The Russian attack against Ukraine has brought attention to another area that could be in danger from its larger neighbor. Analysts quickly draw comparisons with China’s threats over Taiwan.
Although there are similarities between Taiwan and the United States, Taiwan is a democracy which has defied an authoritarian government with greater power. However, there are also many differences. For many islanders, the war in Ukraine and general war feel far away.
Ethan Lin, a 40 year-old service worker, said that “I don’t think our situation is very similar to Ukraine’s” “China has many trades with Taiwan in many areas so I don’t believe it’s that dangerous.”
Taiwan, an island with 23 million inhabitants, lies 160 km (100 miles) from China’s eastern coast. It is self-governed, but China claims it. Since independence-leaning President TsaiIng-wen assumed the presidency in Taiwan in 2016, the issue has become more complex. China increased military pressure on Taiwan by sending ships into the nearby waters and fighter planes in its direction.
China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Command reported Tuesday that it had just conducted landing drills at an undisclosed location in East China Sea.
Taiwan’s critical question is whether the United States would send troops to Ukraine to defend it. Although the U.S. does not have official relations with Taiwan, it has historic relations and has sold weapons to Taiwan in billions of dollars. It is also required by law to ensure Taiwan’s defense.
Taiwan is also a major producer of semiconductors, which are used in everything from smartphones and cars to computers.
“Taiwan’s economy and technology are important to the U.S. and maybe the U.S.will value Taiwan more,” stated Kao-Cheng Wang of the Graduate Institute of International Affairs in Taiwan and strategic studies at Tamkang University.
Taiwan said Friday that it would join the global sanctions against Russia. However, it didn’t give any details about what those measures would look like.
“We cannot sit on the sidelines as a big power bullies a little neighbor,” Wang Tingyu, a lawmaker for Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said on Twitter.
China and Taiwan were divided during a civil conflict in 1949. In 1979, the U.S. ended diplomatic relations with Taipei to recognize Beijing.
While China’s President Xi Jinping stressed that “peaceful reunification is in both the best interests of both parties”, China’s Cabinet level Taiwan Affairs Office regularly issues angry threats to stop moves by Taiwanese lawmakers to push for an independent country. However it has only 14 diplomatic allies.
China has not yet ruled out using force to achieve reunification. However, for the moment, it remains unlikely that Beijing will resort to military action. Li Minjiang, a Chinese international relations expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, stated that while China is open to considering other options, it is still unlikely that Beijing would use force.
Li stated that “external influences on China’s decision over Taiwan is minimal”, and added that China would continue to use information campaigning and peaceful inducements in order to influence public opinion about Taiwan.
According to Wang, a Tamkang University professor, Vladimir Putin, Russian President, is very different from Xi. He has used force against other countries before, including Georgia. “Xi Jinping is quite strong, but he increased his military activity rather than starting a conflict.”
Peter Chiang, a salesperson in Taipei, was skeptical that China would strike. He said, “I think even internally, they aren’t that stable right now.”
The Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper Global Times has compared Taiwan with Ukraine’s separatist eastern Donetsk, where the conflict broke out for the first time in 2014. In an interview this week, Donald Trump, a former President of the United States, predicted that Taiwan would be attacked. He also praised Putin for his actions.
Chinese officials are much more cautious. Hua Chunying, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, stated this week that Taiwan was not Ukraine. He maintained that Taiwan is an integral part China.
Wen Lii, a Taiwanese politician, is open to the possibility of an invasion on Matsu, a group outlying Taiwanese island that is only 10 km (6 miles) away from China. He rejected any comparisons to Ukraine.
Wen, the director of the Matsu chapter, of the Democratic Progressive Party wrote in an email, “Lazy comparisons often fuel a predictable, triumphalist narrative about China, or weaken faith in democracies while ignoring different contexts in each region.”
He said that while Matsu residents are always alert, discussions about Chinese threats tend to be based on concrete observation rather than a foreign crisis.