With the World Watching, Could Taiwan be at Risk?
Considering the strategic and symbolic significance of Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China, several experts have argued that China’s invasion of the island is a matter of when and not if. Many have questioned Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given that Russia’s actions are in direct contradiction to China’s century-long foreign policy tenet of non-interference. Some experts are of the view that by providing support to Russia, China has been caught up in some kind of difficult “unexpected” terrain that might come back to hurt its interests regarding Taiwan, The Council on Foreign Relations explains. However, this is not entirely true. True, China has for over a century centered its foreign policy on safeguarding national independence and state sovereignty. Also true is the fact that China’s support for Russia’s invasion betrays this goal. What is not being considered is Xi Jinping’s desire and commitment to achieve a great Chinese renaissance & reunification, a goal that trumps the state’s supposed commitment to its five principles of peaceful co-existence.
The Chinese Communist Party has in recent years shown such penchant for ‘dramatic’ policy shifts, particularly seen in the decision to eliminate a two-term presidential limit and allow Xi to remain in power when his second term ends in 2023. If supporting Russia ensures that China achieves its goal of reunification with Taiwan, the government might just be willing to make as many compromises as needed.
Regarding the potential for Chinese invasion of Taiwan, PLA experts estimate that China is about 5-6 years away from possessing the military capacity to successfully invade Taiwan. However, the feasibility of such a military campaign remains in question. Can China successfully wage a war of attrition on Taiwan? What nature will such a war take? And can Taiwan expect a strong defense response from its allies, mainly the United States, the QUAD alliance, and Europe if such a war were to occur?
Reuters reports that in the wake of the Winter Olympics, China and Russia announced a renewed partnership, in which both parties declared that “friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.” China’s support of Russia’s military action in Ukraine should not come as a surprise. With such solidarity established, China is guaranteed Russian military support if they were to invade Taiwan at any time. China would likely not be afraid of U.S. deterrence because in such a scenario, it now possesses a nuclear-armed ally. China’s cooperation with North Korea also implies the potential support from another nuclear rogue state. One of the fears of the West regarding the current Ukrainian crisis is that any military assistance to Ukraine may result to a nuclear conflict. Such fear will still exist should China actually invade Taiwan, and as such, current evidence suggests that in the case of an invasion, the U.S. would not be willing to provide military support to the Taiwanese people.
On the possibility of China launching a war on Taiwan, Chinese expert Alexis Turek stated, “Taiwan being an island with difficult terrain, that would make the invasion very logistically difficult for China. Beyond simple military capacity, Taiwan is a major supplier of semiconductors and thus key to world supply chains, …. Were China to invade Taiwan that would certainly garner some sort of backlash from the U.S., and very possibly Japan, the Quad countries, and the EU, though of course any exact retaliation tactic is difficult to predict.”
As shown in a recent simulation by CSIS, although invasion seems unlikely right now, an increase in Chinese grey zone activities is always possible in the near future. Given the symbolic importance of Taiwan to Chinese nationalist ideology, invasion should not be considered an impossibility, even if it would be an irrational decision by the Chinese state. As highlighted by The Guardian, the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent shock waves around the globe, being most notably felt in Taiwan. However, as U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan recently highlighted in an interview, the special arrangement between the United States and Taiwan is one major factor that distinguishes it from the situation in Ukraine. Although currently unknown, the uncertainty of a military response from the United States, should China launch a military campaign against the island, might continue to keep Taiwan safe. But for how long?