Since February, global attention has continued to concentrate on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its rippling impact, extending beyond its interference in the global supply chain or impulsion of refugees within Europe to the tensions in Eastern Asia between China (PRC) and Taiwan (ROC).
Relations between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping threaten to upset the world order, making their recent meeting in Uzbekistan of great significance, as the futures of both Ukraine and Taiwan are heavily dependent on the decisions of Putin and Xi.
From Taiwan’s inception, controversy surrounding Taiwan’s independence has raised fear or question among Taiwanese of a potential invasion by China. The U.S. and other foreign leaders are invested in Taiwan's future because of its economic importance, presence in the South China Sea, and the mutually shared value of democracy.
Like Taiwan, the U.S. is interested in Ukraine because it seeks to support the preservation of democracy and stability of world order. In February, President Biden explained that Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine was “a flagrant violation of international law” because it challenged previous negotiations made after the Soviet Union was dissolved.
In the wake of this recent invasion of Ukraine, similarities between Ukraine and Taiwan hint at the future of the China-Taiwan conflict. Ukraine and Taiwan share close proximity to significant military powers- Russia and China- and Russia and China have long viewed their neighboring countries of Ukraine or Taiwan as extensions of their realm. Reflecting on Ukraine’s position regarding Russia, Vladimir Putin wrote, “When I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole… It is what I have said on numerous occasions and what I firmly believe.” This sentiment echoes the attitude of the People’s Republic of China, whose State Council Information Office released the following: “We are one China, and Taiwan is part of China. This is an indisputable fact supported by history and the law. Taiwan has never been a state; its status as part of China is unalterable.”
These shared attitudes, coupled with the fragile relationship with the United States that both Russia and China share, augment the significance of the statement released in February that “Friendship between the two States [China and Russia] has no limits.” It is the basis of reasoning for those who view the outcome of the Ukraine War as a forecast for Taiwan.
The West is particularly attentive to the relationship between Xi and Putin, and the results of their most recent meeting because the unofficial alliance that Putin and Xi formed threatens to harm Western interests. If Russia is ultimately successful in its war against Ukraine, China’s ambitions vis-à-vis Taiwan may be emboldened and could ultimately lead to direct conflict with western powers. Conversely, a defeat for Russia negatively influences China’s status in global politics and denotes a less promising outcome if measures are taken to ensure its “One China Policy” through force or invasion of Taiwan.
Current Russian losses, and continued Western aid to Ukraine, indicate increasingly unfavorable conditions for Russia. These deteriorating conditions also hold potential consequences for China because they demonstrate the dangers of enforcing its One China Policy.
Additionally, the Western world’s rally to Ukraine’s defense is an explicit message to China that an invasion of Taiwan would not be received passively. Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taipei, followed by visits from other foreign leaders, further emphasizes the partnership and support of western nations with Taiwan while simultaneously cautioning China on its next steps.
The future of Taiwanese independence is linked to the outcome of the war in Ukraine and, just as importantly, Xi Jinping’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. Their relationship lacks confidence and straddles the diplomatic grounds of allyship with Russia and maintenance of peace with the western world. The most recent meeting in Uzbekistan accentuates this straddle, as claims to “work with Russia to extend strong mutual support on issues concerning each other’s core interests” were made while maintaining a “balanced position.”
While Xi and Putin both seek change in the world order and weakening of the West, Putin's folly in Ukraine leaves Xi with two options: 1). provide military aid and vocal support to Russia’s claim of Ukraine, increasing the likelihood of Russia’s victory, but severing relationships with Western countries in the process, or 2). maintain the status quo, and hope that Russia's fate in Ukraine does not negatively impact China's approach to Taiwan.
Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the western governments’ reaction to it, in the form of aid and economic sanctions against Russia, significantly raise the risk profile for China's ambitions towards Taiwan. The world watches, and no one more than the people of Taiwan.