Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
By David G. Young
Miami Beach, Florida, January 25, 2022 --
The feared invasion of Ukraine may lead to a similar assault on Taiwan by the Chinese communists.
As over 100,000 Russian troops mass along the Ukrainian border and drill with their Belarusian allies, more trouble is brewing on the other side of the continent. On Sunday, Taiwan reported that 39 Chinese communist aircraft entered its Air Defense and Identification Zone, the largest incursion since a record operation last October.1
With much of America's focus on the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, a double nightmare is brewing in the Far East. A long-feared assault of Taiwan by communist China could potentially be timed with Russian action against Ukraine. For the authoritarian giants, what better time to invade and occupy a renegade territory than when the West is distracted by similar events on the other side of the world?
To be clear, there is no evidence of collusion between Russia and China on these two fronts. And it is still unknown if either country is willing to take the risk of launching an invasion just now. This is particularly true in the case of China, where a large-scale amphibious assault would be needed to take Taiwan, an assault that may still be beyond the capability of China's growing military. While large numbers of Chinese warplanes have continued to harass Taiwan, there have been no reports of troop buildups on the coast or aggregation of amphibious landing craft or other ships needed to invade the island.
But that doesn't mean there isn't any risk of simutaneous action. Any Chinese assault on Taiwan would start with missile and air attacks to wear down the island's defenses. Once an air assault is underway, China could take its time in amassing the ground and naval forces needed to invade the island. Do so any earlier and China would lose the element of surprise.
On the surface, Russia's attitude toward Ukraine bears many similarities toward China's attitude toward Taiwan. Both communist China and Taiwan officially agree that they are one nation. And though Russia officially acknowledges that Ukraine is an independent state, Russia's dictator Vladimir Putin has publicly stated that Ukraine is not a real country.2 The two countries have a shared history spanning over a thousand years, with the Ukrainian capital of Kiev as the shared historical center.
The leaders of China and Russia also share a disdain for the so-called "Washington consensus" established after the end of the Cold War. This idea was that democratic systems operating under the rule of law with free markets and with respect for human rights were universal ideals that will ultimately be applied everywhere. According to this theory, all countries, including Russia and China, would ultimately accede to this consensus and allow the same rights for their people.
The rise of China's economic and military power without any improvement in its repressive policies has made this idea seem far fetched. And Russia's decline from a nominal post-Soviet democracy into full dictatorship under Vladimir Putin has further tarnished the theory. But it has done nothing to end Western needling of the authoritarian states about their human rights abuses and aggressive expansionist policies. A shared ire for Western lecturing and threat of sanctions unites China and Russia despite all their conflicting interests.
Meanwhile, Ukraine and Taiwan have much in common. Both are relatively open, democratic societies that offer a counter example to Russia and China. They show the world (and the Russians and Chinese) an alternative vision to rule by dictators, and prove that authoritarianism is not an inherent cultural attribute of the Chinese or the Eastern Slavs. It's not hard to see why Beijing and Moscow are obsessed with taking them down.
So while Russia and China may not be planning coordinated attacks on Ukraine and Taiwan, they most certainly would be glad to look the other way should the other state take decisive action. And if such action leads to Western sanctions and isolation, there is plenty of cross-border trade to be had between the two sprawling Eurasian empires. Russia has ample petroleum and raw materials that China needs, and China makes ample manufactured goods that Russia needs. For all their differences, China and Russia will easily become allies of convenience in a major war much like the Soviets and Americans or the Germans and the Japanese did during World War II.
Should a war break out on one of these two fronts, it may be only a matter of time before that inevitable alliance creates the conditions to trigger war on the second front as well. As Taiwanese worry about menacing Chinese planes and Ukrainians about menacing Russian tanks, they'd be well-advised to be just as worried about the forces menacing their counterparts on the opposite side of the continent.
Related Web Columns:
Russia's Backyard, January 11, 2022
Putin's Disaster, December 21, 2021
Dangerous Game, October 25, 2021
1. NBC News, Taiwan Reports New Large-Scale Incursion by Chinese Warplanes, January 24, 2022
2. Guardian, Ukraine Crisis: How Putin Feeds off Anger Over Nato’s Eastward Expansion, December 27, 2021