Is there an ominous parallel between Taiwan and Ukraine?

Xi Jinping has described the ‘reunification’ of China as Beijing’s ‘historical task’

Child holding 'I stand with Ukraine' poster
Showing solidarity with Ukraine in Taipei
(Image credit: Walid Berrazeg/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“Will today’s Ukraine be tomorrow’s Taiwan?” That’s the burning question being asked here in Taipei, said Chen Yun-yu in Central News Agency (Taipei). Both Ukraine and Taiwan are cursed with neighbours with “imperial ambitions” who think nothing of subverting “the rules-based international order” – not to mention “basic principles of right and wrong”. And, like Vladimir Putin with Ukraine, China’s President Xi Jinping has used increasingly strident rhetoric to frighten Taiwan, often describing the “reunification” of China as Beijing’s “historical task”.

The parallel is spooking the US, too, said Liberty Times Net (Taipei). Last week, sparking anger in Beijing, President Biden sent a delegation of former defence officials to Taiwan to show his support. “An obvious provocation,” Chinese state media called it. Yet given the way things have played out with Russia and Ukraine, it was an entirely understandable move.

There are clearly parallels, said David Spencer in Taiwan News (Taipei). But a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be “vastly more complex and challenging” than Russia’s of Ukraine. Russia shares a 1,200-mile land border with its neighbour, whereas Taiwan is 100 miles off China’s coast and has “very few” beaches where troops could easily land. And those that are suitable are well defended.

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More importantly, said the Taipei Times, Xi is unlikely to risk the economic fallout an invasion would bring. China’s economy is so closely integrated with the rest of the world’s that sanctions against it would likely carry a “far more acute sting” than those imposed on Russia. And as Taiwan is the world’s biggest producer of semi-conductors, a Chinese attack would risk devastating consequences for Beijing and the world economy.

Even so, Taiwan isn’t as invulnerable to invasion as some make out, said Hilton Yip in Foreign Policy (Washington). Its soft military conscription regime – mandatory for a measly four months – is widely considered “a joke”. And its army and air force is plagued by operational problems: one of its F-16 fighter jets crashed into the sea in January, the latest in a series of fatal accidents. Besides, it’s “almost an open secret that Taiwan’s main hope of overcoming a Chinese attack” rests on military support from an increasingly reluctant US.

Still, the show of Western unity over Ukraine will have given Xi pause for thought, said Sven Hauberg in Merkur (Munich). One thing’s for certain: Beijing will be “watching very closely” to see how the Ukraine crisis evolves in the weeks and months ahead.

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