes there are concerns Mr Trump may be willing to trade away US support for Taiwan in exchange for China's help with resolving the North Korean issue.

CHINA CONTINUES RAMPING UP THE PRESSURE

While Beijing is being careful not to overstep the mark, the government has recently ramped up its aggression against Taiwan.

On occasion this has affected Australia directly. In June, for example, the nation's flag carrier Qantas confirmed it would change its website to refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory, after China's aviation regulator gave it a deadline to remove any references to it as independent.

The move prompted a reprimanding to Beijing from former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who said no government should be threatening the operations of a business.

Earlier in the year, a meeting between Australia's new Taipei representative Gary Cowan, and Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen, was shared on social media.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, China's Foreign Minister objected to the meeting, saying: "Sticking to the one-China policy is a precondition and foundation for any country to develop a diplomatic relationship with China and this is widely accepted by the international community … We would urge related countries to abide by the one-China policy and take a cautious approach in handling Taiwan issues."
In a separate incident in May, they targeted US clothing retailer Gap over an $8 T-shirt that left Taiwan off a printed map of China.

The Chinese Communist Party continues chipping away at Taiwan, seeking to diplomatically isolate it from international conventions and threatening other international airlines to remove recognition of the island.

All of these are just fragments in China's quest to increase its power.

Mr Mattis warned against trivialising or underestimating the rising superpower. "The CCP want to be at the global core in as many different ways as possible — politically, culturally, in terms of security," he said. "It views it as a return of China to its rightful place."

No matter the cost.