What Can Russia's War In Ukraine Mean For China And Taiwan?
The fears are not unfounded as what largely stops People’s Republic of China (PRC) from launching a full scale offensive against the tiny island nation of Republic of China (ROC) is the consensus on rules-based international order.
As war breaks out in Ukraine, what has stood out in the backdrop of this crisis is the deepening Sino-Russian bonhomie. China, whose leader Xi Jinping calls Vladimir Putin as his “best friend”, has not only desisted from criticising Russia on the Ukrainian issue, but has instead joined in on Russia's demand that NATO must not expand into Ukraine. In fact, at a summit ahead of the Winter Olympics, Xi and Putin said that there were “no limits” to their partnership.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave voice to what is on the minds of most strategic thinkers in the Western world – implications of a possible Russian invasion into Ukraine on the China-Taiwan tussle. Boris said, “If Ukraine is endangered, the shock will echo around the world. And those echoes will be heard in east Asia, will be heard in Taiwan.”
The fears are not unfounded as what largely stops People’s Republic of China (PRC) from launching a full scale offensive against the tiny island nation of Republic of China (ROC) is the consensus on rules-based international order, regardless of frequent transgressions that Xi’s China keeps making. It is also this order that irks both China and Russia – the former seeking its ‘rightful place’ in the comity of nations and latter dipping in the nostalgia of its Soviet era prowess.
It is noteworthy that over the past few years, China has been deploying intimidation tactics against Taiwan by frequently breaching its airspace and waters, military drills, and other diplomatic manoeuvres. What is also crucial to point out is China’s actions vis-à-vis Hong Kong where it has quelled the pro-democratic protests.
Against these existing circumstances, if Western powers fail to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine, the scope for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan will definitely expand. With both nations being part of the UN Security Council, they will also be successful in vetoing any untoward decisions – in case these decisions end up mattering in a post rules-based world order.
However, China isn’t Russia and Taiwan isn’t Ukraine. There might be implications, but taking it as a given would be too early. The geographical conditions don't suit China as they do Russia in their respective plans. Moreover, Taiwan lies in close proximity to the US’ Pacific backyard with allies like Japan around which makes it strategically difficult for China as against Russia which is operating in its mostly ‘exclusive backyard’. While China might be a reckoning military power, it still is not at par with either Russia or United States and nor does it have any reliable alliances like NATO. At best what it can attempt is employing its time tested ‘salami slicing’ tactics, that is, nibbling away slowly until it’s too late for the adversary to undo the damage.
China’s plans are privy only to Xi’s mind, even in China. All that can be predicted with a cent percent accuracy is China’s growing restlessness and ruthlessness. What remains to be seen are the repercussions.
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