In the beginning weeks of the war in Ukraine, many Taiwanese people and news outlets began repeating, “Today Ukraine, tomorrow Taiwan.” Some have feared that China will “copy Russia.”
While the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, discourages using this phrase because it perpetuates bad morale, she and Taiwan have been closely watching the conflict in Ukraine unfold.
And so has China.
The threat of China invading Taiwan compares to Ukraine in several ways, as John Ruwitch for NPR says, “What people in Taiwan are seeing is . . . this relatively small democracy has been invaded by a much bigger country, an authoritarian neighbor, that claims sovereignty over it and claims a right to grab it, invade it, based on a particular version of history.”
This parallel has given Taiwanese citizens understandable concern.
Taiwan is not an officially recognized country separate from China but nonetheless operates like one and claims its own sovereignty. They are an island off the coast of mainland China, home to about 24 million people. They are generally democratic, whereas mainland China is authoritarian.
I’ve written previously about why China may invade Taiwan, and Beijing’s supposed claim on Taiwan as a territory. But, in summary, a civil war was waged in the 1930s between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party of China. The Communist Party won, and the Nationalist Army retreated to Taiwan. Ever since, Taiwan has slowly developed apart from mainland China into the democratic and robust pseudo-country that it is today.
For full disclosure, we will consider “China” as distinct from Taiwan, but technically each government claims to be the “true” China, such that the Taiwanese government is called “The Republic of China,” while mainland China is ruled by the “People’s Republic of China.”
China has publicly stated that it has not ruled out the use of force to reunite Taiwan and China, leading many to believe that an invasion is inevitable.
Ukraine’s lessons for China and Taiwan
Axios reports several lessons Taiwan has taken notes on. To emulate Ukraine’s success, Taiwan needs:
- better supply chains,
- a greater domestic stock of weapons,
- and more stockpiled energy.
Of course, there are major strategic differences between them. While Ukraine garnered international support, and harsh sanctions have been imposed on Russia, the same may not be true of Taiwan since they are not an officially recognized country.
Additionally, China and Taiwan do not share a massive land border; they share one hundred miles of rough seawater between them. This would make the invasion significantly more difficult and would work to Taiwan’s advantage. It could also give the world advanced notice of Beijing’s imminent invasion.
What is China’s response to Ukraine? CIA director William Burns stated that Beijing was “surprised and unsettled” by Ukraine’s defense and Western reaction. Citing Chen from the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan, the New York Times reports: “Because Russia’s invasion has gone poorly, Chinese officials are likely to be more cautious about sending troops into Taiwan.”
How Ukraine’s defense has inspired Taiwan
Although it seemed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine initially would undermine Taiwan’s spirit, the opposite has occurred. Ukraine’s brave leadership and courageous people have withstood Russia against all odds.
According to a government report in Taiwan, its citizens are now more likely now to believe they would win against China after Ukraine has proved it will stand up to Russia. This confidence is critical in potentially standing against China’s massive military. Another recent study showed that 70 percent or more of Taiwanese adults support extending their mandatory conscription, from four months to a year.
One Taiwanese expert taps into a common sentiment: “If Ukraine can do it, then Taiwanese people should be able to do it as well.”
With Taiwan’s newfound insight into how a smaller military can withstand a massive invasion, this could spell more difficulty for China if they decide to forcefully take Taiwan.
It is unclear how the US and the Western world would respond if China invaded Taiwan.
One thing is clear: Taiwan has become more inspired to prepare to defend itself against its authoritarian neighbor.
While we cannot know China’s future plans, if they do plan to invade Taiwan, Ukraine’s heroic resistance may give them pause.