Taiwan's President Tsai Yingwen on October 6, 2018.
The Russian attack on Ukraine has brought attention to another place that could face aggression from a much larger neighbor — Taiwan.
Some political experts are comparing Russia’s moves against Ukraine to China's threats to take control of self-ruled Taiwan.
Like Ukraine, Taiwan is a democracy that has resisted a more powerful government. However, many on the island feel the differences are important. For them, the war in Ukraine, and war in general, feel far away.
Ethan Lin is a 40-year-old who works in the service industry. He said, "I think our situation is not very similar to Ukraine's, whether it's political or in terms of connections. China has many exchanges with Taiwan in several areas, so I don't think it's that dangerous."
Taiwan’s government, the Republic of China, governs the island of 23 million people about 160 kilometers off China's eastern coast. The People’s Republic of China claims the island should become part of its political system. The issue has grown more intense since Tsai Ing-wen became president of Taiwan in 2016. In recent months, China has increased military pressure on the island by sending ships into nearby waters and flying fighter jets in airspace claimed by Taiwan.
Military exercises by China
Last week, the Chinese army reported it had carried out military landing exercises in the East China Sea.
The important question for Taiwan is whether the United States would intervene if China invaded. U.S. President Joe Biden has said America will not send troops to defend Ukraine. The U.S. has no current official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but did in the past. The U.S. cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 to recognize mainland China.
Last August, the U.S. approved the sale of $750 million dollars in weapons to Taiwan. The U.S. is also bound by its own law to make sure that Taiwan can defend itself.
Kao-Cheng Wang is a professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. He said, "Taiwan's economy and technology is important to the U.S., and perhaps the U.S. will value Taiwan more, but we have to see how the conflict plays out.”
Taiwan announced Friday it would join international restrictions against Russia. Wang Ting-yu, a lawmaker from Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, wrote on social media, "We can't sit on the sidelines while a big power bullies a small neighbor."
China's President Xi Jinping has said that "peaceful reunification" of China and Taiwan is in the best interests of both sides.
However, China has said it would use force if necessary to reach reunification. At present, military action seems unlikely. Li Minjiang is a Chinese international relations expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. He said outside events like the Russian invasion would not influence China’s actions. He added that China would continue to use information campaigns and peaceful ways to influence public opinion on Taiwan.
Wang, the Tamkang University professor, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is different from Xi because he has used force against other countries before, against neighboring Georgia and Ukraine. "Xi Jinping is rather strong, but he increased military activity, rather than starting a war," Wang added.
Peter Chiang is a salesperson in Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei. He doubted China would attack. "I think even internally, they aren't that stable right now," he said.
Government criticizes creation of fear
Taiwan’s cabinet spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng said in a statement on Monday that people should not create fears by comparing Taiwan and Ukraine. He said: "In all areas, the two cannot be compared." Lo added that those who took this chance to talk about "'today's Ukraine, tomorrow's Taiwan'” were wrongly linking “Ukraine's situation with Taiwan's, disturbing people's morale. This is inadvisable."
Taiwan has a natural barrier of the Taiwan Strait separating it from China. It also is an important producer of semiconductors, or computer chips, that are used in smartphones, cars and many electronic devices.
Matsu is a group of Taiwanese islands that stretch to within 10 kilometers of mainland China. A Taiwanese politician there, Wen Lii, is concerned about a possible invasion. But he rejected simple comparisons to Ukraine.
Wen is director of the Matsu office of the Democratic Progressive Party. He wrote in an email, "People in Matsu always remain alert, but discussions about Chinese threats are usually based on concrete observation instead of a foreign crisis," he said. He added that there is no military buildup for now.
Words in This Story
bully – v. a person who does or says things to hurt or frighten others
internally –adv. existing inside something; taking place inside a group and not in public
stable – adj. not likely to change or come to an end suddenly
concrete – adj. definite and specific
disturb –v. to worry or upset
morale – n. the amount of confidence and cheerfulness that a group of people have