The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves throughout the world. Everything from the world economy, to peace both in Eastern Europe and the rest of the world, have been upended. As NATO and Russia walk a path fraught with tension, one of Russia’s closest security allies is observing the Russian war in Ukraine with a watchful eye: China. Although it has been speculated that Russia is solely allied with China to counter the hegemonic power of the U.S., the level of trust demonstrated between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin is nevertheless concerning. Notably, fears have risen as many have described the parallel between Ukraine and Taiwan. Although there are many similarities between the Russia-Ukraine and China-Taiwan conflicts, there are noticeable differences as well.
Taiwan and Ukraine are both small nation-states within the sphere of influence of a greater power that has long claimed their land. However, while Russia seeks to encapsulate Ukraine into its Sovietesque sphere of influence, China seeks to claim Taiwan as its own, as stated in its constitution. Despite this, there are many reasons to view the conflicts as entirely different.
Perhaps the greatest difference between both situations is that whereas the Russia-Ukraine conflict is between two sovereign, U.N.-recognized nations, the China-Taiwan conflict is not. As Taiwan is not a U.N.-recognized member state — rather an observer state — it has had difficulty receiving international aid to help fund its endeavors.
Another primary difference is that, while Ukraine has a direct border with Russia — making a land-based invasion theoretically simple — China and Taiwan are separated by the Taiwan Strait — a body of water that detaches the Chinese mainland from the island of Taiwan. This noticeably makes the situation for China difficult: to invade and control an island country requires a significant amount of planning, equipment, willpower, and sheer luck. Additionally, the presence of U.S. and its allies’ forces on the Korean Peninsula, in Japan, and in the Philippines further complicate the situation for China.
In weighing the similarities and differences between the two conflicts, a clear determination of the future is muddled in economic, political, and geographic challenges. Thus, China’s previous determination in pursuing control over Taiwan remains a dream for now, and it remains to be seen how the situation will unfold.
By Quinn Novick