Amid speculation in some Western policy circles that China could move on Taiwan ‘at any moment’ given currently the world has its total focus on the Ukraine war, the prospects for some kind of surprise rapid invasion of the democratic island wasn’t helped by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit this week.
Pompeo was there in the capacity of a “private citizen” – the White House had previously stressed – also while separately an official US defense delegation visited. But Pompeo’s words likely spoke louder in terms of evoking the ire of Beijing, given he provocatively stated that Taiwan is a “great nation” on his visit. Beijing promptly responded by calling him “despicable”.
He said when he arrived at the Taipei airport on Wednesday: “It is wonderful to be here. I’ve been looking forward to coming to visit with the people of Taiwan for a very long time,” according to Reuters.
“I’m so much looking forward to my trip to meet with business people, people from government, people all across your great nation,” he added. It goes without saying that such talk is a bright red line for Beijing – though it should also be noted that Pompeo is already under official Chinese sanction.
Since last Thursday’s Putin-ordered invasion of Ukraine which shocked the West, there’ve been a number of high profile op-eds in major US news outlets comparing the Ukraine and Taiwan situations. Taiwan’s own media asked the same question…
“Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow?” some headlines in Taiwanese media asked on Friday.
Naturally this led to Beijing firmly addressing the issue, underscoring that “Taiwan is not Ukraine” – given that in China’s eyes the Taiwan question has nothing to do with sovereignty given it never had it in the first place (again, speaking strictly from Beijing’s perspective). To review, Chinese officials were scathing in batting down any comparisons:
China’s Foreign Ministry has said that Taiwan is “not Ukraine” and has always been a part of China, following Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s call to bolster vigilance in the face of the territorial crisis in Eastern Europe.
The comments come after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cited the risk for Taiwan in a warning about the damaging global consequences if the West failed to live up to its vows to support Ukrainian independence in the face of threats from Russia.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed any link between the issues of Ukraine and Taiwan.
“Taiwan is not Ukraine,” she said.
“Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China. This is an indisputable legal and historical fact.”
But without doubt, policy and military strategists in Beijing are following events in Ukraine very closely, as fresh analysis featured in The Wall Street Journal lays out:
Russia’s initial struggles in its invasion of Ukraine have offered a vivid illustration to China’s leaders of the military challenges if they tried to seize control of Taiwan through force.
The most prominent is the possibility of fierce resistance from local people defending their homes and sovereignty from any invasion.
A US naval war college professor and retired military officer, Bernard Cole, offered this insight in the report: “The chief surprise for Russia, which may well be the chief lesson that China takes, is the willingness of the Ukrainian people to fight it out.”
But as WSJ underscores, China’s military has recently made rapid advances over years of President Xi’s military modernization initiative: “China would start any invasion with one advantage compared with Russia: an even bigger and better-equipped military. China has around one million ground troops, the largest navy in the world and a military budget more than three times as large as Russia and around 13 times the size of Taiwan’s budget.”
The White House at the start of this week sought to assure the public and the world that if it came down to it, the US military is capable of fighting on two major fronts: President Biden’s top Asia official on the National Security Council said Monday that the US can still focus on increasing its “engagement” in the Asia Pacific to counter China. Let’s hope that humanity never sees this day where the US is facing off with two nuclear-armed enemies.