Fears have been raised of World War Three as experts warn a “decade of concern” has begun.
They say Taiwan is likely to be the next global flashpoint that could lead to conflict.
It comes after claims Asia is currently like Europe on the eve of World War I in 1914.
The US Senate Armed Services Committee was warned of the threat by former national security adviser HR McMaster.
China sees Taiwan as the “next big prize” to take, he said.
He claimed Beijing, led by President Xi Jinping, is trying to create a “barrier” in the South China Sea to stop other countries intervening, news.com.au reports.
And it means Taiwan is “the most significant flashpoint” that could lead to war, with a “race ongoing” to help it harden its defences.
Others echoed the warning.
Natasha Kassam, a research fellow from the Lowy Institute, said China’s long term goal is to unify with Taiwan.
And Dr Alessio Patalano, an analyst from King’s College London, said: “The decade of concern has begun.
“I’d keep an eye on the small offshore islands controlled by Taiwan if one is to be really worried.”
Professor Brendan Taylor, from the Australian National University, told an online conference: “My own view is that the chances for conflict are quite worrying.
“And they are increasing. And I think sometimes we’re a little bit complacent about the chances for conflict.”
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He added: “I think that history does tell us that events can spiral out of control, even with the best of intentions.”
The professor said within the next decade the world is likely to see an “important tipping point”.
This will be when the US starts to lose the capacity to come to the defence of Taiwan as China’s military expands, he explained.
He added: “The worry is that if China were to be able to gain control of Taiwan, that it would enable it to more easily project its military power further out into the western Pacific.”
Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had warned Asia is like Europe in 1914 before war broke out, with the major global players sleepwalking towards a big conflict, Prof Taylor added.