Some 5,000 miles away from the violence in Ukraine, shockwaves from Russia’s invasion are being felt in Taiwan. Until recently, Taiwan was considered to be one of the world’s most significant potential flashpoints for a multi-nation war. It was heralded – albeit with some exaggeration – as “the most dangerous place on earth”, under growing threat of invasion by Xi Jinping’s China, which considers the independently-governed democracy to be a Chinese province.
This week its people have watched their fears play out in eastern Europe, as Russian forces – ordered by Xi’s ally Vladimir Putin – attacked in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday.
The invasion prompted solidarity from Taiwan. The government proclaimed it stood with Ukraine, and announced unspecified economic sanctions against Russia.
“The principle of self-determination cannot be erased by brute force,” said Taiwan’s vice-president, Lai Ching-te.
It also prompted fear.
There is speculation about whether Beijing might use this crisis to make its move, while the world is focused on Ukraine. “China may think about using military action against Taiwan at any moment”, Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu, said earlier this month. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, warned “the shock will echo around the world” if Ukraine was endangered, specifically citing Taiwan.
On Thursday, Beijing sent nine warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone – a slightly larger than average sortie among the near daily incursions of the last two years. On Wednesday, president Tsai Ing-wen ordered Taiwan’s military and national security apparatus to boost its defences, surveillance, and early warning systems, and to strengthen its already sophisticated responses to cognitive warfare.
Analysts and China watchers say it is unlikely an attack is imminent. This year is politically sensitive for Xi with a once-in-five years leadership congress, and Taiwan is both more easily defended than Ukraine and more…