Could the invasion of Ukraine inspire China in the Pacific?

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On Thursday, just hours after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan’s air force scrambled to warn away 9 Chinese aircraft that had entered Taiwan’s air defence zone, a regular occurrence over the past two years. Although a minor incursion, the repeated exercise of the Chinese air force near Taiwan could be indicative of future actions, in the same way the Russian gathering of troops and military exercise near the Ukrainian border was an indication of their intention to invade. With all eyes on the crisis in Ukraine, Taipei is fearful that Russian actions could embolden Beijing to increase pressure, or even launch their own attack on Taiwan.   

Chinese ambition in the Asia-Pacific are similar to that of Putin and Russia in Eastern Europe. With China steadily building influence in the South Pacific over the last two decades, many perceive this expansion to be growing at a rate much faster than a natural reflection of China’s growing economic and geopolitical clout. Many analysts in the West have been left questioning Chinese ambitions, and with their obvious aggression and persistent cyber intervention towards Taiwan, it is likely that China are pursuing an expansion similar to that being witnessed in Ukraine at this moment. 

Following a summit at the opening of the Winter Olympics In Beijing, Putin and Xi issued a joint statement on February 4, criticizing the “negative” US influence in both Europe and across the Asia-Pacific. Also stating that the two nations would develop their strategic partnership, opposing “the further expansion of NATO”. This statement is a clear indication of what to expect in the future, with both countries showing similar interests in expansion by military means, as well as the intention of working closely together, directly opposing the NATO “expansion”, framing the Western powers as the aggressors. This statement, supported by recent actions, shows a united front from both Russia and China against NATO and the West. 

Much like Russian actions in Eastern Europe, China has been regularly threatening the Asia-Pacific. Between September 2020 and August last year, there have been 554 incursions by different types of Chinese aircraft over Taiwan’s ADIZ (air defence identification zone). Experts warn that with China’s “grey zone” incursions, such as the activity on Thursday, continuing to rise Taiwan’s air force could be stretched too thin. In a report released by its Ministry of National Defence last September, Taiwan accused China of trying to take control of the island by wearing down its military capabilities and influencing public opinion. 

Speaking to TIME, Professor Steve Tsang, director of SOAS China Institute at the University of London, reports that “The Chinese have reasonable grounds to believe that, if and when they are ready to take Taiwan, they will get a similar response [to that Russia receives for Ukraine]”. At $1.7 trillion, Russia’s economy is less than one-tenth the size of China’s. If Western Nations can’t handle the hardship of economic measures on Moscow, how would they manage measures against the world’s top exporter and trading nation.  

Speaking at the Munich Conference on Saturday, Boris Johnson said that if Western nations failed to fulfil their promises to support Ukraine’s independence, it would have damaging consequences worldwide, including for Taiwan. With China not ruling out a military incursion into Taiwan, it is crucial that the West deal with the Ukraine crisis effectively or expect to have to deal with another crisis in the Asia-Pacific.

 

Photo credit: Reuters