by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Halibutt/WikiCommons/CC

WITH THE ONGOING invasion of Ukraine by Russia, there have been a number of responses in Taiwan. It may not be surprising that in light of the continual military threats directed at Taiwan from China, many in Taiwan see parallels to Ukraine’s plight. 

Support has included everything from Taipei 101 and the Kaohsiung Music Center being lit up with the colors of the Ukrainian flag to Taiwan donating 27 tons of medical supplies to Ukraine. To this extent, Taiwan has participated in international sanctions of the Russian government, including shutting Russia out of the SWIFT international money transfer system, or TSMC announcing that it would be suspending delivery of semiconductors to Russia. In this, the Tsai administration may hope to strengthen relations with western countries and to draw attention to invasion threats that Taiwan faces from China. 

Facebook post by President Tsai Ing-wen on Taiwan’s donation of medical supplies to Ukraine

A number of solidarity rallies have been held for Ukraine as well in Taipei and elsewhere. This includes two consecutive rallies that took place over the weekend outside of the Moscow-Taipei Coordination Commission on Economic and Cultural Cooperation and a rally that took place this morning, organized by leading Taiwanese civil society organizations. Future actions are planned for this weekend and solidarity rallies will take place at the intersection of Xinyi and Keelung Road daily from 3 PM to 5 PM for the next week. 

It is more up in the air as to what China’s responses will be going forward. Though much news coverage has treated China and Russia in monolithic terms, as having overlapping interest with regards to the Ukraine crisis, there is much to suggest that China may not have been aware of the invasion plans ahead of time, and was strung along by Putin. 

Although Xi and Putin met before the appearance took place, for meetings that presented a show of unity, China’s position was to back the Minsk Agreement when Russia declared that it would no longer treat it as valid. Likewise, while China made moves to cushion Russia from the blow of western sanctions, China stands to lose hard-earned international standing from backing Russia too hard, at a time in which it is already under much global scrutiny. 

Indeed, even if China seeks to use the Ukraine crisis for its own benefit, China is no doubt conscious that there has been discussion in the wake of the Ukraine invasion of whether China might carry out similar reactions with regards to Taiwan. Russia’s actions present a number of uncertainties for China, complicating its designs on Taiwan or elsewhere, and China may not necessarily want to deal with this at present. 

Taipei 101 lit up with the colors of the Ukrainian flag

Chinese military threats directed at Taiwan have continued in the midst of the Ukraine crisis. To reassure, the Biden administration has announced that a bipartisan delegation of former defense officials will be visiting Taiwan on Tuesday. This takes place at the same time as a previously announced visit from former Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Though Pompeo is visiting as a private individual and the visit is possibly aimed at bolstering his credentials for a future presidential run, the defense official visit takes place in an official capacity on behalf of the Biden administration. 

At the same time, the fallout of the invasion of Ukraine may have a deterrent effect on China’s willingness to carry out an invasion of Taiwan. Though the situation is still far from determined, Russia is meeting heavy resistance, showing that a smaller country can indeed stand up to a larger country, and what domestic resistance after an invasion could look like. Likewise, China carrying out an invasion of Taiwan would be much more costly than the invasion of Ukraine, given the logistical difficulties of staging a beachhead invasion and the significant loss of life that would occur in the course of this.

The international community has clearly rallied around Ukraine and, going forward, China would have to anticipate the possibility of a similar response if it were to invade Taiwan. One notes that with Russia facing heavy international sanctions targeting both the general economy and political leadership, the same repertoire might be deployed against China in the event of an invasion of Taiwan. Sanctions could be all the more severe with Taiwan, given the greater centrality of Taiwan to the global economy, whether that is in terms of global dependence on Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturing, Taiwan’s significantly larger economy, or shipping routes that pass near Taiwan in the Asia Pacific. This remains to be seen. 

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