With Taiwan's pro-independence party tipped to win next year's presidential election, some analysts fear that could renew tensions in cross-strait relations and risk destabilizing Asia.
"It is time to start worrying about Taiwan ... Old questions about Taiwan's longer-term future are re-emerging, and so are old fears that differences over Taiwan could rupture U.S.-China relations and drive Asia to a major crisis," said Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University.
Despite splitting ways amid a civil war in 1949, China continues to regard Taiwan as part of its territory and has never ruled out the use of force as an option to reunify the island of 23 million. Under the stewardship of Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou, cross-strait ties have been on the mend and in recent years the two countries have developed closer economic dealings.
However, analysts feel a renewed chill in relations cross-strait ties is on the cards, after the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party in Taiwan suffered a defeat in December's local elections, which were widely seen as a prelude to the 2016 presidential polls.
Ma's China-friendly stance was named the key culprit, as most Taiwanese remain wary of cosying up with the mainland. As a result, political watchers expect Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the anti-China Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), to win the vote come January's election.
China remains highly suspicious of the DPP, especially after former DPP leader Chen Shui-bian stepped on Beijing's toes by advocating the island's independence during his 2000-2008 term. Another opposition representative in office naturally alarms Beijing, according to White.
"While few expect that any future leader will return to policies as provocative as Chen, the new leader will almost certainly be more assertive than Ma. Hence, there is a risk that Beijing will respond by taking a tougher line [and] look for new ways to pressure Taipei," he wrote in a commentary published in The Straits Times in April.
Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, agrees. "If China decides that its strategy of economic engagement with Taiwan has failed, Beijing might well backtrack on existing deals and significantly harden its rhetoric," said Bremmer, who named Taiwan as a potential market-moving risk in an article titled 'The top 10 geopolitical risks of 2015'.
And there are already signs of growing impatience from Beijing, according to White and Bremmer, which appears set to be a risk for the rest of the region, as well as Washington. While the U.S. backs a 'one-China policy', it is Taiwan's main ally and has committed to supporting the island in the event of a renewed conflict.
"U.S. leaders still talk boldly about their willingness to stand by Taiwan without seriously considering what that means in practice. Any U.S. effort to support Taiwan militarily against China would be almost certain to escalate into a full-scale U.S.-China war and quite possibly a nuclear exchange," White wrote.