Xi Jinping might think he can run his own ‘Ukraine’ – The Diplomat
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, like many people, may have been surprised by Russia’s failure to conquer Ukraine in days, largely due to surprisingly fierce Ukrainian resistance. Moreover, the Americans and Europeans – even the Germans – imposing far-reaching economic and financial sanctions on the Russians, and providing massive military aid to the Ukrainians must have surprised Beijing.
Indeed, some analysts suggested that Putin’s difficulties with Ukraine could force Xi to decide that an assault on Taiwan was too difficult for the foreseeable future.
But now that four months have passed, Xi might look at what happened in Ukraine and the Russians, and think he has a reasonable chance of firing on Taiwan – and can absorb whatever punishment the US and their allies can apply.
From Beijing’s perspective, the question is whether the benefits are worth the costs. If the PRC conquers Taiwan, it would gain crucial strategic ground. Take Taiwan breaks the so-called “first island chain” that encircles the Chinese forces, allowing China to break out of there and move freely south to the Philippines, Malaysia, and perhaps to its new friends of the Solomon Islands – allowing Beijing to isolate Australia. To the north and east, China could make life very difficult in Japan, encircle South Korea, and displace the presence and influence of the United States.
All of this would shatter the strategic credibility of the United States. It would demonstrate that the US could not protect 24 million free Taiwanese – despite US military might, US financial and economic might, and nuclear weapons. Who in the region (and the world) will rely on US promises after this? With the exception of Japan and possibly Australia, many countries in the region will try to make whatever deals they can with the PRC. A PRC triumph in Taiwan would be change the strategic balance in Asia.
This is an attractive advantage for Beijing leaders. So, looking at Ukraine from their perspective, how could the Chinese assess the potential costs imposed by the United States and the West of an attack on Taiwan?
Despite heavy casualties and equipment losses, Putin is likely to end up with After of Ukraine that he started. Too bad for him to be forced to resign and Russia and the Russian army to be “destroyed”.
The threat of being kicked out of SWIFT – and the inability to transact in US dollars – was supposed to be enough to deter Putin, or else keep Russia from continuing the war for very long. It hasn’t happened yet. The Russian ruble is doing rather good.
It was a surprise how quickly the EU and many US companies accepted the sanctions. These make life more difficult in Russia. But from the start, there were huge loopholes in the sanctions regime. And Russia could do the trick $800 million a day just by selling gas and oil – some of it to Europe and a lot of it to India and China. The oligarchs show no sign of Putin’s impeachment.
The war in Ukraine not only benefits Putin with higher prices for oil and raw materials, but he now also controls much of the world’s wheat production.
While Russia may not be winning, it doesn’t look like it’s losing either. And Beijing may think it can handle the Western response even better than Moscow in a range of sectors.
In Ukraine, the bulk of the Russian army could be winning, however slowly. The People’s Liberation Army has a similar or greater overrun in Taiwan.
US aid to Ukraine has been substantial, but ultimately appears limited in quantity and type – and does not include some weapons that would be useful. A reported the reason was the fear that such weapons would be used over the border with Russia and further “provoke” Moscow. Taiwan already does not have enough of what it needs to defend itself. Would similar reasons of “not provoking Beijing” be used to keep it under duress, even in the event of an invasion by the PRC?
Remember that there are still no meaningful joint exercises and training between US and Taiwanese forces. Taiwan remains outside RIMPAC, the multinational maritime exercises organized by the United States. Ultimately, this suggests that the United States is not fully engaged.
And, even if the United States and others go “all-in” after an attack begins, it might be too late. Unlike Ukraine, there is no land border with Taiwan to allow the United States and others to easily resupply and supply it with weapons. If the PRC can isolate Taiwan, it could run out of missiles, ammunition and materiel, and resupply by the Americans and anyone else could be very difficult.
In addition, the pressure exerted on the entire world economy by the Russian-Ukrainian war is shaking everyone. Many countries remainuncommittedon Ukraine, some are favorable of Russia, and Sri Lanka is even ask openly for help. The Western bloc is powerful, but it is also vastly outnumbered. The economic disruption will be much worse in Taiwan and could make the world even more willing to let the PRC do whatever it wants.
Add to this that Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons seems to have restricted the US and EU response to the invasion of Ukraine. Why wouldn’t it be the same for Taiwan? China has long claimed Taiwan as a “core interest” and the “bottom line” of its relations with other countries. There is every reason to believe that China, armed with nuclear weapons, would be ready to raise the bar if its victory were threatened.
The pre-invasion of Russia “sanction-proof” could have worked reasonably well. This is something that Beijing has been preparing for decades – the “sanctions war” was even mentioned in 1999 in the book “Unrestricted Warby two PLA air force colonels.
Key materials the West needs from Russia have been exempted from sanctions. There are many more things the West will need from China, including medications. It is therefore possible, if not likely, that there will be exemptions to any sanctions regime if Taiwan is hit. The West may have no choice given its reliance on China for supply chains and also the importance of specific materials to the US economy – and even the US military.
The PRC was not seriously sanctioned for the financial, economic and political support it gave to the Russians. Meanwhile, Russian and Chinese military moves in Northeast Asia – air and naval circumnavigations of Japan and exercises near Japan – went off without a hitch, or even without much response.
This raises further doubts about Western resolve when it comes to Beijing, including in the event of a move against Taiwan.
There is already a strong domestic lobby in most Western countries to “be soft” on China. Look at him United States-China Business Councill and Wall Street’s responses to the recent proposed restrictions on outbound investment in China that pose potential national security risks. He fiercely opposes it. One imagines that business leaders could react in the same way if sanctions were proposed in the event of aggression in Taiwan.
As a potential economic bonus, Taiwan made about 90% of high-end industrial semiconductors. If factories remain intact after an invasion, imagine how much control China would have, able to offer discounted tokens to friends and withhold tokens from enemies. And imagine what that will do to lame Western economies.
The West has options. A few costly sanctions could send a clear message to China: remove it from its seat on the UN Security Council and revoke its membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) for unprovoked aggression. However, nothing happened to Russia and perhaps Xi Jinping is convinced that it will not be done to the PRC.
So what now?
Can China handle anything thrown at it? Xi might think so, and that’s what matters. The Chinese people have demonstrated a willingness to absorb a lot of punishment, especially if they think they are right – which, after decades of political indoctrination, many to do about Taiwan – and that Westerners harass them.
It’s a roll of the dice to go after Taiwan, but the PRC would not be the first authoritarian state to take a chance in this way. Think of the Germans attacking Poland in 1939 or invading Russia in 1941 – even though most Wehrmacht transports were horse-drawn.
And the longer the war in Ukraine drags on, the more Beijing will learn from it.
It is likely that the Russian invasion will slow to another frozen conflict in the fall and winter. It’s just when the EU will be cut off from Russian gas and temperatures are dropping. The messages from Paris and Berlin imply that France and Germany could step up pressure on Ukraine to cede territory “for humanitarian aid”. Germany already seems floating. And, if Ukraine resists, then the Europeans could simply slow down the resupply of ammunition.
Xi has already sent signals that now is the time for China to start pushing to take Taiwan and drive the United States out of the Pacific. If it looks like Putin is getting away with invading Ukraine, the odds of Xi making his move increase dramatically.
The obvious lessons for the United States and its partners? Don’t let Putin get away with Ukraine. And prepare Taiwan – now.