By Jason Sibert
As Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his assault on Ukraine, many are worried about a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Some are saying that China, in Russia's orbit as both countries are in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, will follow Russia's example in invading Taiwan, also a democracy.
"If Russia can grab chunks of Ukraine or install a puppet regime and withstand economic sanctions, that could embolden nationalists in China to look to Taiwan and think they could do the same," Ian Johnson, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, has argued.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is currently watching Ukraine, but his willingness to use force in Taiwan will be determined by domestic factors and not Russia's fate, as stated by writer Oriano Skyler Mastro's in her story "Invasions are Not Contagious: Russia's War in Ukraine Doesn't Presage a Chinese Assault on Taiwan." Mastro has argued before that China is currently considering an "armed reunification" more than at any time in its history, but Xi will consider an invasion only if he's confident that his military can win such a fight and if he thinks it's good for his political career.
Chinese foreign policy planners assume that the United States will intervene if the country invades Taiwan. Some question if we can amass enough forces to keep this from happening. Our country does not have the resources to continue its economic war against Russia and fight China at the same time, and China is still trying to undermine Taiwan's resolve. Chinese media is full of stories of how the U.S. didn't come to Ukraine's aid and won't come to Taiwan's either. Mastro stated that China is contemplating an attack on Taiwan, but now is not the right time.
China has several sources of strength. Sanctions against it might not be that painful, considering its capacity to manufacture goods, and its larger, and therefore wealthier, economy could absorb the types of sanctions we have on Russia. Back to the Ukraine issue, Russia would have to invade a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally and the US would have to stand by for China to question the US' ability to defend Taiwan. So far, the war has meant a bumpy path for Russia, making it tougher to invade NATO countries. This might lead to the question over Taiwan and the US' ability to defend it against China being put on the back burner. In addition, US intelligence has already reveled that China is wavering in its alliance with Moscow, as the country's bureaucracy is worried how the alliance might alienate them from the rest of the world. China is seeking to build relationships with small countries in various parts of the world. Many of these countries don't like to see larger countries swallow smaller countries, or what we're seeing in Ukraine.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made the concept of international law stronger, in a way, as countries have rallied against Russia to stop its illegal behavior. What if China were to leave the Russian orbit and enter the US orbit? It's not unthinkable. We saw it in the last Cold War when Mao's China left the Soviet Russia orbit because the murderous leader was more afraid of the Soviet Union than the US. Such a relationship would make it tough for China to invade Taiwan and perhaps bring some calm to the international system.
If China continues to waiver and moves into our orbit, perhaps the country can help us negotiate a cease fire. Out of this, perhaps a great power concert with all regional powers - US, European Union, United Kingdom, China, and (post-Putin) Russia - to keep the international order.
Jason Sibert is the Lead Writer for the Peace Economy Project.