“To put it simply, Russia just announced that it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine. This is the beginning of a Russian invasion. He’s setting up a rationale to go much further.” – US President Joe Biden
“Solving the Taiwan question and realizing the complete reunification of the motherland are the unswerving historical tasks of the Chinese communist Party and the common aspiration of all Chinese people.” – China President Xi Jinping
Russia is entering Donetsk and Luhansk – separatist regions of Ukraine – on the pretext of acting as a “peacekeeping force.” Currently Ukraine is surrounded on three sides by over 150,000 Russian troops. Field hospitals near the Ukraine border are being built.
Yet while the West is focused on Ukraine, might mainland China in the near future also invade Taiwan?
Holly Ellyatt of CNBC believes that a Russian attack on Ukraine would not precipitate a similar one by China on Taiwan. Yet DJ Peterson of Longview Global Advisors stated, “If there was a significant action in Ukraine, Beijing will be watching the level of sanctions, the intensity of sanctions. The interesting thing right now is, there’s no sanction scenario for Taiwan, and so we really don’t know what that would look like.”
At the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden boycotted the event, but some 22 world leaders, the head of the UN, and of the WHO did attend. Most noteworthy was Vladimir Putin of Russia. This was the first face-to-face meeting with his Chinese counterpart in nearly two years.
They said, in a joint statement, that China “treats with understanding and supports” Russia’s demand for binding security guarantees from the US and NATO in the dispute over Ukraine. Yet for economic reasons, China did not go so far as to support any invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Since 2013, China has been expanding its Belt and road Initiative, with ports, railways, highways, power stations, and telecommunications. It has engaged 138 countries and 30 international organizations. In early 2021, President Xi Jinping signed an agreement with Volodymyr Zelensky so that Ukraine would become a “bridge to Europe” for Chinese investment. The first train from China via Mongolia and Russia arrived in Ukraine in June.
At the opening of the Beijing Olympics, Putin and Jinping affirmed that Taiwan was part of China, and Putin stated that Russia opposed Taiwanese independence “in any form.” Both leaders indicated that their countries were committed to “deepening back-to-back strategic cooperation.” Putin praised “unprecedented” close relations with China. Taiwan responded by asserting that it “solemnly protests and strongly condemns this false and derogatory statement.”
Despite the CNBC analysis, now that Russia has begun its invasion of Ukraine, might China soon attack Taiwan? Recall that last October, 56 Chinese fighters entered the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone. The strategy would not be like Russia sending tanks and troops to the borders of Ukraine. Rather, fighter jets from different parts of China might well be poised to converge simultaneously on Taiwan.
The Paralympics will be held in Beijing until March 13. Until athletes and journalists are safely out of China, the United States and other allies would be most reluctant to retaliate by sending missiles to Beijing.
In the next few days, we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by a Russian invasion of Ukraine, or domestic “Freedom convoy” protests in North America and Europe. At the recent meeting in Beijing, Xi Jinping clearly outlined his plans for expansion; Putin fully supported this. Recall that last July, on the 100th birthday of the Communist Party, Jinping pledged to complete “reunification” with Taiwan and vowed to “smash” any attempts at formal independence.
Andrius Tursa and Gabriel Wildau of Tenco Intelligence warned, “If the deteriorating security situation in Europe requires US military, especially the navy, to re-position assets away from the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing might take advantage by increasing activities in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait as a way to signal to Taiwan and the rest of the region that the US is an unreliable security partner.”
As the invasion of Ukraine continues, we must not let down our guard, as the fate of Taiwan may also be uncertain.
Ottawa physician Dr. Charles S. Shaver was born in Montreal. He is past-chair of the Section on General Internal Medicine of the Ontario Medical Association.