As the Russian-Ukrainian crisis unfolds, China and Taiwan are watching

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Mikhail Metzel | CASS | Getty Images

As the world wonders whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will order an invasion of smaller neighbor Ukraine, political analysts say China, in particular, is watching with interest given its own claims on Taiwan.

China has repeatedly declared its intention to reunite with Taiwan, an island off the coast of China that is democratically self-governing but claimed by the People’s Republic of China.

None of the analysts who spoke to CNBC suggested that a Russian attack on Ukraine would precipitate a Chinese attack on Taiwan. But they said China and Taiwan were closely monitoring developments in Ukraine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping “is looking to see what the United States can muster in relation to Ukraine, and will always have Taiwan in mind, because Beijing always has Taiwan in mind”, Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China. and the United States, CNBC told CNBC last week.

“But I wouldn’t say the two, Ukraine and Taiwan, are exactly parallel in this case. I think China knows that Taiwan is more important to the United States,” he said, adding that the island was central to American security strategy. in the Western Pacific.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

I think what matters for Taiwan is that if there was any meaningful action in Ukraine, Beijing will monitor the level of sanctions, the intensity of sanctions [from Western countries].

DJ Peterson

President, Longview Global Advisors

However, Beijing and Moscow said this month a “limitless” partnership before the Winter Olympics in China. Putin and Xi issued a joint statement on February 4 calling on the West to “abandon its ideologized approaches to the Cold War” and declare their opposition to NATO enlargement.

Preventing Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union, from joining the Western democratic alliance is a central strategic goal for Putin.

Ian Bremmer, chairman and founder of consultancy Eurasia Group, noted ahead of the statement that China has generally supported Russia’s position on Ukraine but has not been “particularly active in taking a stand”.

“It is important to recognize the growing alignment between Russia and China,” Bremmer said in a research note. He said that “in the event of further escalation and US/EU sanctions against Russia, the Chinese government is likely to step in and provide greater economic and technological integration with Moscow.” Such a move would “significantly strengthen the relationship between America’s two most important adversaries,” he said.

Bremmer told CNBC in emailed comments that China “could see more leeway in terms of economic and political pressure, but there is no green light for invasion. [of Taiwan] or any other fundamental change to the existing status quo. »

“The Biden administration has consistently delivered the message that Taiwan is not Afghanistan, it is not Ukraine…and [the] Chinese leaders have received this message,” he noted.

What does Taiwan think?

Taiwan has openly condemned part of the joint statement of Russia and China who said that “the Russian side reaffirms its support for the one-China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any form of Taiwan independence.”

Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying he “solemnly protests and strongly condemns this false and derogatory statement”.

“It not only increases the Taiwanese people’s disgust and hatred for the Chinese government’s arrogance and intimidation, but also clearly shows all countries around the world the grim face of aggression, expansionism and encroachment. to the peace of the Chinese communist regime,” he said.

CNBC has received no response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry requesting a response to the Taiwanese statement.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council was also not immediately available for follow-up.

DJ Peterson, president of geopolitical advisory firm Longview Global Advisors, told CNBC that Taiwan sees parallels between itself and countries in Eastern Europe in the shadow of a bigger, more powerful state. .

Taiwan has sought to deepen its relations with the Baltic states. Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian lawmakers met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in November.

“Taiwan is clearly following what’s happening in Eastern Europe very closely, and they see a very close parallel,” Peterson told CNBC on Thursday, comparing Ukraine and Taiwan as “weaker neighbours” to ” great regional hegemons”.

“I think what matters for Taiwan is that if there was meaningful action in Ukraine, Beijing will monitor the level of sanctions, the intensity of sanctions,” Peterson said. “The interesting thing right now is that there is no sanction scenario for Taiwan, so we really don’t know what that would look like.”

“False and derogatory”

Political analysts say that while China will follow the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, that does not mean it is encouraged to carry out its own military action against Taiwan.

Beijing “has economic interests and a common goal with Russia to undermine Western soft power and liberal institutions,” said Julia Pamilih, director of the China Research Group, a group of British lawmakers.

“But Taiwan is not Ukraine. And Beijing’s strategy to change the status quo across the strait in its favor is as much economic and diplomatic as it is military,” she said in emailed comments. last week.

China maintains what it calls a policy of “unification” with Taiwan, with Xi said last October that “the historic task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be accomplished and will certainly be accomplished.”

That same month, Taiwan protested against repeated incursions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zones.

Despite the deepening strategic partnership between Russia and China, “a military escalation between Russia and Ukraine would be unlikely to provoke an opportunistic invasion of Taiwan on the mainland,” said Andrius Tursa and Gabriel Wildau, adviser and Managing Director for Central and Eastern Europe at Teneo Intelligence. .

“Beijing’s calculation of such an invasion goes beyond military considerations to include diplomatic and economic impacts. Events in Ukraine will do little to alter Beijing’s judgment that these impacts would be catastrophic,” they said. they said Tuesday in a note.

“However, if the deteriorating security situation in Europe forces the US military, especially the navy, to reposition its assets away from the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing could take advantage of this by increasing its activities in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait as a way of signaling to Taiwan and the rest of the region that the United States is not a reliable security partner.”

“China has a completely different calendar”

Bonny Lin, senior fellow for Asian security and director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday, she doesn’t think Taiwan is in any danger right now.

Lin acknowledged that some have drawn parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan, “and some of them are valid in the sense that Ukraine and Taiwan face stronger neighbors Russia and China, and they are both under pressure. But China has a completely different timeline for Taiwan, and China has a number of non-military options it can use in Taiwan.”

“So even if the US is distracted in Ukraine, China doesn’t necessarily need to act in Taiwan now,” Lin said. “In fact, there is no indication that China is ready to intervene in Taiwan anytime soon.”

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