How Ukraine’s Resistance to Authoritarianism Could Inspire Taiwan: Perspectives from China and the USA

Fehintola Akinbamidele
How Ukraine's Resistance to Authoritarianism Could Inspire Taiwan: Perspectives from China and the USA
A town in northern Ukraine, liberated by the Ukrainian army. Source: Ukraine Ministry of Defense via Daily Kos

On the 24th of February 2022, Ukraine was invaded by Russia thereby escalating the Russia-Ukraine war which had started in 2014. Russian forces made swift gains in the south at first, with the primary goal of establishing a land corridor between Crimea, which it invaded in 2014, and territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk.
However, Russian advances were hampered greatly by heavy resistance from Ukrainian forces around Mykolaiv in the west and Mariupol in the east.

The resistance taken by Ukraine against the Russia’s invasion has motivated the Taiwanese to take similar practical action against China in other to fight against threat to their democracy. These protests may indicate that citizens and governments in smaller democratic countries are willing to make sacrifices to protect their democratic state.

BACKGROUND OF THE CURRENT CONFLICT

The Ukraine conflict was precipitated by the rivalry between the EU and Russia over Ukraine’s strategic geopolitical direction. The origins of the conflict can be traced back to the 2008 war between Russia (Moscow) and Georgia, which effectively finished the possibility of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO and the start of a new monetary catastrophe, which appeared to lend credibility to local trade structures.

The EU and Moscow then arrived at opposing interpretations of the conflict. The Europeans sought to integrate Kyiv in Ukraine, together with five other former Soviet states, financially and socially with the Europe through the EU’s Eastern Initiative program, established in 2009. Instead of being a step towards potential EU expansion, this plan was an effort to create a region of safety to the east of the union’s boundary and strengthen such nations’ west inclination. The Russian State, for its side, attempted to convince Kyiv and the bulk of the former USSR States to embrace their main idea of a trading bloc, which was relaunched in 2009 and concluded in the adoption of a founding treaty called the Eurasian Economic Union in May 2014. Instead of re-creating the same USSR, as many in the West assumed, Moscow began building a Moscow society (a unique social phenomenon in Russia’s life) in Europe and Asia, which will provide the country with these financial benefits and, more importantly, greater negotiating power with its continental neighbors and friends, the EU to the West and China to the east.

THE UNITED STATES’ VIEW ON THE CONFLICT IN UKRAINE

US President Joe Biden during his speech in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington announcing sanctions for Russia for its war on Ukraine.
Source: Press Trust of India via Business Standard

To confront Russian forces stationed near Ukraine’s border and reassure NATO allies, US President Joe Biden authorised roughly 3,000 US troops to deploy to Poland and Romania (NATO nations bordering Ukraine) in early February 2022. Satellite images revealed Russia’s greatest force deployment near its border with Belarus since the end of the Cold War.

The United States, Russia, and European nations, including France and Germany, were unable to reach an agreement. While Russia claimed to have reduced the number of troops on the border of Ukraine, reports arose of a growing Russian force presence. The US has been a part of the Ukrainian conflict since the beginning. The United States was initially wary of the invasion as Russia, a nuclear-armed country with veto power in the United Nations Security Council, gathered more than 150 thousand troops along the Ukrainian border.

On February 24th, two days after huge convoys of Russian tanks moved across the border, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken maintained that the United States’ mission, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, was simply to support the Ukrainian people. The US imposed sanctions on Russia, initially targeting a few banks, oligarchs, political élites, government-owned firms, and Putin’s family, in an attempt to persuade Putin to withdraw his soldiers without resorting to military force.
In early March President Biden stated that “Direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is Word War III, something we must strive to prevent.”

The rising US involvement underscores larger fears among countries on or near Russia’s borders that Putin’s hostility will not end there. On April 22nd, a senior Russian military commander stated that Moscow was seeking “complete control” of eastern and southern Ukraine, in part to allow Moldova, a small landlocked country that supports the European Union but relies on Russian energy, to enter the country.

Chinas’ View on the Ukraine’s Conflict

China and Ukraine held a consistent relationship prior to the Russian invasion. China recognized Ukraine one year after it broke from the old Soviet Union. In 1992, China and Ukraine established formal diplomatic ties. China and Ukraine have had generally easy bilateral relations, especially since Ukraine’s entrance to the WTO in 2008, with commerce centered on the import and export of raw materials and a variety of civil and military goods. Since China announced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Ukraine has been a viable partner and, as a result, the Chinese government has also shown that Ukraine would be included in the initiative as an ally country.

Ukraine hoped for a good, long-term partnership with China, as well as the possibility of bilateral trade turning into a multi-dimensional relationship. Even though Ukrainian academics feel that collaborating with China will alienate the US and the EU, they remain open to and supportive of bilateral relations with China. Ukraine had great hopes for its relationship with China. During the Russia-Ukraine crisis, however, it appears that the Chinese government failed to meet such expectations.

