China will feel emboldened in its aggression towards Taiwan after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to experts.
Taiwan reported that it dispatched fighters to caution nine Chinese planes that flew into its defensive airspace on the first day of Russian’s invasion. China has conducted similar flybys in the past, but the timing remains notable.
James Anderson, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under President Trump, told WHD News Digital that China would be watching “intently” to see if Russia suffers “significant and lasting consequences” from its action in Ukraine and how the U.S. has responded.
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“I think there’s real risk that China may conclude that concrete U.S. actions in response to Russia’s invasion fall somewhat short of its rhetoric,” Anderson said, noting that Biden had promised “swift and severe sanctions” but has yet to invoke the most severe economic punishments against Russia.
“Everybody’s on edge – and understandably so – about what comes next here, but I’m just concerned here that China’s going to draw some of the wrong lessons here and its leaders might consider the Biden admin’s response to be more show than substance,” he added, noting that China won’t make snap decisions about invading Taiwan, but would certainly make “cold-blooded calculations about America’s resolve and capacity to act during international crises.”
And Dean Cheng, Senior Research Fellow at the Asian Studies Center for the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, agrees that the U.S. response to Russia may prove too soft for deterring China from similar actions against Taiwan.
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“I think what you are seeing is not surprising in any way unless you are someone who weirdly bought into this idea that somehow China was suddenly going to oppose Russia,” Cheng told WHD News Digital. “I think there has been a lot of wishful thinking over the last year or so that Russia would be deterred, Russia doesn’t really want a war, and we’re going to see exactly the same thing if and when Taiwan becomes an issue.”
“The first lesson from all of this should be get your heads out of the clouds and into a world where the sky is blue and not a lovely chartreuse pink,” he added.
The most significant difference between the European and Indo-Pacific theaters is that the U.S. has the NATO alliance to act as a deterrent against Russian action in several countries – an alliance Russian President Vladimir Putin feared Ukraine would join, bringing the alliance a greater presence along Russia’s western border.
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The U.S. lacks a similar unifying alliance in the Indo-Pacific theater but instead maintains a series of strong, bi-lateral security treaties with countries like South Korea, Japan, Australia and Taiwan, the last of which is enshrined in the 1989 Taiwan Relations Act.
But Cheng believes that European forces would be less effective and more cautious in an Asian theater of operation, noting that NATO has stood back from taking direct action to stop the invasion of Ukraine, which borders on a number of NATO allies.
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“What do you think they bring to the table – and that leaves aside the question of why would they come in?” Cheng argued. “If they won’t come into Ukraine, which borders on multiple NATO allies, in open violation of a number of formal treaty commitments that every signed – Helsinki accords, Minsk, too – why would we assume our European allies to fight and die for Taiwan when there’s no commitment to it?”