The war in Ukraine has completed 100 days and if there is one country that is meticulously watching the mediocre performance of the Russian army, the Ukrainian resistance and the West’s military support to Ukraine, it is China. What could be the lessons Xi Jinping is learning from the war in Ukraine, especially if he decides to invade Taiwan?
Speaking at the Shangri La Dialogue, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe echoed the Chinese President’s sharp rhetoric that Beijing would ‘not hesitate’ to use force if Taiwan attempts to ‘secede’ by calling for independence. On the sidelines of the security summit, the Chinese defence minister also took the opportunity to warn his US counterpart Lloyd Austin of any attempts to split Taiwan from the mainland as it would result in Beijing ‘smashing Taiwan to smithereens’.
Though the rhetoric was very aggressive and combative, it is easier said than done. The Chinese military is by far a superior military to Taiwan’s military, just as Russia’s military is to Ukraine’s military. But to invade an island 100 miles from its coast will be no cakewalk and China also will be wary of facing a Ukraine-style resistance from Taiwan. Xi Jinping would not want to make the same miscalculation Vladimir Putin made going into Ukraine hoping it would be done and dusted in a few days. A Taiwanese resistance would threaten his hold on power.
China’s plan for Taiwan
Xi Jinping will also consider the sanctions that could come from the West. Given how crucial China is to the global economy, the unity among the West and its allies that sanctioned Russia may not be replicated. But even the slightest of sanctions could impact the Chinese economy, especially post Covid. There are also reports of an internal rift within the Chinese Communist Party and the rift could take a serious turn in case the country’s economy goes on a tailspin, further causing problems for Xi to hold on to power.
Xi Jinping might also draw a lot of good lessons from Moscow and Putin’s failures. If Beijing decides to invade Taiwan, Xi Jinping would consider using as many troops, planes and ships at his disposal to overpower Taiwan with an element of surprise and taking Taipei at the earliest. After all, the Chinese navy is the largest in the world and its air force is the largest in the region. By doing this, China could bury the efforts of any Taiwanese resistance.
Logistics is very important in war and resupply from NATO countries to Ukraine has been critical to Ukraine’s resistance. Taiwan being an island makes logistical support for resupply difficult and Beijing might consider giving its navy the mandate of policing the waters to cut resupply from the United States and its allies. In that case, if the West attempts to resupply, it will be risking a direct confrontation with Chinese ships.
US stance on Taiwan
The United States would not risk a direct confrontation with another nuclear power. President Biden and America are in no obligation to defend Ukraine and the same is true of Taiwan. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, Washington is only obligated to help Taiwan defend itself, but not obligated to defend it, unlike its commitment to the other treaty allies in the region – Japan and South Korea. Along these lines, Beijing might be confident that if it is able to overpower Taiwan with its vast military resources and capture Taipei at the earliest, the United States and its allies would weigh the choice of inviting a direct confrontation with China as a fool’s errand.
The United States, having put itself in the quagmire that it shouldn’t have put itself in the first place, now should not balk from sending more military equipment, providing aid and supporting Ukrainian resistance and ensuring a Russian retreat. A Russian retreat would serve as a deterrent and a strong message to China forcing it to think twice about making the decision to invade Taiwan. The United States should aid Taiwan by sending more military equipment, creating an impression among the top Chinese officials that the war wouldn’t be easy and signaling that there could be a pushback from Taipei. Washington should also take preemptive measures seeking a diplomatic solution before something like February 24 happens again.
The author is a student at SIAS, Goa University. Views are personal