The Chinese government has attempted to tread lightly, as it can be seen in their decision to abstain from voting in the United Nations Security Council draft resolution on ending the Ukrainian Crisis. It has not spoken out against Russia’s invasion. Despite its criticism of Western sanctions against Russia, China has not taken any steps to assist Russia in evading them, and it appears that it is attempting to avoid them. At the same time, what it says and does on the surface may not reflect what’s going on behind the scenes.

On the day of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, revealing the face of the burgeoning China-Russia cooperation (at an event from which Russia was officially banned). Putin was greeted with enormous ceremony by the Chinese, who treated him with warmth and deference that no other leader has received. The encounter was lavishly covered by state-run media, featuring photographs of Xi and Putin conferring without masks.

Putin and Xi emphasised broad strategic bilateral cooperation in a joint statement, criticising Western nations’ Cold War mentality and asking for a halt to NATO expansion. China has also pledged to increasing its natural gas purchases from Russia. On March 7, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated firmly that the situation in Ukraine had no bearing on China’s relations with Russia in a video press conference. He termed the China-Russia relationship “rock strong,” saying that “no matter how precarious the international situation becomes, China and Russia will retain their strategic focus and continuously advance our comprehensive strategic partnership for the new era.

HOW UKRAINE’S MILITARY IS INSPIRING SMALL AND MIDDLE POWERS TO CONTEST TERROTIRAL CONQUEST BY CHINA IN THE FUTURE

Video from Chinese state television via AFP shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, meeting his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on March 30. Source: Jen Kirby via Vox

The military of Ukraine could encourage countries like Taiwan to fight Chinese territorial expansion in the future. In the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Ukrainians have been adamant about maintaining their national identity. The West’s assistance, as well as civic solidarity based on democratic ideals, helped them win the battle for Kyiv’s capital. The Russian troops and Putin were surprised by the unity among Ukrainians military and civilians.

Another small country, Taiwan, which lies roughly 100 miles off the coast of southeastern China may benefit the most from the resilience and unity shown by the Ukrainian military at the warfront. Taiwan has been threatened by invasion from its neighbor of more global political power and presence, China, which claims shaky authority over the self-governing island. The solidarity of Ukrainians has brought up a popular phrase on the Taiwanese social media:

“Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow!”.

Taiwan’s economy contributes more to global trade than Russia’s, but its military personnel cannot be compared to China. Nevertheless, just like Ukraine, it would have to rely greatly on public support from citizens and most especially the Taiwanese military long enough for the US or other major powers like the UK, France, and even the General Assembly of the United Nations to come to Taiwan’s aid. President Tsai Ing-wen said, “The determination of Ukrainians has moved the world, making Taiwanese feel the same”. In October 2021 after Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu received a silver commemorative medal of the senate of the parliament of the Czech Republic, he told a news conference that “Despite great adversity, the government and people of Ukraine have been fighting with tremendous courage and determination.” He also went further stating “Let me say this from the bottom of my heart: You have been an inspiration to the Taiwanese people in facing threats and coercion from authoritarian power.”

China, on the other hand, has dismissed the connection between Taiwan and Ukraine, stating that Taiwan has always been part of China. Taiwan has responded, claiming that the island’s situation is fundamentally different, noting the natural barrier of the Taiwan Strait separating it from China, as well as Taiwan’s critical role in the global semiconductor supply chain.

Taiwanese soldiers simulate fending off an attempted invasion during an annual drill at the military base in Hualien on Jan 30, 2018.
Source: Mandy Cheng/AFP/ Getty Image via FP

Lin Wen-huang, the chief of Taiwan’s defence ministry’s joint operations department, declared in the last week of April that the island’s major annual military exercises, the Han Kuang, will explicitly “draw on the experience”of the Ukraine war in May and June.

Countries in Europe and Asia tend to recognize that countries like Ukraine and Taiwan need international backing in this geopolitical situation and this is evidenced by the speed with which the Biden administration engaged Asian allies like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and even Singapore to censure Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Their willingness to express worry about Ukraine shows that they believe they will need similar assistance from Europe in the future if China engages in a confrontation with one of them.

Perhaps it should be noted that as is it in Ukraine, the way Taiwan could maintain its sovereignty is if its people are willing to voice out no matter the circumstances and if the military is willing to fight no matter how bad the situation gets in the war zone. The Ukrainian military has continued to be an inspiration to small powers like Taiwan when it comes to contesting their territorial integrity.

  • Would Ukraine continue to get the support they need to remain sovereign especially from the West? Would it be possible for Ukraine to achieve what they have today without the help of the US?
  • Would the west give the same support they are giving to Ukraine to Taiwan? Is it possible for Taiwan to maintain territorial sovereignty from China like Russia from Ukraine?
  • Is there a possibility of a second Cold War if the Russian troops don’t stop attacking Ukrainian territory after a long while?

Suggested Readings

Evans O. (2022), What is China learning from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

The Monitor Editorial Board (2022), Ukraine’s example for other bullied democracies.

Lawrence C. (2022), Ukraine showing Taiwan the way on fighting much bigger army if PLA attacks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

How Ukraine’s Resis…

by Fehintola Akinbamidele time to read: 8 min
0