Many were shocked at the Russian President’s audacity in February this year. Since the invasion of Ukraine, there have been thousands of deaths and displacements, as well as mass destruction. This series has tracked the progression so far. Notably, throughout, Russia has largely been left to its own devices. Neither the US, nor the EU have stepped in, barring sanctions. With growing tensions between Taiwan and China, many are wondering if the same strategy will be adopted were China to take a page out of Putin’s book.
What is happening in Taiwan?
As recently as the 10th May 2022, US intelligence officials released a statement that China appeared to be preparing itself militarily for an annexation of Taiwan. Rather concerning satellite images depicting this preparation have since surfaced. More specifically, they show the Chinese military running simulations on structural models of US aircraft carriers, as well as on Japanese aircrafts. And so, the Chinese military appears to be running military drills to prepare for conflict with Taiwan’s allies, namely the US and Japan.
Mapping the conflict
One cannot understand the conflict between China and Taiwan without taking a look into the past. Ultimately, this conflict dates back to the civil war. Since the 1920s, a protracted and on-again-off-again war was waged between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the Nationalist Party (KMT). The end of the Second World War ultimately led to the conclusion of this war in 1949, which saw the dawn of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with Mao Zedong at the helm. This then led the defeated Republic of China’s government to relocate to Taiwan, which was recently liberated from Japanese colonial rule as a result of the Empire’s recent loss. They were not alone. 1.2 million civilians followed from mainland China in pursuit of a democratic and religiously tolerant government.
The ensuing decades saw complications as the PRC continued to view Taiwan as part of its territory. This period increasingly saw the PRCs use of the one China policy. In 1972, President Nixon became the first US president to acknowledge this policy. Alongside Nixon, the Commonwealth made a similar commitment that year. Moreover, the wave of democratization in Africa has largely been accompanied by the newly-independent states adopting this same policy. Despite these challenges, Taiwan became a member of the World Trade Organisation in 2002, and has continued to be represented on the world stage- even if only in an observer capacity.
What is the current rhetoric?
On 23rd May 2022, US President Biden announced in a conference alongside Japanese Prime Minster Fumio Kishida, that the US would in fact intervene with military force in the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. He further specified that, while the US agrees with and signed to the one China policy, it opposes any attempt to take Taiwan by force. Ultimately, in this joint press conference, the US and Japan reaffirmed their commitment to the peace and stability along the Taiwan Strait.
In response, the PRC has released a rather short, but succinct statement. More specifically, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated Beijing’s position to be one of “strong dissatisfaction” and one of “resolute opposition” to Biden’s statement. And so, tension continues to brew. Furthermore, an aggravating factor appears to be China’s position of observation. In other words, Beijing’s neutrality with regards to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has allowed the state to learn and observe. Were China to pursue a forced reunification with Taiwan, Putin’s war with the Ukraine has presented the perfect opportunity to learn and improve any war, diplomacy, and information strategies.
What does this all mean?
It is therefore clear that Putin’s rather audacious moves with regards to the Ukraine stand to have far-reaching effects. He has shown the world that a military mission to forward his modern imperial expansionist policy is not met with NATO forces. Whiplash is restricted to economic sanctions. This could serve to plant the seed of forced- military- reunification attempts in Beijing. That being said, the US and the EU are being rather blatantly presented with the consequences of their lack of proactivity and intervention. In other words, they have just learnt their lesson. They have seen that without early intervention, there is only war and an international outcry. Threats, in Putin’s case, were not enough. This may therefore result in a much stronger and aggressive response to any Chinese misstep.
Stephanie is the Assistant Editor at the Journal of Political Risk. She has a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and an Honours degree in Justice and Transformation from the University of Cape Town. She is currently pursuing her MPhil in Public Law, focusing on a gendered analysis of transitional justice mechanisms. She has also contributed as a member of the research team for the South African Medical Research Council, focusing on the National Health Insurance bill.